Interpreting dreams is tricky business. I’m not a psychologist, so I won’t pretend to offer an expert’s analysis of certain dreams that I have had. Sometimes those dreams would leave such a vivid impression that they haunted me for days. I used to think that those dreams were peculiar to me, and I found them embarrassing. As I grew older, I found everybody has them. Let’s see if some are familiar to you.
You are out for a walk in the countryside, and suddenly you meet a wild animal. You turn to run, and discover that instead of wearing sneakers you are wearing heavy work boots, and the only thing that saves you from being mauled by the monster of the wild, just as he is ready to pounce on you, is that you wake up in a cold sweat.
You are getting ready for your final exam. It covers a subject with which you have had difficulty all year, and you have to do well to pass the course. But now, sitting at your desk waiting for the teacher to pass out the test questions, you can’t even remember the name of the course. Here she comes with a smirk of sadistic glee. Then you wake up.
You have been invited to a state dinner at the White House. You are the envy of all your neighbors. You pack your bags, get on the plane, arrive in Washington, and head for the White House. As you look at the other guests standing in the receiving line, all of them are dressed in gorgeous formal attire. Just then you pass a full length mirror and look at yourself … and you are as naked as a jay-bird.
You’ve been sitting on the bench all season, wanting a chance to play. Finally the big moment comes, the coach calls your name, you jump to your feet and head for third base … only to realize you didn’t even bring your glove to the game … and you are wearing the tuxedo you forgot at the White House.
Sunday is here. I get into the pulpit to preach again … only I can’t find my notes. In fact, I don’t even remember preparing a sermon. (If you say, “I remember that Sunday,” I’ll recommend your ex-communication.)
There is a common thread that runs through all of these dreams … the feeling of inadequacy and the corresponding fear of failure.
I love the old comic strip depicting Lucy, Charlie Brown and Linus lying in a field, looking up at the bright white clouds in an azure blue sky. Lucy asks Linus, “Linus, what do you see?”
Linus replies, “That cloud looks like a profile of Beethoven. Those clouds look like an outline of the blue Azores. And those clouds remind me of Saul holding the cloak of Stephen as he was being stoned.”
Then Lucy turns to Charlie Brown and asks, “And Charlie Brown, what do you see?”
Charlie Brown says, “I was going to say I saw a ducky and a doggy … but I’ve changed my mind.”
Feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure haunt us all. We are aware that people have expectations of us — God has expectations of us — and we have expectations of our own, and we don’t want to fail by any standard of measurement However we measure success, we all need to have some sense that we have succeeded. And if we don’t think we can succeed in a task, we usually decline it.
That is why this passage of Scripture can be so helpful to us today. This is the story of a man who felt terribly inadequate.
Moses was born of Jewish parents who were enslaved in Egypt along with all the other Hebrews. His parents names were Amram and Jochabed. Pharaoh had given the order that all male babies of the Hebrews were to be killed. So Moses’ mother put him in a little basket, waterproofed it with tar, and floated him in the Nile river close to where Pharaoh’s daughter went for her daily swim. Pharaoh’s daughter discovered the little baby among the bullrushes, and raised him as her own in the palace.
We are not told when or how Moses learned of his kinship to the Hebrews. But one day he saw a Hebrew being mistreated by an Egyptian, and in defense of the Hebrew he struck the Egyptian and killed him. Then he had to flee to the wilderness of Midian in order to escape Egyptian justice. There he married the daughter of Jethro. He had children, and for the next 40 years he was a shepherd in the wilderness of Sinai.
One day, when he was 80 years of age, he sees a bush that bursts into flame, continues to burn and is not consumed. So he approached the bush to see what caused this strange phenomenon. And out of the bush comes the voice of God saying, “Moses, take off your sandals because you are standing on holy ground.”
So Moses took off his sandals and knelt before God Who was speaking from that burning bush. And God sad: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey — So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites out of Egypt.”
