Last week we looked at one argument (or excuse) that we make when we don't want to act on what God has called us to do. I labeled it "The Identity Argument" when we, like Moses at the burning bush, look at the size of the task and say, "I'm too small for this." Today, we'll look at at two similar arguments that allow us to remain passive.
The Magnitude Argument: “The Problem Is Too Big”
Maybe you’re looking at the chaotic life of a loved one and are overwhelmed at all that needs to change. Or maybe you’re considering your marriage, and all the years that have poured over the dam, and it simply seems impossible to turn it around. Or maybe in studying your community, you’re stunned at the injustice, corruption, poverty, and violence not too far from you—conditions that seem far too big, far too complicated, and goodness, it’s all been going on for years.
Once more, Moses comes to mind. The children of Israel are now in the wilderness and complaining because they’re bored with eating the manna that God provides every day to sustain them. God tells Moses that he’ll send quail for Israel to eat; not just for a meal, or a week’s meals, but for a month, until it comes out of their noses and they loathe it! (Numbers 11:18–20). Now read Moses’ words, and you can then understand what‘s wrong with the magnitude argument:
But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” (Numbers 11:21–22)
What do you think is wrong with Moses’ analysis? He certainly recognizes, legitimately, that it’ll take a great deal of food to feed more than 600,000 hungry Israelites. But he can’t see past that fact. The fatal flaw in his analysis is that he thinks far too little of the God who’s calling him to act.
We know this from God’s answer: “Is the Lord’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you” (Numbers 11:23). In Moses’ eyes, the God whom he serves is infinitely smaller than the God who actually exists and who’s called him to do great things. No problem is too big for the Creator God.
The Separation Argument: “It’s Not My Problem”
One way we sometimes try to quiet a guilty conscience is to tell ourselves that we would gladly get involved if we were involved. We argue that we have "a lot on our plate already" and "we want to be faithful to what God has given us to do." Again, there’s some logic to this, and even some truth; you’re a human being with limited time, energy, and resources. And it’s true that you must make a priority of the things God has given you to do. But perhaps we take ourselves off the hook too easily. Perhaps we are often too happily uninvolved.
Could it be that our passivity to the needs around us doesn't really grow out of a commitment to prioritize what God has commanded us to do, but is really a neglect of how he’s commanded us to live? It’s the difference between focusing on specific behaviors as opposed to a particular kind of lifestyle. Listen to the words of the prophet Micah (from Micah 6:6–8):
With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
In this passage, specific acts of worship at the personal level (which may or may not be genuinely from the heart) take a definite back seat to a lifestyle at the public level that’s committed to justice, mercy, and humility. Micah’s call takes us way beyond a “me and mine” way of looking at the call of God. God requires his people to be instruments of his justice and mercy wherever he’s placed them.
How you live is much more comprehensive and broader than your specific acts or roles. It’s the child, the apprentice, who simply performs the duties that have been set before him. With growth and maturity comes a release into a broader world where you’re expected to interact more freely with your environment. The apprentice becomes a craftsman, and the child becomes an adult. Consider the call of Christ to us all as recorded in Mathew 5:14–16.
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who in heaven."
Jesus is saying, “You’ve been lit by my grace, now go let my character shine through you.” How do you do this? Jesus makes it very clear: through a public life characterized by good deeds.
Here again is a call to step out into this darkened world, not succumbing to thoughts of your smallness, or the magnitude of the problem, or the distance it is from your front door. It’s a call to remember who you are (someone who’s been lit by the transforming grace of God) and who he is (a God of awesome power and grace) and step out to look for opportunities to light what’s been dark through actions of love, mercy, justice, reconciliation, peace, and compassion.
We'll wrap up this series next Tuesday, so don't forget to check back in a week.