In the early years of our marriage, when my mom and dad would come for a visit, my dad would often give me a call in the days leading up to their arrival. He would share what time they planned to leave and thus arrive, how long they would be able to stay and ask if we needed anything from home. After all, every area of the country has some regional specialties that you can’t buy other places. One of the most prominent examples from North Alabama is white BBQ sauce, which incidentally, is a product that I highly recommend as one of the greatest gifts of my home state to the rest of the world.
In the midst of that same conversation, my dad often asked another question. “What tools do I need to bring?” He would inquire. When my parents came there was always plenty of time to catch up, socialize and do some shopping or day trips. But, I also often had a task or two on the schedule for my father to assist with while they were in town. Although I really enjoy doing odd jobs around the house, it has never been my area of skill or expertise. So often, his knowledge, not just his extra hands, was exactly what I needed.
Something similar happens in our text for today. According to Exodus 18, there came a time during the early days in the wilderness when Moses’ family came for a visit. Evidently at some point, Moses’ wife Zipporah and his two boys had gone back to Midian to live with family while Moses focused on delivering the Israelites from slavery to the Promised Land. After a long absence, they came with Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, who was a priest and shepherd in Midian, to see Moses and find out how he was doing.
It really is a beautiful story and I strongly encourage you to take some time later today or early in this next week to read this entire chapter. It reads just like how a modern family would interact today. They catch up on each other’s lives and spend quality time together. While there, Jethro also has the chance to observe all that Moses is doing and particularly the work that Moses is involved with related to settling legal matters and other disputes.
In essence, Moses has evolved to wearing all kinds of hats. As a man for all seasons, he is a military leader, spiritual guide, prophetic voice and now judge and jury for squabbles and legal affairs. As Jethro watches all of this, he offers Moses some fatherly advice. In essence, what Jethro encourages Moses to understand is that he was simply trying to do too much and that if he didn’t slow down, share some of the load and entrust some of the work to other people he would ultimately succumb to spiritual, mental and physical exhaustion.
In this chapter, Jethro functions like my dad on those visits that I mentioned earlier. In the midst of family time and catching up, Jethro takes note of the problems in Moses’ life and offers his skill in trying to fix them.
With this text, I want to suggest that it is here that Moses exhibits some of his finest attributes that are so worthy of our imitation. I say this because of both how Moses handles the help that Jethro offers and well as how he chooses to respond to the further help that Jethro suggests that he needs. Let me invite us to spend a few moments with both of these ideas.
First, Moses exhibits a willingness to accept the help that Jethro offers in the form of advice. In essence, Jethro is being critical of Moses’ leadership in suggesting that his son-in-law was trying to do too much on his own. In this moment, Moses could have easily tuned his father-in-law out or taken offense. But, he listened while exhibiting his recognition that he didn’t know everything and that in fact Jethro was right.
This is a dying art in our world today. Too many of our leaders believe that being a leader means never being wrong. Their belief is that one should never admit that there might just be a better way of doing things. Quite frankly, this is a silly approach to life and has nothing to do with spiritual maturity. Growing up happens when we are open to the advice that comes from others and to the recognition that often others see things that we don’t that are worth listening to and learning from.
Jethro tells Moses he is trying to do too much. To his credit, Moses listens and recognizes the wisdom that Jethro is offering.
Second, Moses chooses to share the load. Moses not only listens to Jethro but he goes one step further and stops trying to do everything himself. He actually asks others among the Israelites to help shoulder the load.
Moses does what few people are willing to do. He admits he can’t do everything. He admits he is overwhelmed. He asks for help.
We don’t like to be vulnerable and ask for help. Sometimes this is because we feel shame in admitting we don’t know everything or can’t do everything. At other times, this is because we simply don’t like giving things away or sharing our work with others. But, both admitting we have limitations and being willing to share our work with others for our own well being and advancement is a huge part of growing up and living life well.
Let me pause here and also say that all of these comments about help have a deep spiritual dimension to them. As people of faith, we must be willing to allow God through the Holy Spirit to offer critic of our lives. We must be willing to listen when God through the Spirit, through scripture, or through fellow believers helps us to recognize that there is a better way of handling or doing things than the path we are own.
At the same time, we must know our limitations. We must find the courage to be vulnerable and say that we need help with our marriage, raising our children or how to handle a tricky situation. This is never about exposing our flaws. Instead, it is always about finding the support that will help us to live life fully. Sometimes, it is God’s help that we need. Sometimes, it is the help of God’s people. And, sometimes it is both. But, receiving help always begins with asking for help.
I end this morning with a beautiful proverb from the Zambian people of Africa that I actually read in a morning devotional this week. The proverb says this, “When you run alone, you run fast. But, when you run together, you run far.” Amen.