Thursday, January 28, 2010

Forty-year Cycles

Due to inclement weather I had to skip going to Penhold to play the piano for their church service, and instead went to PTC with Dad. My "inside source" had already told me that the sermon was going to be about Moses and holy ground, and that she was having a bit of a hard time selecting appropriate music.

I went to church with no real expectations of anything out of the ordinary -- and of course, that was my first mistake ...

A song I had never heard before started to play, and the team on the stage began to sing, and all the mundane distractions and petty irritations vanished as I was made aware of the reality that I was in the presence of God just as surely as Moses was that heretofore desultory afternoon in the wilderness:

This is holy ground, we're standing on holy ground
for the Lord is present, and where He is, is holy
This is holy ground, we're standing on holy ground
for the Lord is present, and where He is, is holy

God was present: I wanted to hide my face; I wanted to catch a glimpse of God's face. I wanted to approach the throne of the Almighty; I wanted to flee from the unconsuming fire. 

And then Pastor Tim Strickland began to preach from Exodus chapter 3. He talked about Moses' three 40-year cycles and what brought him to this place in the wilderness.

I pictured Moses' life up to this day. He spent the first 40 years of his life a prince in the court of the Pharaoh, with the exception of the first crucial, formative months where he was under the protection and influence of his birth mother and his birth family. After that, all the education and the wealth and the privilege of the ruler were at his disposal. Yet he was not impervious to the cruelty meted out to his own people by his adopted people; he felt their despair and impulsively took matters into his own hands, seeking to save the Israelites, to identify with them, by destroying an Egyptian.

Consequently he had to flee for his life and ended up in the desert, a herdsman. He settled for a spouse from the people of Midian and used his powerful intellect to watch over his father-in-law's livestock. He did this for FORTY YEARS.

I imagined some of the mental roads he would have traversed during that time: he would have started with fear for his life, tinged with relief that he had escaped with it; then he might have moved into indignation and a sense of pique that his own people didn't recognize the grand gesture he had made in slaying the Egyptian -- after all, he had gone out on a limb to bring justice to an Israelite when he could have remained in the insular comfort of his own adoptive surroundings! Maybe he worked through a period of remorse for having taken a life. He might have thought initially that watching his new family's animals would free him up to strategize his return to Egypt and his subsequent liberation of his people. He might have anticipated some of the Jews coming to seek him out, recognizing him as the one who could spearhead the freedom movement, coming to beg him to rescue them.

But as year followed year, his resentment and resolve would have dwindled to resignation. His fear of discovery by the Pharaoh would have faded -- no one was even looking for him! So much for the importance he had placed on his personage. The doors of wealth and culture and learning and debate were but a distant memory as he trudged, with less and less and finally no expectations, through the desert, through his tedious life, his daily companions the herd of sheep belonging to someone else.

Slowly he lost his edge, his edginess. Slowly he learnt how to take direction. Slowly he developed patience with the dumb dependent animals. And with no one to speak to except those animals for most of the time, he spoke less and less, losing the eloquence he had been known for in his youth. Slowly he acquired the ways of the desert, the skills of the nomad. No one here knew or cared that he was a prince in disguise. Or was it that he had been in the disguise of a prince? Slowly he, too, forgot.

No wonder he was mildly intrigued when he saw a fire that appeared not to incinerate the shrub it had set alight! He ambled toward it and heard a voice calling his name from the bush, "Moses!" 

"I'm here!" Moses responded, as he came closer, peering now with genuine curiosity at this fire, perhaps wondering if the desert had finally gotten to him in that he was seeing fire that did not burn its source and was hearing voices calling his name.

The voice continued, "Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." And then the Voice reminded him of his true heritage - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.

This scrabbling desert was holy ground? But now was not the time for questions or intellectual debate: all Moses wanted to do was hide his face for fear of seeing God and being consumed himself.

Tim observed, "God is a personal God, but He is not a casual God." (As if to confirm the veracity of these words, here is what the Choice Gleanings calendar reading is for this same Sunday, January 24:

Sadly today there seems to be a lack of reverence for the Lord in many local churches. Appealing to the listener's emotions appears to be the primary objective when God's people gather. The psalmist [Psalm 89:7] reminds us that we are to demonstrate reverence, respect mingled with awe, adoration and affection to the Lord of heaven and earth. Let this be our focus when we gather unto His name. - Bob Cretney)

God wants us to come to Him without fear - indeed, with "affection" - but this must be tempered by the reverence due to Him.

God reminded Moses that these people under oppression were His people. Seven times in the next four verses He uses the first person pronoun ..."My people ...I have seen ... I know ... I am come ... I will send ..."

And after 40 years of this life of existing, of not really fulfilling what Moses and others might have seen as his potential, of reaping the whirlwind of his own unconsidered actions, Moses is about to hear what God had in store for him: "I will send you unto Pharaoh ..".

And with that statement, all the pieces of Moses's jigsaw-puzzle life started to fall into place. Who better than he knew the workings of the Egyptian kingdom? He had studied its laws, absorbed its culture, reasoned with its brightest minds. He knew its strengths and its vulnerabilities. He knew its aggressions and its stubbornness. He could speak the language! And yet his time in the desert had taught him humility, moderation, patience, watchfulness (but he could still argue! He took on God Himself, saying that he couldn't possibly speak any more and no one would believe him). I love God's response, cutting through all the protestations to the heart of the matter: "Certainly I will be with you."

As I left Church that morning, with Tim's aside at the end of the sermon ringing as a reproach in my ears ("You did come expecting to meet with God, didn't you?"), it struck me forcibly that this year will mark 40 years since Mum led me to the feet of Jesus and I trusted Him as my own saviour.

And, 40 years later, what have I really accomplished? Thanks to the ramifications of some of my own unconsidered actions, I have often felt like a wanderer, a nomad. I have frequently been conscious that I have squandered opportunities for service. I feel dull witted at times and out of synch with what I perceive to be my talents and skill set.

But yet I feel that God is seeking me out to some purpose this year. And, if the story of Moses is any indication, nothing that I have learnt and experienced in the past 40 years will go to waste if I choose to discover what it is I am being called to do and then simply acquiesce. What is the point of questioning? He promises that He will be with me. What better guide and travelling companion could I desire? 

And the other thing of which I was made keenly aware is that if - since - God is with me, everywhere I am is holy ground. How this simple fact needs to dictate my day-to-day behaviour!


  1. your post has left me in tears...sunday was a hard day for me and so i stayed home when i knew i should have gone to church. thank you for recapping what was said. i needed the reassurance that He says "certainly I am with you."

    i wanted you to know that you were His arms on sunday when you held elias. thank you for ministering to me in such a loving way.

    your purple chair is one of my most favorite places to be.:)

  2. Your words are always so inspirational. You have such a magnificent gift for touching the hearts of those around you, even within the realm of cyberspace. Thank you for sharing it with everyone.


I love to hear from you! Please leave me a leaf to read ...