“I rely on God” is an easy thing to claim. Doing it is a different story.
Each of us is tempted to control our circumstances and surroundings, and so we’re drawn to whatever will help us achieve such control—strength, competency, self-determination. It usually doesn’t take long, though, for our efforts at stability to falter, leaving us (yet again) with a maddening mix of uncertainty and anxiety.
What do we make of this? And what does God say to our self-defeating scrambles for control? I believe there’s a simple lesson embedded in the story of Moses.
40-Year-Old Moses: Powerful, but Weak
By the time Moses murders an Egyptian for striking a Hebrew slave (Ex. 2:11–12), he is 40 years old. Up to this point, he’s been raised in Pharaoh’s house as an adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Stephen later describes him this way: “Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22). He’s certainly skilled enough in combat to handle the Egyptian on his own. No wonder Moses thinks he’ll be the one to deliver God’s people from Egypt. Stephen seems to imply this as well: “He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25).
Forty-year-old Moses is strong and educated and skilled. He has political clout, military knowledge, physical gifting, and deep sympathy for his people. Surely he is God’s man!
God does some of his best work in the wilderness.
But it all unravels. The people reject him. Pharaoh wants to kill him. He’s left with no other option but to flee to the wilderness, marry a priest’s daughter, have some kids, and shepherd flocks for his father-in-law. In a single attempt to take matters into his own hands, Moses’s dreams of grandeur come crashing down.
Moses then enters 40 years of insignificance, languishing in the wasteland. But as is so often the case, God does some of his best work in the wilderness.
80-Year-Old Moses: Weak, but Powerful
Four long decades later, God meets Moses at a burning bush. He’s been an ordinary shepherd in a forgotten area—surely any dreams of being used mightily have faded into oblivion. But God wants to use this Moses—not the earlier version. No wonder Moses responds, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11). Octogenarian Moses is weak. He can’t even talk well. Why would God choose him—and why now?
Moses has gone from It makes sense that God would use me to Who am I that God would use me? And in that change, he demonstrates he’s now ready.
God deconstructs Moses’s strength so that he’ll learn who’s really in control. God doesn’t need Moses; Moses needs God. And Moses’s game plan reflects his new attitude. He doesn’t march into Egypt with an elaborate military strategy. He doesn’t waltz in with an arsenal of sophisticated weapons to arm an enslaved nation for rebellion. Moses limps in with a stutter and a stick—and through him, God will overthrow the world’s mightiest nation and redeem his people. The Lord chooses the 80-year-old, not the 40-year-old, because the older Moses knows his weakness is a platform for God’s strength.
The Lord chooses the 80-year-old, not the 40-year-old, because the older Moses knows his weakness is a platform for God’s strength.
God doesn’t need our impressiveness. He uses broken jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7), people who, like Moses, ask: “Who am I that you would use me?” And it’s there—in that confession of weakness—that his power is perfected, his glory revealed, his grace radiant (2 Cor. 12:9–10). Internalizing this frees us from trying to act like God. No longer do we need to white-knuckle our lives, taking matters into our own hands rather than resting in God’s sovereign schedule. Instead, we can wait.
Embrace Weakness, Experience True Power
God may have given you some remarkable gifts. But be careful: such gifting may be the very thing keeping you from a deeper relationship with him, and from being fruitful in your local church, your home, or your neighborhood.
On whom will you rely? Put your confidence for the present, and your hope for the future, in the capable hands of your promise-keeping God.