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Discipleship 101, The Wilderness

Lineage of the Lowly: Lead Like Moses

Are you hoping to be a leader in the church? In your generation? There’s a lot of advice out there for you. Most of it is terrible because it is based on the idea of a good leader being a successful top-down corporate-type leader where “bigger is better,” “the highly educated are better,” “richer is better,” and “high position is better,” all of which directly contradict scripture.

Yes. They do.

And many Christians will try to talk you out of that realization because they bought into a franchised church growth-model of marketing, budgeting, and buildings and the American Dream Christianity where your blessing is equated with your prospering. But you’re not wrong to call out these things and let me tell you why.

The deep irony and greatest frustration of scripture for many is that it teaches that small is great (“…let the children come to me and forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 19:14), foolishness is wisdom (“…you have hidden it from the wise and learned” Matthew 11:25), poor are rich (…”but you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Revelation 3:17), and low position is what we should attain to (…”you also should wash one another’s feet.” John 13:14). “So,” you might say, “if I have this right, in scripture we see that good leaders will be of little reknown, maybe a little overlooked and disregarded (but full of faith), foolish by most accounts, financially poor from giving their rights, position, and things away to follow Jesus, and not attaining to any sort of high status or honor in this world.”

Yes. That’s what I’m saying (only because that’s literally what Jesus said)

Do you know any leaders like this? I know very, very few. And if I were to tell you about them they would hate it. Jesus walked this way of course, but He was perfect, God in the flesh, and we are not! Yet, there is one other man in scripture that demonstrates good leadership like this. And as for me, I am trying to lead like him. His name was Moses, and here is how he led.

Moses led by seeking the face of God & raised up the next generation to lead from the presence of God.

Moses did not cast a great vision or set up a ten year plan. Every decision of his and for the people was made through prayer. Every one. What would that look like in your life? Do you listen like that? You could…it would just mean that it’s the voice of God you and your people would hear, not your ideas. And it takes a little longer than you giving your best, quick answer. But if you are willing to sacrifice a little efficiency for the true efficiency of God, then you’d better pray to find your solutions, not simply advise. It also means that you have to know God intimately, before you even have to make a decision. Every good leadership decision comes from a relationship with Jesus that is clear and ready for communication with no interference, sin, rebellion, or doubt in the way. You must be pure all the way down from your behavioral level (external) to your motivational level (internal) to hear and lead well.

“Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.” Exodus 33:7-11

Moses was corrected by God without grumbling.

When Moses tried to go to speak to Pharaoh, an angel of the Lord nearly killed Moses because his son was uncircumcised (Numbers 4:24-26). This may seem harsh, but it was God’s way of making Moses choose a side. A true Hebrew never would have let his son go uncircumcised for that long. God was saying, you are not an orphan. You are my son, and of my people, even though you were raised in a “not-my-people-home.” And Moses’s wife was quick enough to fix the problem. Moses felt the disciplining hand of the Lord then and again when he struck the rock. He made mistakes and then lined right back up when corrected, even if bearing the consequences was hard (Numbers 20:12). I want to follow God’s commands so closely that I would never even stray slightly from what He said, even to vary a seemingly small directive in real time for any reason.

Moses was aware of his weakness, but went anyway.

Moses knew he was not the best speaker (in fact, it was his greatest weakness), but he obeyed God, resisting the temptation to turn down the invitation from God. False humility would have been walking away so God could use someone more qualified and more prepared. But God needed Moses; not his brother, because no one else could BE Moses. Only Moses had the unique life story that God wanted for that time and place. Only Moses knew Pharoah and could gain access to the ear of that particular king. Only Moses could offer the warning in empathy and compassion. God knew Moses’ weakness, and chose him anyways not because of what he could do, but who he was. That was the hard truth Moses had to accept…that he was enough, that His weakness would somehow lead to God’s glory.

Moses spoke boldly and faithfully EXACTLY what God was saying.

It would have been easy to rephrase God’s command into a softer approach, but having recently been nearly killed by an angel puts the fear of God in you. He dared not say anything except what He was told to say. He did not alter it. He did not add to it. He was a faithful messenger with no agenda or message of his own. This is the role of the prophets in the church, and Moses was faithful in this. (…”Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded them. Exodus 7:6)

Moses followed the Lord’s STEP-BY-STEP leadership (even though it led inefficiently in circles) in immediate obedience (except once).

