Friday, June 12, 2009

Rock Talk

The LORD said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water.”

                        Numbers 20.8

Too Harsh?

I first visited Arizona with a close friend whose calm demeanor carried no trace of a reckless streak I’d never seen before this trip. He rented a convertible, woke me up, and said, “Get dressed. We’re going to see the desert.” We drove out of Phoenix with nothing but a few jazz cassettes in the car—no map, no water, and frankly, no idea what we were doing. Lulled along by music and sage air, we lost touch with reality until Frank asked, “How long have we been driving?” I told him a little over three hours and asked why. He held up his hand. I’d seen this before. He was running numbers in his head. He turned the car around and said, “We’re down to a quarter tank of gas. I I think we can make it back.” I wondered if I should start praying. “Not a bad idea,” he said.  We left the desert on fumes—but I won’t lie: I spent the drive fighting the image of two sun-bleached skeletons sitting in a dusty convertible in the middle of nowhere.

Numbers 20 finds the Israelites where we were, off the beaten path with no map or water or visible help. Like always, they turn on Moses. “We’re in middle of nowhere with no resources—no food, no water, nothing! How could you do this to us?” Moses and Aaron decide praying isn’t a bad idea. God says, “Take your staff”—the emblem of authority that became a serpent before Pharaoh—“gather the people and speak to the rock in front of them. It will gush with water.” They do as God commands, but when the big moment arrives, Moses screws up. He strikes the rock. As water pours out, God’s voice slices through celebration: “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20.12) Being a just God, He can’t punish Israel for its leaders’ distrust. He'll give them the land He's promised. Yet the misstep costs Moses and Aaron their life’s dream. They’ll be left behind, buried in the desert. Which begs the question: Is God’s penalty too harsh for what seems like a reasonable mistake?

Back in the Picture

Surely Moses doesn’t imagine he’ll get water from the rock on his own if he hits it just right. He knows rocks don’t hold water. Let’s grant him that. And now let’s step back and look at what happened from God’s perspective. Moses gets in the way of God’s glory. It looks like water gushes out of the rock because he’s done something. The plan was intended as a hands-off display of divine power, not a divinely inspired maneuver. In doing too much, Moses cheats God’s pleasure in proving how much He can do.

How often do we strike when God wants us to speak? We’re in the middle of nowhere and up against a rock, with people asking, “Now what?” We go to God and He tells us, “This is what you should say.” Emboldened by His direction, we encourage everyone to watch what’s about to happen. Then, when the time comes, we wedge our way back in the picture, thinking if we don’t do something, nothing will happen. We act when we need only speak. Philippians 2.13 tells us, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Many, many times in life—particularly when we’re completely lost with no resources or power of our own—all we can do, all we’re supposed to do, is confess our faith and give God some space. He does the doing. He works in us to will and to act, as He’s pleased to do for His glory. That’s how rock talk works.

A Spoken Art

If Moses’s rock disaster teaches anything, it’s faith is a spoken, not performance, art. We might dismiss this as too literal a reading were it not for dozens of other texts backing it up. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 17.20: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move.” We move mountains on command. Paul writes, “It is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10.10) We’re saved by what we say. We read in Psalm 107.20, “He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.” Health and life are transmitted through the spoken word. That’s why Joel 3.10 encourages us, “Let the weakling say, ‘I am strong!’”

Looking at a rock wall without the tiniest inkling what to do next tells us time for doing is passed and time to speak has begun. We’ve come to this place to rediscover what our God can do if we discount power we possess, speak faith to our needs, and watch Him to perform. Banging away at problems won’t end well for us. God very well may do what He did with Moses and Aaron. He may show His miraculous power for the good of those around us. But even so, we displease Him when we veer from His plan and insert ourselves into His picture. In Exodus 20.5, He says, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God." He will give us everything we need when we need it—water from a rock if that’s what it takes. But He stubbornly refuses to share His glory with anyone. Rock talk is about speaking trust when we’re told and then allowing God to perform.

Finding ourselves before a rock wall with no idea what to do tells us it's time to speak faith, stand back, and let God do the doing.

(Tomorrow: Architecture)

Postscript: Bible Study Report

Last night's first online Bible Study was a great success. Though attendance was small, the blessings were enormous. If at all possible, I encourage you participate in tomorrow’s 11 AM CDT study. We have much to learn from one another, and much love to share. I promise your efforts will be greatly rewarded!

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