…how being rational helps you lose your mind…

(the post is a tad longer today, but I ask that you give it a chance…it felt important as I wrote it)

 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?”

When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?”

Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”
Exodus 18:14, 17-18, 21-23

I realize that this is quite a bit of Scripture for a simple blog post on Monday morning, but I believe that the above text and the text that will follow make a simple and strong point when looked at together.

One of the things that emerges from the Exodus account of Moses’ life, and one of the things that makes him an intriguing person to me, is his lack of classical leadership or “pastoral” motivations. Moses does love his people like we tend to see pastoral “love”. He does care about their future, and he is a compassionate leader, but the prevailing reality throughout Moses’ story is that he is far more concerned with knowing and being near God than being near the people. His trips “up the mountain” where he stays for weeks at a time, his regular (daily?) visits into the tent of meeting to be saturated by the presence of God, his frustration with the people’s complaints and lack of trust in the provision of God…all of these things point to a man whose heart is desperately lost in pining after his Creator far more than his people. Moses was not a people pleaser except in the most pragmatic of senses. He did want them to have the necessities of life, but he seemed to want that more so they would stop grumbling than so they would stay alive.

Don’t misunderstand the picture I’m painting. Moses wasn’t a heartless man who didn’t care about his own. We can’t forget the brutal image of this leader beating an Egyptian to death with his bare hands because his countryman was being abused. But when we compare his affinity for his people with his desire for God there really doesn’t seem to be any equality in the two pursuits.

In the above text we see Moses’ father-in-law give him some incredibly wise and timely advice. He saw the enormous load that Moses was trying to carry, attempting to be “all” for the people he was leading. Moses was trying to single-handedly rule over a nation that was easily two million people. He was the president, congress, supreme court, and then they wanted him to be the chef, well-digger, and civil engineer as well. I get exhausted just trying to keep my two kids in line, much less add a few hundred thousand more whining members to that number. But Moses was attempting it.

Jethro told him that he would never make it. He squared Moses up and laid the reality on him: “you can’t do this for very long or you’re going to crumble.” So he offered him, in essence, a plan to institute a court system with lower courts, higher courts, and then for the most critical issues Moses himself would be the highest human court in the land. Jethro brought order to Moses’ world. He advised Mo to spread the weight of leadership over the shoulders of hundreds, maybe more eventually, so no one was carrying more than they should.

This ordering took place, chronologically, in chapter 18 of the book of Exodus. It was, perhaps, the most sane and wise thing Moses did in his entire life of leadership. But it wasn’t just this rational and mature move that moves me to love Moses. He hadn’t changed throughout all of the logistical shifting, he was still a man whose heart belonged to God before it ever belonged to the glory of leadership. And so, it is no shock that just six chapters later we read this about Moses:

Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
Exodus 24:15-18

I don’t know that we always allow the image painted in Exodus to soak in. But moving toward the presence of God, at this time in history, looked less like walking an aisle to an altar and more like storm-chasing. The tornado hunters that look for super-cell cloud formations and pray for the deadliest of twisters to touch ground near them are kindred spirits to the God-chasers of the Old Testament. The mountain was so physically troubled by God’s presence that there were weather systems unique to the top of this rock. There was fire all over the place and then, if the scene is similar to the earlier description in Exodus, there is, out of all of that violent and chaotic caldron, an unseen trumpet blasting out some tune from deep inside. This is the kind of scene most people run from. This is an extreme situation that words fall short of being able to adequately capture and relay.

But, against all reason and rationality, it was into this turbid melee that Moses seems to have been magnetically drawn.

Moses’ heart was smitten. Something happened on the backside of the desert that the Biblical account seems only to hint at, but never explicitly state. When Moses saw the bush that burned something changed in him. And though he offered excuses and reasons and whined about his inability, there was more going on in that conversation, in that moment. Like a man with a predisposition to narcotics, when Moses tasted that tangible communion with God he became an addict. And it didn’t matter if he had to walk into the most turbulent, harum-scarum, and tumultuous situation, if he knew God to be there he was willing to brave it. And really, in a way, it wasn’t bravery at all, it was a weakness for the presence of God. He wasn’t showing any bravado, he was exposing his own dependency on just “one more” brush of glory against his weathered skin and tired soul.

What Jethro did, when he helped Moses order his world, was much more than just relieve some of the stress of leadership, or make Mo’s life a little simpler. That ordering gave Moses the freedom to walk up the mountain. That organization allowed the greatest human leader in Israel’s history to do the one thing that actually made him a great leader: focus on God, not on leading. It was the borderline psychotic willingness to pursue God that gave Moses the ability to drag two million people around the desert for forty years, not twenty-one irrefutable laws, and not experience, and certainly not natural ability. But the truth of the matter was, if Moses hadn’t heeded Jethro’s words and made time to pursue God by delegating some of the daily responsibilities, and by nature some of the glory, of leadership, then he may have never walked into that fiery cloud. How many times have we all turned away from the compulsion of our hearts to seek God because our schedule wouldn’t allow it?

We all lead in some capacity. We all have those that depend on us in some way. The most rational thing we can do as leaders is share the load of practical responsibility so that we have time to irrationally pursue God when we smell the mountain smoking. There is nothing that will make us more effective.

Nothing can make us stable Christians other than a revelation of God to our souls.

– Charles Finney

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