At the first Pastors Conference my wife and I attended was in 1969 and the speaker was Dr. Howard Sugden, pastor of South Baptist Church in Lansing, MI from 1954-1991, his entire ministry. During one of the question and answer times at the conference, he was asked, “Pastor Sugden, have you ever been tempted to quit the ministry?” He paused just briefly, then said, “Most every Monday.”
How often do you feel that way in your ministry? Most every Monday? Monday has a tendency to be a “down day.” I discovered that early in my ministry; therefore, I decided that Monday was not going to be my day off. Monday is one of the worst days of the week, and I was not wasting it as my day off. Usually by the end of the week everything was going well, so Saturday was my day off. Taking Saturday off also gave me a good opportunity to be with my family since that was their day off, too. By the way, if you plan to take Saturday as your day off, that means you must have your sermon prepared before Saturday.
During my 37 years of full-time ministry, I have experienced numerous discouraging days, just as you have, and they are not always on Mondays. Many of those discouraging days can turn into weeks or months. At such times, you can certainly be tempted to quit. Difficulties arising from forces outside your church or ministry seem to crush you, and those are hard indeed. Worse than that, however, people inside your ministry may give you a hard time. Yes, you know that the idea of quitting the ministry is not new. Having difficulties in serving the Lord is not new. Having problems relating to your congregation is not new. Indeed, such things occurred in ancient times as well.
Examine the events that occurred in the book of Exodus as an illustration of this situation, specifically the events of chapter 5. This chapter occurs after God called Moses at the burning bush. He has already gone through his many objections as to why he should not return to Egypt to lead Israel out, and now he is convinced that he has the responsibility. Therefore, he returns to Egypt where he meets with the leaders of Israel. Consider the words of Exodus 4:29-31, “Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, and Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the LORD was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.”
Now those are encouraging words. Moses and Aaron came back. They met with the leaders of Israel. In essence, they said, “God appeared to us. Look at the signs.” To which the leaders of the people responded, “Yes! We’re out of here. Let’s worship God.” Things were looking good. If only they had stayed that way. Such was not the case, however. Consider what occurred next.
Moses went to talk with Pharaoh, seen in chapter five. He spoke to Pharaoh, “God has appeared. Let My people go!” To this Pharaoh replied in essence, “Not on your life.” Pharaoh continued, “Obviously, things are too easy for you lazy Israelites. Therefore, we will make it tougher on you.” And Pharaoh did. No longer did they supply straw for making bricks, but the tally of the bricks remained exactly the same. Instead of circumstances getting better and easier, instead of being released from bondage to go and worship God, the whole situation worsened. After this had gone on for some time, we come to the end of Exodus 5. Exodus 5:20-21 inform us that when the Israelite foremen left Pharaoh, “they found Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them, and they said, ‘May the LORD look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.'”
These were the same leaders who were so excited just a short time before. These were the people who were worshiping the Lord, who were thankful when everything looked so good. Now there is a 180° turn. Now these same people who were so excited, so joyous at the end of Exodus 4, are now ready to get rid of Moses at the end of Exodus 5.
How does Moses respond to this shocking change in their attitude and words? The text gives us clear insight concerning his state of mind in Exodus 5:22-23, “Moses returned to the LORD and said, ‘O LORD, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.'”
This whole problem is God’s fault. In the back of my mind I can hear Moses say, “Lord, why did you do this to me? You brought me here, and it did not work.” In my imagination, I can hear Moses crying out to God, saying the same kind of words that you and I have thought and maybe also said, “All right, God, just give me three good reasons why I shouldn’t quit.” And so God does.
Remember the times in your ministry when it seemed everything was going bad. Remember those occasions when you wanted to quit. Remember when you were wondering, “Why did this happen to me?” Maybe you are in the middle of one of those occasions right now. As a result, you look up to heaven and say, “Lord, just give me three good reasons why I shouldn’t quit.” When you are looking for those reasons, look right here in Exodus, chapter 6. Here are those reasons.
