When people ask me how I got started with this hobo thing, the heart of it goes like this: I knew I needed to quit my teaching job and a priest friend said to me, “You’re good at public speaking and you’ve wanted to do more of that.” “Father,” I guffawed, “you can’t just quit life and be a public speaker!” And then I took it to prayer. And God said, “Tell me why not.”
I do a lot of reasoning with God. I tell him why it’s a bad idea for me to do something hard, how it’s really going to make me less holy, how I’m not going to be effective. I keep throwing up objections, like he hadn’t already thought of them. Turns out I’m in good company. Moses was much the same.
Grab your Bibles, friends, and flip to Exodus 3.1 Moses’ first encounter with the living God is no laughing matter: a bush that’s on fire but not consumed. God demonstrates his power by doing something that’s impossible, using something frail for his glory without destroying it, and then tells Moses he’s going to do the same through him:
“Come, now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (3:10)
A disembodied voice from a miraculous vision. And Moses’ reaction?
That’s right. Moses objects.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11)
The minute he’s called by God to do something great, Moses starts thinking about himself. He’s unworthy, he thinks, and so he corrects God.
“I’ve been feeling like I need to teach Sunday School, but I don’t know enough to teach anybody.” “I know I need to go to confession, but I’m just going to mess up again.” “They begged me to join the choir, but I can’t sing in front of people!” “I can’t be called to the priesthood, not with a past like mine.”
“I’m unworthy!” we cry. The problem is, it’s not about you.
God answered, “I will be with you.” (3:12)
“Who am I?” you ask? Nobody. It’s who God is that matters. And if he’s calling you, it’s because he’s going to use you. Even in your brokenness.
“But,” said Moses to God, “when I go to the Israelites…if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” (3:13)
But I’m ignorant. I don’t know enough. I can’t evangelize–I don’t have all the answers! I can’t encourage people to be holy–they’ll see through me!
God replied, “I am who am…. This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” (3:14)
Jesus said it best: “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”2 Yes, you’re ignorant. We all are. But he has all the answers. More than that, he is the answer. The Way, the Truth, and the Life. You can be inadequate. His grace is enough.3
God gives Moses all kinds of explanation and defense and even a detailed plan for fame and riches and a life of ease.
“But,” objected Moses, “Suppose they will not believe me, nor listen to my plea?” (4:1)
This time God gives Moses miraculous proof–a staff turning into a snake and back again, a leprous hand, water turning into blood. He shows Moses once again that he’s in control. “I’ve got this,” he says to Moses and to us. “Just follow. Remember that I’m a God of miracles and just follow.”
Moses, however, said to the Lord, “If you please, Lord, I have never been eloquent.” (4:10)
Good one–let’s fall back on humility. Figure out all the things that are wrong with you, all the things that keep you from praying or serving or witnessing like you should. Make a list and put it before God. “You see? I don’t have to do your will. Because I can’t.”
The Lord said to him, “Who gives one man speech and makes another deaf and dumb? Or who gives sight to one and makes another blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Go, then! It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say.” (4:11-12)
Over and over he tells Moses, “It’s not about you.” God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. So while grace builds on nature, it can do a lot more with a lot less than we think. If God is calling you to tithe or put your kids in Catholic school or discern religious life or stop using contraception or go to daily Mass, he will make it possible. You’ll be given what you need–extra time or prudence in spending money or trust in his providence or talent or virtue or whatever. You are already enough in him. Stop grasping at straws for why you “can’t” do what he’s asking of you.
Finally, Moses does just that. He stops making excuses and just refuses.
“Please, Lord, send someone else.” (4:13)
Through all the objections, God kept promising, kept explaining, kept showing Moses how he was enough because God was enough. He kept telling Moses that the Great I AM wouldn’t call him without preparing him first. He kept asking Moses to trust. When Moses stops negotiating (with a booming voice from heaven) and just says no, God gets a little miffed. (4:14) This is when God tells him that he already knew his concerns and his shortcomings, that he already took care of them.
“Have you not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he is an eloquent speaker. Besides, he is now on his way to meet you.” (4:14)
See that? All that time God was trying to convince Moses to follow, it was because God knew what he was doing. He didn’t tell Moses at first because he wanted Moses to trust him for who he was, not for what he had done. But his call was perfect, even down to the backup plan that was already in motion when he first called Moses. Aaron was already on his way to support Moses before Moses even started doubting his adequacy to the task.
I’ve heard these called “big ugly buts”–objections to God’s will that stand in the way of our following him. They’re rational and prudent and completely self-serving. They’re natural and faithless. They ignore the fact that God knows you, that he loves you, that he wants what’s best for you, and that he does the impossible every day.
I’d be willing to bet there’s something in your life right now that you know God’s putting before you. Something that’s nagging at you: a job you need to quit, a donation you need to make, an enemy you need to forgive, a sin you need to forsake. You were made for greatness but most of us are pretty mediocre. Moses was pretty mediocre–until he became the greatest prophet of the Old Testament. Peter was pretty mediocre–until he became the first pope. David and Esther and Augustine and Teresa were all pretty mediocre until they decided to get off their big ugly buts and start being who were made to be.
No, you’re not good enough. You’re not smart enough or holy enough or loving enough to set the world ablaze. Fortunately, it’s not about you. If God is calling you to some service or prayer or sacrifice, it’s because he’s going to do great things in and through you. You may not see how–or why–but you’ve seen him work again and again in your life. Stop wondering what he’s going to do and trust in who he is. Trust. Follow. Even when you don’t know where he’s leading. Because you may have to walk through the Red Sea and a whole lot of desert, but eventually you’ll get to the Promised Land. Get off your big ugly but and go.