And Moses responded, “Not me, God. You’ve fingered the wrong man.”
God persisted, and still Moses objected: Lord, who do you think I am? I don’t have any credibility with those Hebrews. If I go and announce that I am their deliverer, why should they believe me? Lord, you’ve chosen the wrong man. Get somebody else!
Then God did something to convince Moses.
Moses, what do you have in your hand?
A shepherd’s staff.
Throw it on the ground!
And when Moses threw it on the ground, it turned into a snake, and he ran from it. Then God told Moses to take the snake by the tail, and when he did, it turned back into a staff.
Then God told Moses to put his hand inside his cape. When he withdrew it, it was white with leprosy. Then God told him to insert his hand inside the cape again, and when he withdrew it, it was normal.
Now those two miracles were performed for Moses, to convince him that God had power to strengthen and bless his leadership. But still Moses resisted. God, I’ve been a shepherd in the desert for 40 years. I’m not eloquent, and besides at 80 years of age, I’m ready for retirement. God, get somebody else.
Moses was correct. He was a senior citizen, he had been absent from the Hebrew scene for 40 years, and he was not an eloquent public speaker, and he didn’t want the hassle. Lord, please send someone else to do it.
Let me point out several things from this encounter.
First, please understand that God Is Aware of His People’s Plight. What had happened to the Jews, and their condition of slavery He was well aware of. Even though they had been stuck in slavery for 400 years, God had not forgotten them.
Second, please notice the Power of God. The miracles God performed for Moses indicated that whatever resources Moses needed to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, God would provide.
Third, notice the Power of Unbelief. Because Moses did not want to what God called him to do, even miracles weren’t strong enough to persuade him.
Fourth, notice the Providence of God. Moses pleaded his lack of eloquence as an excuse not to obey. God said: “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” “Moses, your physical capabilities and your handicaps are my doing. Your limitations are my problem I’ll take care of them. Don’t plead inadequacy as an excuse for disobedience.”
God had already prompted Moses’ brother Aaron — a man who could speak well — to travel to see Moses, and God teamed them together to lead the Hebrews speak of Egypt, with this promise: I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. And Moses, don’t forget to take that staff in your hand!
Now, the rest of the story of the Exodus is a story for us. It tells us about the power of God that is adequate for everyday life. It shows the inadequacy of human resources. It illustrates the treacherousness of human nature. In spite of the miraculous power of God, human nature is still given to unbelief, grumbling and complaining. Faith is a very fragile and tenuous thing. We must never presume to be able to hang onto it on our own.
But the account of the Exodus is also a story which shows us what God can do through weak and inadequate people. When the Apostle Paul complained three times to God about an impediment he referred to as a thorn in the flesh, that he felt was hindering his work, God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power shows up best in weak people.” So, Paul responded: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).
So when God gives you a job to do, and you are feeling inadequate, this message is for you. God’s power shows up best in weak people. For all though history, God has accomplished uncommon tasks with common people using common tools.
J. Edgar Park, writing some years ago, was obviously relating an incident in his life back in Scotland. It was a time when he lay gravely ill, lying in a back room in Edinburgh. Suddenly he dimly saw standing at the foot of his bed a tall, white-haired man who closed his eyes and said, “O Lord, Thou givest the victory unto the weak! We give it to the strong and to the talented, but Thou givest it unto the weak. Amen.”
Those words of Alexander Whyte of Free St.George’s Church have remained living in the life of that man ever since. In them was the seed idea God was trying to plant in the mind of Moses. The best work is done by people who do not think they are fitted for it. The man with all the advantages and gifts and assurance misfires; somehow he is too glib a speaker, too easy socially, too efficient, too robust, too sure of himself.