The Lord gets the attention of Moses in Exodus 6:1, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.'”
That is the introduction to what God is about to say. Then, in verses two through eight, the Lord gives Moses what I have called, “Three Good Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Quit.”
God Says, Don’t Quit Because of Who I Am.
In Exodus 6:2-3 we read, “God also said to Moses, ‘I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.'” These verses reveal significant insights into God’s character. Who is our God?
He is the God who speaks. You notice in this text that God spoke, “I am the LORD.” God spoke this to Moses. God spoke this literally. God communicated with Moses. The text is not specific as to whether God spoke with an audible voice or whether it was in the mind of Moses, but in some manner God spoke to Moses, and Moses listened to His words. God is a God who speaks to his leader. We know, of course, that God spoke to Moses in a different way than He speaks to you and me. I do not go to bed at night expecting God to speak to me audibly, or to grant me dreams and visions. However, that same God used Moses at a later time to write Scripture that speaks to me. Indeed, this text before us right now, written by Moses, speaks to my heart and life. And through his completed revelation, the Bible, God still speaks to me today. God is a God who speaks to His leader. My responsibility is to be ready to listen to what God says. God is not only the God who speaks. We see another truth in this text.
He is the God who reveals Himself. In speaking to Moses, God revealed Himself. He said, “I am the LORD.” He is Yahweh. He said that by His name “Yahweh” He did not make Himself known to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. That statement does not imply that the proper name “Yahweh” was unknown in patriarchal times. We observe that the name Yahweh is used numerous times in Genesis. Rather, God was saying the primary way that He worked with Abraham, the primary way He manifested Himself with the patriarchs was as God Almighty, El Shaddai. God instructed Moses that in the past He worked as the God who cares, as the God who protects, and the God who provides, but now He will demonstrate a different element of His character. God told Moses that He is the covenant keeping God. God made the covenant with Abraham. Now He will demonstrate that He is the covenant keeping God.
In essence God says, You can count on me. Don’t quit because this is who I am. I am the God who reveals myself to you. I am the God who keeps His covenant with you.
Just who is our God? He is the same God as the one who spoke with Moses. We must remind ourselves of that. When we think of our problems and difficulties, as well as our blessings and benefits, He is still God. He is the same God. In the midst of the good times He is God. In the midst of the trials He is still God. He is the God who makes his promise and keeps it with me. What a marvel that He is our God, just as He was the God of Moses.
The Lord begins His encouragement by saying, don’t quit because of who I am. This is not all, however. He continues in verses four and five to provide a second reason to Moses, and to us, not to quit.
God Says, Don’t Quit Because of What I Remember.
What does the Lord remember? Exodus 6:4-5 tell us, “I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.”
God remembers His past promise. You know from your knowledge of biblical history that God gave the covenant to Abraham 400 years earlier. Four hundred years elapsed. Abraham grew old and died. Isaac grew old and died. Jacob died. A new Pharaoh even arose who knew not Joseph. All these generations have come and gone. Some may have thought, certainly the Lord does not remember all that. Yes, he does. He has not forgotten.
Sometimes we may think, “Lord, I trusted You when I was a child, but that was a long time ago. Do You still remember that I belong to You?” Yes, He still remembers. “Lord, I believe You called me into Your ministry, but that was before all these trials, all these people, all this heartache, all this frustration and disappointment. Do You still remember?” He has not forgotten.
God reminded Moses that He established His covenant with them. He made them a promise. He remembers. He does not forget. He is the God who remembers.
God says to us today, “Don’t quit because of who I am; don’t quit because I remember.” You can be thankful. God has not forgotten you. No matter how popular or unpopular you or your ministry may appear to be, no matter successful or unsuccessful you think your ministry is, He has not forgotten you. He remembers you. He remembers the promises He made to you. He says, don’t quit because of who I am. Don’t quit because of what I remember. But God is not done yet.
