When I was a young boy my family and I used to visit my grandparents in northern Ohio. I loved them greatly and they had a tremendous influence upon my life. We always went to church with them especially since my grandfather was a retired minister. On one particular Sunday morning I remember my grandmother telling my mother that she didn’t think she would go to church that day. I distinctly remember her saying, “I can’t lift my arm to my hair to comb it.”
I thought that was a pretty lame excuse to skip church. No one challenged her however, not even my grandfather as far as I know. Perhaps she had arthritis that really made it difficult for her to comb her hair. She had a lot of pride and she wouldn’t think of going to church with her hair in a mess. Or perhaps since she had been to church thousands of times before she just lost her enthusiasm.
What my grandmother didn’t know was that her grandchildren were looking to her as a role model and in the future we would use that event as ammunition to skip church ourselves. As I look back on that day I now realize that my grandmother was more focused on cooking a Sunday meal for her visiting family. While we were away at church she could be alone in the kitchen, cooking and preparing for us. Everything would be ready when we returned and she would receive joy in the fact that her family had been well fed.
When it comes to our faith we all make excuses. There are times when we rationalize that things like eating are a high priority. Attending to family matters also takes precedence. Then there is work, chores and a whole list of other responsibilities that demand our energy and time. I believe that my grandmother was a woman of faith, but on that particular morning she had a higher calling. That was to fulfill her role as the cook and care for her family. She didn’t have to make an excuse for skipping church. She could have just said she wanted to stay home and prepare dinner and we would have understood.
All of us find ourselves in situations when our faith calls us to do one thing but family or work calls us to do another. Sometimes we feel guilty and sometimes we feel forced to make a decision which may not be popular with everyone. And sometimes we just feel as though the opportunity is beyond our limits.
Moses was recruited by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God called Moses but Moses doubted his leadership skills. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Was Moses feeling insecure, lacking confidence in his ability to lead? Or, was he making an excuse? Perhaps he was just complaining, or perhaps he was overwhelmed at the thought of being God’s chosen representative. As the discussion with God continues, Moses raises scenarios as to why he may not be the man for the job.
First, he says they will wonder who sent him. Second, he makes the case that they might not listen to him or believe that the Lord appeared to him. Third, Moses tells God that he is not a good speaker. And finally, Moses tells God to send someone else. Moses made excuse after excuse until finally compelled by God to carry out the mission.
Why did Moses finally give in? Was it because God gave him enough assurance to see him through the mission? Or was it because God said he could use Aaron, his brother, to help him? Actually, it wasn’t until God got angry that Moses had no choice but to do what God had requested. In other words, God turned up the heat.
When it came to Moses, God would not except any excuses. God chose Moses to lead the Israelites. God believed that Moses had the faith and leadership to complete the mission. God kept the pressure on Moses until he relented.
What does God ask of us? Like Moses, God wants us to be faithful. For Moses it meant leading a group of oppressed people to the promised land. It meant acknowledging God at every step along the way. It meant trusting that God would provide everything they needed on their journey.
I believe that what God wants for us is not a whole lot different than what God expected of Moses. Not that God expects us all to be leaders, but that God expects us to be about liberating people who are in bondage. Freeing people through forgiveness and compassion. Worshipping God and showing our gratitude all year long. Trusting that God will be with us on our life’s journey. All these require a response.
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We have many things “to do.” We have “to go” here and there. There is never enough time. Those things that consume us become our idols. We give them such high priority they become sacred. Thus we make excuses when it comes to our faith. “Sorry, I’m busy. I just don’t have the time. I have to be somewhere else. Etc.”
On our return trip home from Myrtle Beach last Sunday we were driving on route 34 between Camden and Ridgeway, two small towns in the middle of central South Carolina. It was about 10 am and we noticed a man, dressed in a dark suit, walking along the road. He was obviously headed for church. But, there was no church anywhere in sight. After driving about 5 more miles we finally located the church. It was about 85 degrees and the man had probably walked several miles already. We were taken back by his commitment to make the long journey to church. This man had no ride, perhaps no car. He was was on his way to church, there was no excuse.
When it comes to faith are we willing to make the journey? Our trip home from Myrtle Beach was over 700 miles. When something as important as a vacation is on the line we are willing to do whatever it takes to make the trip.
But what happens when God wants us to do something? How far are we willing to travel when our faith is demanding our time and energy? Excuses become a way of justifying our priorities. Even some of Moses’ excuses seemed reasonable, but God was not impressed.
God kept the pressure on Moses until he responded. Perhaps today’s church is too nice, too easy. Perhaps we have fallen into the trap of accepting excuses as a way of life. Or, perhaps we are simply unwilling to change. Let’s be honest, excuses are no more than a defense mechanism for resisting change.
When God called Moses God told him to take off his shoes. For the ground upon which he stood was holy ground. Removal of the sandals had to do with an act of submission. Some Torah scholars suggest that without his sandals, Moses would be more in touch with the pains of his people. God wants to be worshipped. God wants to be acknowledged. God wants us to be faithful. There are no excuses. The only way to be transformed by the power of God or being an agent of God’s transforming power is to submit to God ourselves.
There are times when we all make excuses. We use them to resist what God wants of us. We use them to resist making changes in our lives that will, in the long run, make us better people. I believe that God will keep challenging us to the day we die. The only way to be people of faith is to start walking.
––Copyright, 1999, Dr. Keith Wagner. Used by permission.