When I was growing up, missionaries home on furlough would, from time to time, speak at our church. Inevitably they’d show slides I (still pictures inserted into a projector and displayed on a screen ;-) ) of their overseas ministry, usually including one or more of people suffering from a disease known as elephantiasis. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything harder to do than go to a foreign place and deal with such illnesses. And yet time and again, I thought for sure God was sending me to the mission field.
Mind you, I wasn’t opposed to missions. I thought missionaries were brave (though generally boring and quite old-fashioned). I was fine with other people going to foreign places. Just not me!
My attitude was not so different from the one Moses displayed when God called him to go back to Egypt and lead the people of Israel into their own land. His short answer? Not me, God.
Interestingly, his reasoning was similar to Gideon’s some hundreds of years later when God commissioned him to free His people from the tyranny of Midian.
Both Moses and Gideon didn’t think they were qualified, Moses because he couldn’t speak well and Gideon because he was the youngest of his family and his tribe was the least important in Israel. I don’t know if either of those assessments were true, but that’s what each man thought. They simply weren’t capable of doing the job God was calling them to do.
Actually, that’s not a bad place to be. Moses some forty years earlier had thought he was capable of ruling over Israel—protecting them and judging between them. He got a rude awakening when things didn’t pan out the way he expected. So his new position of humility was a needed step.
Both Moses and Gideon also asked for a sign. They wanted to be sure they’d understood correctly. They wanted to know that God was indeed sending them.
God gave them more than one sign. With Moses He turned his staff into a snake and back again; turned his hand leprous, then healed it; and turned water he poured onto the ground into blood.
With Gideon God produced dew only on the fleece he set out, then produced dew everywhere else except on the fleece. Further, he told Gideon to sneak into the Midian camp where he heard the interpretation of a prophetic dream recounting Israel’s upcoming victory.
Not much doubt that God was calling these two guys despite their initial “not me” reaction.
You’d think the hard part was over. They finally got the message. Yes, God really said and meant that they were to go and do . . . well, the impossible.
But the fact is, Moses first had to convince the people of Israel that God had sent him, then he had to convince Pharaoh to do what God and told him. The process was harrowing and I suspect lasted for months if not years (though we can read it in a relatively short time in Exodus).
Gideon had the cooperation of the people immediately. But God was the one who initially put up obstacles. Too many people, Gideon—send home the people who have just bought land or just got married or who are afraid. And then, after thousands left, God said, still too many, Gideon. Weed out more. After the initial, miraculous, God-orchestrated victory, he faced opposition from people: some who didn’t want to help because his numbers were so small, and some who were infuriated that they hadn’t been included in the whole operation.
No, following God was not easy.
Not everyone who God called responded as Moses and Gideon did. Samuel didn’t know God or recognize His voice, but he answered, “Here am I.” Isaiah realized he was a man of unclean lips, but once his iniquity had been removed, he answered in the opposite vein—Here am I. Send me!
Jonah was most definitely in the Not Me camp. He ran in the opposite direction from the one God had told him to go. Saul was a Not Me guy too. When the people of Israel chose him to be king—and this was after God had Samuel anoint him—he was hiding amidst the baggage.
Joseph, on the other hand, was a Here Am I guy. Daniel was too. Ruth was a Here Am I gal as was Mary.
Esther was back with the Not Me guys, though. But she had good company. All those disciples of Jesus hiding after the crucifixion—definitely Not Me guys. Peter even said, as for me and my house, we’re going fishing.
Not Joshua. He was a Here Am I guy. So was Noah and Abraham and Daniel.
The amazing thing is that God used them all. His kindness and patience were on display when He sent a storm, then a great fish, to stop Jonah in his tracks. Jesus had already appeared to Peter and had given him instruction to wait for the Holy Spirit, but Peter, being Peter, was off doing his Not Me thing. Jesus loved him back to obedience.
Esther had Mordecai’s counsel and prayer, Saul had Samuel and his instruction from God.
Sadly, Saul’s Not Me changed at some point to Not God. He decided he could re-interpret God’s commands and do things his own way. That, I guess, is the real answer to God’s call that we need to guard against.
I’m reminded of the parable Jesus told of the two sons whose father instructed them to go out into the vineyard. The one said no, the other said he’d go. However, the first relented and obeyed his father even though he’d said he wouldn’t, and the second didn’t go though he said he would. So which did the will of his father? Jesus asked. (Matt. 21:31)
In the end, that’s what God wants of us—to do His will. I’d still like to be a Here Am I gal, but the reality is, I more often than not resemble a Not Me gal.
But God deals with us in kindness and patience and mercy. He knows our weaknesses, and even promises to give us strength when we are at our breaking point. And He gives us second chances. And third. And fourth. Well, I suppose it’s more like seventy times seven.
How great is our God!