God remembers in compassion. God knew all the trials of Israel. He heard their groanings. He was totally aware of their enslavement. Did you ever wonder why the Lord let the burdens on Israel become so great? I believe God allowed the burdens for Israel to increase so that they would be more willing to follow Him. Consider how frequently they turned their backs on God after they departed from Egypt. If it had been wonderful in Egypt, they never would desire to leave. God allowed their burdens to bring them to Him. However, He never forgot them. He remembered them because of His great compassion.
Are you the way I am when everything is going well in life? I mean at those times when I’m happy, healthy and seem to have everything going the way I think it ought to be. That occasion when all the people in my ministry love me and tell me so. That time when my wife and I are having a great relationship, my children are marvelous, and my grandkids are the best in the world. If that is the way it always was, then why would I ever want it any different? What would there be to look forward to? When would I stop and think, “It certainly would be great to be in heaven”?
My life, however, is not always great. Many days I do not feel well. There are days when I ache. There are days when the world seems to be in a shambles and my life seems to be at the bottom of the heap. On those days I say, “Oh, Lord, it would be great if you came back. I need you to remember me. Lord, I am not sufficient for this ministry or this life.” God assures us, just as He did Israel, that He remembers and He does so in compassion.
In verses six through eight the Lord gives a third reason why we should not quit.
God Says, Don’t Quit Because of What I Propose.
Observe what God proposed to do. He proposed three specific works which are all encompassed in His “I will” statements. We see the first in verse six.
God proposes deliverance (Exodus 6:6). God begins by asserting that He will bring deliverance from their burdens: “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.”
God proposed to do marvelous things. In this process, it is crucial to contemplate what God did not say. He did not say, “Moses this all hinges on you,” or “All this depends on the faithfulness of these people,” or “All this is conditional on whether or not they obey my word.” He simply said, “I will do this.”
God allowed their burdens, but now assured them that deliverance was at hand. Our confidence is that whatever the burden is, God is the one who permits it. God allows it, and He will not let it go beyond what he wants us to endure. The Lord said the time for removal was present. He knew what the need was, and He proposed deliverance.
God continued in Exodus 6:6, “I will free you from being slaves to them.” It was to be a complete separation. A slave may be sold to a kinder master, have some of his burden removed, but still be a slave. In contrast, when God removes, He rids them of all bondage.
The Lord also told how He would accomplish this task, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” Years ago I heard a Bible teacher make an observation that I have never forgotten. Psalms 8:3 says that when God created the heavens, He did it with His fingers. When He wants to redeem His people, however, it takes His outstretched arm. Are you glad that He has an arm He can use in power, that He can bring people to Himself? God assumed the responsibility by asserting that He would get Israel out of Egypt.
God proposes His redemption for Israel. In addition, observe how He proposes certain results of that redemption in verse seven.
God proposes possession (Exodus 6:7). We correctly and often think that God’s people belong to Him. That is an assertion which we frequently hear. It is a marvelous truth that Israel was His possession. God took a downtrodden, rebellious group of slaves who were utterly unworthy, and made them His possession. He did it solely on the basis of His redemption. It is also marvelous that God makes people today His own possession.
How often, however, do we think of the flip side? God not only says, “You are My possession,” He also says, “I am your possession.” Both elements are included: “You will be my people,” and “I will be your God.” Who else except God could lead through the Red Sea, guide in the wilderness, quench thirst from a rock, and feed with manna from heaven? Who else except God could preserve to the end a people so fickle, weak, and sinful? And this is the God who makes Himself the possession of His people. This is what God proposes. What was true for Israel all those hundreds of years ago, I believe we see from the completed revelation of the New Testament is even more true for you and me. I belong to God – absolutely. More than that – He belongs to me! I am His and He is mine. What a marvel that is. God has a relationship with His people. This is what He proposes. So don’t quit. Think what He has done.
