Meditations in Exodus: 17. I’m not a speaker
Ex 4:10 Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
Moses’ starting point had been, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11), the expression of one with low self-esteem after forty years of looking after a flock of sheep in the wilderness. His second question had been about God and not himself: “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, `What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” (Ex 3:13) A legitimate question. His third question focused on those he was going to: “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, `The LORD did not appear to you’?” (Ex 4:1)
Having covered all the bases, so to speak, he returns to his own inability. “I’m just not a communicator, I’m not good with people, I never know what to say.” Do those thing sound familiar? They are the excuses people make when the subject of witnessing comes up, or doing anything public for that matter. There are public figures and then there is me. But can I tell you something I have noticed about those who say these things? Put them with someone who they know and they can chat on over a cup of coffee and talk about anything. It’s all about confidence. I can talk to someone in my family but I wouldn’t know what to say to a stranger.
Let me give you a testimony and I do this with some measure of reticence and yet a feeling I ought to do it. I was a pastor of two churches for over twenty five years. I travelled abroad teaching. I overheard someone say they felt I was one of the most pastoral people they had ever come across and another said they felt I was the most gentle person they ever came across and yet I did it because it had to be done and that’s what Jesus would have done. In many ways I was never comfortable with people. When I look back I had a tremendous sense of inadequacy and inferiority which was largely healed up when I became a Christian in my early twenties, but was still there in the background. At one time back then in my earliest Christian days I was leading seven different Bible Studies a week – all full of people and I thoroughly enjoyed them in that context.
I retired from that world a little over five years ago when the Lord told me it was time to give up my leadership role and start a local online community magazine that was first of all a local directory for my small town and then a means of entertaining with recreational reading and finally with providing teaching and help pages. He used Jeremiah’s words, “Seek the welfare of the city to which you have been exiled” (Jer 29:7) to get me under way. Do good to people, make them feel good. Bless them by serving them in this community. Now the Lord, I am sure, has a sense of humour. To compile this directory of shops, businesses, clubs, groups, organizations, churches, schools and local authority people, I had to visit every single one and talk to people. With some shops it was simply gathering basic information; at other times it might be to interview people to get them to explain to the community their expertise. Trying to bring the work of the local parish Council and then the local District Council to the awareness of the community meant that I had to interview elected councillors and employee-officers of the council. It has been an amazing five years. After the first year of so I made an amazing discovery: “Oh my goodness! I love people, I love talking to them and even more getting them to talk to me!” After about a year of this I went to cover a Fayre that a local school was putting on and as they had invited me in I decided I would briefly interview each stall-holder to see where they came from and how they came to be there. Here’s where it gets funny; my wife decided to come along and afterwards she said to me, “So where has my husband gone? Who is this man of the world I’ve been watching all morning?” I looked at here somewhat blankly. “What do you mean?” “From the moment we walked through the doors I lost you. You were off talking to people like they were long lost buddies. Where did all that come from?” The Lord, I guess.
My point is twofold. First, so often we limit ourselves because of the past forty years in the desert. We may have gone through dry and drastic and demeaning times; we may have failed Him more than a few times; we may have got it drastically wrong but in the kingdom of God I’ve come to realise that is not the end of it.
Now here’s my second point that has come out of my testimony: it is often a matter of the environment or the surroundings and who we are in them. Suddenly I had a new purpose and a new reason for being there and I have to tell you that over these five years I would say that at least 98% of the people I’ve met or interviewed have received me very well and our encounter has been pure pleasure.
The Lord said, to Moses, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Ex 4:12) so although I have not been conscious of His enabling in every interview, I have prayed for it and I believe it was there. He has put questions in my mind, He has opened up channels of conversation. Once I had the task, I just got on with it and it soon became natural but I still ask for His help. I’m off to interview a local fund-raiser in an hour’s time and I’ve prayed about it and I’m sure He will bless it. What will we talk about? I’m not sure of the details, I have some ideas but as I do it, it will open up.
Talking to his disciples about how to handle the tough times, Jesus said, “do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Mt 10:19,20) That is the truth for us Christians – God will help us, He will teach us what to say, His Spirit will give us the words.
Oh, by the way, don’t forget what we said in a recent meditation – don’t rely on self-effort, past experience and so on; rely on Him every time, seek Him, ask Him, trust Him for the new moment! Despite what I’ve said above, and it is all true, I’ve been a Bible teacher for over forty years, a preacher for over thirty years and I was a professional college teacher for over seventeen years, but none of those things make one-to-one easy. It is easy when you trust God for it and you have a sense of purpose in it. I’m afraid it is that simple despite all the self-help books in the local bookstores. When you are the person He’s called you to be, and you love the people in front of you and care for them and listen to them, and you’ve asked for His help, they will open up to you and you will never again say, “I have never been eloquent,” because you will know that doesn’t matter. Go into today thinking and praying, “Who can I bless, Lord?”