Every great thing is done in spite of something. Excuses are the unconscious humor of the unwilling. God would probably never have made Moses facile with words, but would have seen to it that his stammering voice rang with a sincerity and power which is more than eloquence. The best teachers and persuaders are a priori the most unexpected persons… when God is urging you, when your better self says ‘you ought’ then dare to try, and you will find that the humble man with the help of God can always do better than he thought (J. Edgar Park, in Interpreters Bible, Vol. 1, p. 878).
Is that not proven over and over again in history? People, in spite of handicaps and in spite of adversity, have accomplished far more than humanly speaking we thought they could. Take Beethoven, for example. He was totally deaf during the last eight years of his life but it was during this tragic period that he wrote his Ninth Symphony, often acclaimed as his greatest musical work. Yet he never heard it.
A horribly deformed dwarf-like cripple named Charles Steinbeck became one of the outstanding electrical geniuses of all time. He holds patents on over 100 inventions, and he did this during his tenure as a consulting engineer with the General Electric Company. This pitiful little man did most of his work half standing and half leaning upon a stool. An indomitable will guided him to accomplishments seldom matched by others in perfect health.
Or consider John Milton, one of England’s greatest poets. He wrote his magnificent epic, Paradise Lost, after some 10 or 12 years of total blindness. Through a spirit of determination seldom equaled in the annals of literature, he was able to turn tragedy into triumph. His well known sonnet on his blindness illustrates his feeling of responsibility toward God who made him, and endowed him with such magnificent genius:
When I consider how my light is spent
E’re half my days, in this dark world and wide
And that one Talent, which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide:
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God cloth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts, who best
Bear his mild yoke, they seine him best.
His state is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.
Several years ago I came across a poem written by the receptionist at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. Reflecting on the meaning of her own life, she wrote:
“I don’t know how to say it, but somehow it seems to me
That maybe we are stationed where God wants us to be:
That the little place I’m filling is the reason for my birth,
And just to do the work I do, He sent me down to earth.
If God had wanted otherwise, I reckon He’d have made
Me just a little different, of worse or better grade,
And since God knows and understands all things of land and sea,
I fancy that He placed me here, just where He wanted me.
Sometimes I get to thinking, as my labors I review,
That I should like a higher place, with greater things to do;
But I come to the conclusion, when the envying is stilled,
That the post to which God sent me is the post He wanted filled.
So I plod along and struggle in the hope, when day is through,
That I’m really necessary to the things God wants me to do;
And there isn’t any service I can give, which I should scorn,
For it may be just the reason God allowed me to be born.”
How human it is to make excuses. Excuses are evidence of unbelief. For if we truly believed God is adequate for every challenge He calls us to meet, every task He calls us to perform, every duty He assigns, we would step forward and salute our Commander-in-Chief, and say, “Yes Sir! What’s next?”
What is that you have in your hand?
Are you a housewife and a mother? You’ve got pots and pans and children created in the image of God … That’s What You’ve Got in Your Hand!
If you are a nurse you’ve got a thermometer, or a syringe, or a Bed-pan … That’s What You Have in Your Hand!
If you are a secretary, you’ve got a pencil, and a steno pad, and a computer keyboard … That’s What You Have in Your Hand!
Are you a physician? You’ve got a stethoscope, or an X-ray, or a Scalpel … That’s What You’ve Got in Your Hand!
Are you a teacher? You’ve got a textbook, and some chalk, and a wall full of charts, and a head full of knowledge, and a room full of children waiting to blossom like flowers … That’s What You’ve Got in Your Hand!
Are you a lawyer? You’ve got the legal system, and justice, and lives … That’s What You’ve Got in Your Hand!
Are you a business person? You’ve got management skills, and financial acumen, and commercial opportunity … That’s What You’ve Got in Your Hand!
God is not looking for experts. God is not looking for Supermen and Superwomen. God is not looking for uncommonly strong and resourceful people.
God is looking for people who will take what they have in their hands and put it at His disposal.
God can do uncommon things with common people and common tools, if we simply make them available to Him!
Will you let Him have what is in your hand?

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