God proposes redemption. God proposes possession. Yet, that is not all. Consider the emphasis of Exodus 6:8.
God proposes provision (Exodus 6:8). “And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession.” God assured them that He would provide the land for them. In addition, He assured them that He would provide all their needs in that land. The word “possession” has the idea of an inheritance. God asserts that He will take care of them, give them all that is necessary as their inheritance.
Today we think of verses like Philippians 4:19, that God will supply all we need – not our greed – but our need, “according to his riches in Christ Jesus.” How often do we contemplate the ramifications of this promise? The promise is “according to,” not “out of.” Think of it like this. Suppose I have a personal relationship with Bill Gates, billionaire founder of Microsoft. Suppose we are really great friends, and I am having some financial difficulty. So I go to my friend, Bill Gates, and I say, “Bill, I have a serious financial problem.” To that he immediately replies, “Wait a minute, Larry, don’t say any more.” He reaches into his pocket, whips out his checkbook, writes “Larry Overstreet” on a check, then fills in the amount of $1,000, hands it to me and says, “I hope this helps.” Now that is giving me “out of” his riches. Instead of that, let us suppose another scenario. I come to my friend, Bill Gates and say, “Bill, I have this serious financial problem.” This time he responds, “Wait a minute, Larry, don’t say anything else.” He takes out his checkbook, writes “Larry Overstreet” on a check and signs his name. He hands me the check and says, “Fill in the amount.” That is “according to” his riches. The difference is significant. God promises to take care of His people “according to” His riches. That is basically what God is doing with Israel in Exodus, and He is still doing it for me and you today.
In our imagination, we heard Moses say, “Lord, just give me three good reasons why I should not quit.” God responded, “Okay, here they are.” “Don’t quit because of who I am. Don’t quit because of what I remember. Don’t quit because of what I propose.” You can almost see Moses as he listens to this. You can almost see him as he begins to smile, and think, “Praise Yahweh, this is wonderful. This is marvelous. I must go and tell somebody else these wonderful assurances from our majestic God.” And so he does.
Look at verse nine, “Moses reported this to the Israelites.” You can almost hear Moses say to the leaders, “My brothers, listen to what God has said. Look at who God is. Look at what He remembers. Look at what He proposes. These are wonderful assurances from the very mouth of our Lord.”
Before you get too excited, however, consider the next part of Exodus 6:9, “but they did not listen to him.” They did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency, and cruel bondage. They did not listen. So now what? One of the most disheartening things for a leader is for the people he loves not to listen, not to follow. What can Moses do when the people do not listen? What can we do when our people do not listen?
Let me suggest that God gives us three good reasons not to quit – even if no one listens. Nobody listened – don’t quit. Why not quit? Because the assurances of God’s Word do not depend on the people. The focus is not on Israel in this context. The focus is on God.
Because of the completed Word of God, we know more of our God, and understand more of His plan than Moses did. We understand that He loved us so much that He gave us His Son to redeem us from sin and bring us to Himself. We understand that He is the one who called us into His ministry. That same God said, “Don’t quit – this is who I am. Don’t quit — this is what I remember. Don’t quit – this is what I propose. And if no one listens – I am still God.”
Notice a crucial statement that repeats in these verses. In Exodus 6:2, God spoke, “I am the LORD.” In Exodus 6:6 we see again, “I am the LORD.” In the middle of verse seven, “I am the LORD.” At the end of verse eight, “I am the LORD.” Let us keep our focus where it needs to be. Keep it on Him. When we do, we have three good reasons not to quit – even if nobody listens. It took a while for Moses to comprehend this truth, but he finally got it. We read in Exodus 7:6, “So Moses and Aaron did it; as the LORD commanded them, thus they did.” We must be like Moses, doing what the Lord has called us to do. Don’t quit!
Larry Overstreet is Professor of Preaching at Northwest Baptist Seminary in Tacoma, WA.