Saturday, April 9, 2016

Does my work matter?

So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. 
Exodus 17:11

Moses stands on top of a hill, observing the battle. He's not in the battle, so to speak, but watching from a safe distance. Joshua is the one who's in the fray, leading the army in the fight. 

But Moses notices that when he raises his hands (in which he is holding the Staff of God), the Israelites dominate, and when he lowers his hands, the Israelites lose. Suddenly Moses is not just a distant oberver, but one who is affecting the outcome of the battle. 

What is going on here? Does God's power to help the Israelites really depend on Moses' stance? If God is, indeed, the omnipotent God of the universe, why in the world would Moses be required to do these hilltop aerobics? 

I've been thinking a lot about this story, wondering what it teaches about God's work and my work. I'm fairly Reformed in my theology, believing that God in sovereign over all; yet, stories like this tell me that God somehow invites, values, and even depends on human participation. 

It's the phrase "depends on" that makes me cringe--that challenges my theology. If God is truly sovereign, then can He depend on His own creation to enact His own will? Not must He, but can He?

Something in me really prefers to think of God as acting outside of and apart from human participation. Life just feels safer that way. I like the theology that lets me believe that everything depends on God and nothing depends on me. This is the only way that things can turn out right, right?

But Moses had to raise His hands.

And when Moses gets tired, God doesn't say, "No problem, Mo! I gotcha covered. Thanks for doing your little bit, but the hand business was just a gimmick to make you feel needed. Take a break, rest your weary arms, and I'll clean up this mess on my own." Moses is not let off the hook, even when the job exceeds his abilities. This is where Aaron and Hur come in.

But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set.
Exodus 17:12

The task that God gives Moses to do is too hard for Moses to do alone. So he has to get help. And in the end, the Israelites win. 

Why? Because God was with them. And because God worked through them. Time and time, throughout scriptures, we see this same phenomenon: God enacts His will through human participation. He's sovereign, so he doesn't HAVE to do it that way. But He's sovereign, so He CAN do it that way. 

And I think God is still choosing to enact His will through human participation. Which means that the way I spend my life matters. What I do and say matters. The things that seem small and insignificant are impacting lives and winning (or losing) battles. 

God is depending on me.

Dang, that sounds blasphemous for some reason. Why would God depend on creatures that He knows are flawed and broken and weak? Sounds like risky business to me! If I were God...

Yes, if I were God, I would do everything myself. Then I could be sure that things would be done perfectly.

But God, who is perfect, does not seem to need perfection from me. He chooses to depend on my imperfect participation. In fact, messy human participation is an overarching theme in God's great story--from Abraham to Jacob to Moses to Rahab to Ruth to David to Jonah to Peter to Martha to Paul. None of them did God's work perfectly. All of them participated imperfectly. Yet, all of their works have been woven into the story that continues still today.

So as I ponder the story of Moses and the battle of the Amalekites, I'm discovering some things that apply to my life and the way that God is asking me to participate in His work in the world: 
  1. The importance of self-awareness: Moses was aware of his stance, and the impact that his stance was having on the situation. Am I aware of my stance in any given situation? Do I pay attention to how that stance is affecting other people or the circumstances in which we find ourselves?
  2. The importance of community: Moses was unable to complete his task on his own. It had nothing to do with his willingness or his obedience, he simply did not have the strength he needed. He had to depend on others. When God invites me to participate in His work, do I take a Lone Ranger approach, or do I follow God's lead and choose to depend on others? Do I, like God, eagerly invite the participation of broken people? Will I value participation over perfection?
  3. The importance of intercession: Moses held his ground as an intercessor, he didn't run into the battle himself when things looked bleak. I can be tempted to try to get involved in battles that are not mine to fight. Often my role, like Moses', is to watch and pray, not go and fix! This is a place of great faith, believing that God will act in response to my prayer; trusting that holding vigil might be my best contribution to a victory.
  4. The importance of praise: At the end of the battle, Moses built an altar, naming it "The Lord is My Banner." Moses did not mistake his own participation for the reason that Israel was victorious. As Moses lifted up God, the Israelites won. The power for victory is only ever present when God is present and lifted up. Can I fully participate in God's work without seeking the glory for the outcome? Do I remember that God is always the perfector? And do I praise Him for every victory?

Moses built an altar and named it TheLord is My Banner. Exodus 17:15

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