Eugene Peterson’s book Eat this Book teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. This story about Moses from Exodus 18 teaches us about trying to do too much.
LIVING WITHIN LIMITS
Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a Whole-Burnt-Offering and sacrifices to God. . . . The next day Moses took his place to judge the people. People were standing before him all day long, from morning to night. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What’s going on here? Why are you doing all this, and all by yourself, letting everybody line up before you from morning to night?”
Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me with questions about God. When something comes up, they come to me. I judge between a man and his neighbor and teach them God’s laws and instructions.’
Moses’ father-in-law said, ‘This is no way to go about it. You’ll burn out, and the people right along with you. This is way too much for you—you can’t do this alone. Now listen to me. Let me tell you how to do this so that God will be in this with you. Be there for the people before God, but let the matters of concern be presented to God. Your job is to teach them the rules and instructions, to show them how to live, what to do.
‘And then you need to keep a sharp eye out for competent men—men who fear God, men of integrity, men who are incorruptible—and appoint them as leaders over groups organized by the thousand, by the hundred, by fifty, and by ten. They’ll be responsible for the everyday work of judging among the people. They’ll bring the hard cases to you, but in the routine cases they’ll be the judges. They will share your load and that will make it easier for you. If you handle the work this way, you’ll have the strength to carry out whatever God commands you, and the people in their settings will flourish also.’ Moses listened to the counsel of his father-in-law and did everything he said” (Exodus 18: 12-24 MSG).
In this passage, we see Moses caught up in the dilemma that many of us living in 2016 share: doing too much. The Scripture tells us that Moses “sat” to judge and the people” stood;” these are technical terms of Semitic law, denoting “judge” and “litigant.” Because Moses knew God and his Word, he was able to settle these disputes. Apparently Moses with the only recognized judge in the nation and the job of hearing each case kept Moses busy from morning to night. Taking on this responsibility was a massive burden. Not only was he taking too much on his shoulders, he was making problems for the people he was trying to help by creating a logjam, making them wait in long lines all day.
It wasn’t that Moses was unfit to hear their disputes; it wasn’t that he didn’t care about their disputes; it wasn’t that the job was beneath him, and it wasn’t that the people didn’t want Moses to hear their disputes. The problem was simply that the job was too big for Moses to do. His energies were spent unwisely, and justice was delayed for many in Israel. Looking on from the outside, Jethro knew that this was not effective leadership. Like many of us, Moses was trying to carry out the role God had given him, but he didn’t consider that others would be able to help him. And by doing all the work Moses was preventing the maturing of other leaders Moses needed to delegate. And so do we.
Here are some soul-training exercises to help us live within limits:
♥ Ask a family member or friend to discuss your schedule with you. Do they experience you as being too busy or overwhelmed? What suggestions do they have for limits or boundaries.
♥ Think of your life as a page in a book. In order to be readable, a book needs margins (top, bottom and sides) In order to be livable, a life needs breathing room. Is there any white space (free time) on your page?
♥ List every role you have (parent, employee, church member, soccer mom or dad, golfer, friend, son or daughter, party-giver, cook, cleaning lady, mechanic, shopper, banker, volunteer, cuddler, chauffeur, pet owner, etc.) Chart the amount of time you spend in each role for one week. Allow 6 – 8 hours per night for sleep. Is there any time left in the week? Plan your schedule for next week and cut something out if necessary so you have space(s) in your day to do something you enjoy or to “veg” or to sleep.
♥ Have a conversation with the Holy Spirit. Ask the Spirit to reveal the reasons you continually do too much. Do you need love or approval? Do you need to be in control, or indispensable or invincible?
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“In the Genesis story, the Creator works for six days, shaping the green, fluid beauty of the earth with life everywhere. . . . On the seventh day, the Creator rests. For now, this is enough. In the Hebrew Bible, the word for this rest can literally be read, ‘And God exhaled.’
God exhaled. When do we exhale? Perhaps, like God, we exhale when we feel certain that our good and necessary work is done? What then is our work on the earth. In a world gone mad with speed, potential, and choice, we continually over-estimate what we can do, build fix, care for or make happen in one day. We overload our expectations on ourselves and others, inflate our real and imaginary responsibilities, until our fierce and tender human hearts finally collapse under the relentless pressure of impossible demands” (by Wayne Muller in A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough).
image of Moses and Jethro from the Ultimate Bible Picture Collection; image of white board by linkedin.com