The LORD went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. This allowed them to travel by day or by night. Exodus 13:21

Think about the frustration when a 12-18 day journey for a healthy person turns into a FORTY YEAR journey in circles. Did Moses ever regret his decision to follow the cloud and fire? Or did he understand that God’s priorities are not ours and just yield? This went on for many years until they found themselves back at the waters of Meribah, where God had first healed the waters from their bitterness and took away Israel’s anxiety about water supply. Moses struck the rock instead of speaking and this small violation of God’s will was no small thing to the Lord. It shows that our faithfulness to God and our obedience in the details matter. Even if we trust Him our whole lives, we have to diligently guard our hearts from bitterness, exhaustion, and anything that would get between God’s heart and ours. We want to endure to the end and not strike when we should speak. Again, notice Moses was avoiding his weakness. Even God said, to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

Moses interceded for His people.

All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Numbers 14:2-5

Moses then responds to the Lord who is about he kill all the people again for their rebellion and says, Lord, for the sake of your name, don’t kill them or Egypt will find out. And God changed His mind and showed mercy. This is our God. He is holy and when His people complain about Him, it is a big deal. You can read about how God remembered and favors those who speak well of Him in (Malachi 3:13-18)

Moses wanted everyone to be able to hear from God.

A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” Numbers 11:27-29

Moses begged God for God to maintain the role of leadership.

[God said] 3Go up to this land that flows with milk and honey. But I will not travel among you, for you are a stubborn and rebellious people. If I did, I would surely destroy you along the way”…12 One day Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’ 13 If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.” 14 The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.” 15 Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. 16 How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.” 17 The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.” Exodus 33

God was not going to go and then He changed his mind. There you have it. Moses was not content to go as a leader helped by God. He wanted to go under God’s leadership. Those are two different things. Jesus also encourages us to avoid the titles and conceptualization of one another that would potentially disrupt the leadership of God for a person. I wrote about that here.

Moses endured ridicule, grumbling and complaining.

You will too…try to not hurt them. Pray for them more. Ask God for patience to endure it. Remember that this was a journey for you and it is a journey for them too. Their rebellion did not go away when they believed in Jesus. Most of them will be brought to deeper and deeper levels of repentance and trust as they work out what God works in them. And you will lose some to sin and apathy. This is never easy but should be expected, even if you are trying to help the best way you know how.

Moses did not try to do it all…he delegated and took advice.

When Jethro saw everything that Moses had to do, he asked, “What is all this that you are doing for the people? Why are you doing this all alone, with people standing here from morning till night to consult you?” Moses answered, “I must do this because the people come to me to learn God’s will. When two people have a dispute, they come to me, and I decide which one of them is right, and I tell them God’s commands and laws.” Then Jethro said, “You are not doing it the right way. You will wear yourself out and these people as well. This is too much for you to do alone. Now let me give you some good advice, and God will be with you. It is right for you to represent the people before God and bring their disputes to him. You should teach them God’s commands and explain to them how they should live and what they should do. But in addition, you should choose some capable men and appoint them as leaders of the people: leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. They must be God-fearing men who can be trusted and who cannot be bribed. Let them serve as judges for the people on a permanent basis. They can bring all the difficult cases to you, but they themselves can decide all the smaller disputes. That will make it easier for you, as they share your burden. If you do this, as God commands, you will not wear yourself out, and all these people can go home with their disputes settled.” Moses took Jethro’s advice and chose capable men from among all the Israelites. He appointed them as leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. They served as judges for the people on a permanent basis, bringing the difficult cases to Moses but deciding the smaller disputes themselves. Exodus 18:14-36

Moses only saw the fulfillment of the promise from a distance.

Often we will not see the full arrival of all God has promised us and our family. We will only see it from a distance. And this is what true faith is. We believe without seeing. Speaking about Moses and others, the writer of Hebrews said:

“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:39-40

We are receiving the Kingdom of God’s rule together. It has never been on earth as it is in heaven except in the hearts of those who are fully committed to Him. And in their hearts the Lord reigns and rules supreme, leading His people through them. This is the kind of leader I want to be, simply a vessel.

Moses was the most humble man on earth (Numbers 12:3).

He did not seek a kingdom for Himself. He did not set up a government or a palace or even a building to worship in. He had set his heart on pilgrimage. And he was not in a hurry. His only goal became the goals of God. Jesus was known as the second Moses, noted not only as the deliverer, but one who only sought the will of the Father, who only said what His Father was saying and did what His Father was doing. It seems like all of our great personality has to be sacrificed, all of our strength, all of our likelihood to succeed, in favor of taking on the personality of the lamb, of having no will of our own, and simply laying down our lives for one another.

May God make us faithful leaders in this “lineage of the lowly.” There’s no competition because you are going lower, not higher. He increases and we decrease. We disappear and He becomes famous. Come join me in the race to be the last. It’s glorious! You’ll start to find more leaders like us as you start your own journey and the older ones will help you walk this out. To find your mentors, look lower, not higher.

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