I recently had the privilege of participating in a Pastors ordination. It was a humbling and eye opening experience. I have attended ordinations before, but this one was different. This particular ordination was filled with a diverse group of mentors who journeyed with the pastor being ordained. I heard stories, advice, and admonishments from new and more experienced pastors and colleagues. Reflecting on this experience, I couldn’t help but remember the story of Jethro and Moses.
Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Exodus 18:17-18
In an early story in the Bible we come across an account of Jethro the father in law of Moses who recently emancipated the Israelites from under the rule of Pharaoh. After escaping Egypt, Moses was in the wilderness with thousands of families, trying to govern them and their disputes. With governing thousands of people Moses was wasting away and so were the people. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law whom Moses worked for years as a shepherd, recognized the issue immediately and gave wise counsel to Moses on how to handle the situation. He pointed out the fact that Moses, “…cannot handle it alone,” Exodus 18:18b.
What kind and direct words Jethro offers, “You cannot handle it alone.” This phrase shows wisdom, care, and a harsh truth. Depending on the tone you may attribute to Jethro, a stern conversation or a gentle concern, he does not hide the obvious reality. He does not lead Moses on a path of self-help to find more energy to complete his task, or deal with the people with more command to get it done. No, he points out that, “You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.” (Exodus 18:17). In our current society I have come across a language that encourages us towards what we can do, but when it comes down to real management, I have discovered it’s more of what you can’t do that ultimately helps.
Jethro didn’t pull any punches pointing out the issue, but coupled with his observation, he continues to counsel Moses on how to organize the people by teaching them the decrees of God and how to select leaders, in order to share the load and govern themselves (Exodus 18:18-23). Jethro was creating a mentor so that one day Moses could pass the wisdom, “You cannot handle it alone,” to someone else down the line.
In my own life the two most influential mentors were my father and a former boss of mine. They both share similar qualities but have taught me very different lessons. Both of them taught me the value of putting in a hard day’s work. No whining, no fear, no intimidation to the task; if you think it’s possible, then most likely you can accomplish it. They both taught me that it was honorable to work, and to consider it a blessing.
My father, an immigrant from Mexico, who knew little English, worked a full time job, raised a family, and put himself through schooling to become an auto body technician. He was always tired, but in the end it was his way to provide for us. As a family we journeyed with him, we all pulled our own weight, we helped fix cars, we gathered supplies, and helped order or find parts. He did not have to do it alone, we were there with him. I always feel blessed that the Lord has been so good to us all these years.
My former boss worked just as hard as my father. He, too, was family man, worked hard, ran his own small business, and was a Christian. We became good friends over the ten years that I worked for his company. Our conversations typically revolved around work, but also toward the deeper questions of life and God. The most valuable lesson he taught me was teamwork. He ran a small business with 6-8 employees, and everyday we had to work together in order to complete our projects. Since the entire business was on a contract basis with our clients, it was up to us as a team to how well we completed a job. Every detail had to be accounted for, from ordering the materials, to who would clean the job-site.
It is from these two men in my life, where I gained my “Make It Happen” work ethic.
Both of them always took a moment to admonish me when I failed, show me a better way, and encourage me to work hard. Ultimately, what they really taught me through all their advice, long hours working side by side and our lunch conversations was: “You do not have to handle it alone”.
Like in the story of Moses, God continually provided him with guidance and encouragement. Whether it was direct or through people placed in his life. It was a constant reminder that Moses was not alone, and God was always there with him.