When our best is not enough, the Lord can help us overcome our weaknesses and limitations.
Most of you, as well as myself, admire grit. We admire determination. The truth is we probably all could use a little more of it. It’s a fair statement. Some of us have a pattern in our lives of quitting. We may have left behind different things that are not finished. We didn’t finish them. We didn’t follow through. It got hard and we stopped. Some of us face things. We could just talk about the power of perseverance and the power of learning how to prevail when things are hard. We’ll explore that in and out in the coming weeks as well. I think a lot of you if you were here last year, would be aware of my fondness for the Rocky films. Some of you recall at the beginning of last year, I was talking to my youngest son, Jacob, who’s in his 20s. I was talking to him about a movie that came out. Again about a year and a half ago, the movie was called Creed. Creed was the latest installment of the Rocky series.
It’s a great film. I really enjoyed that film. I found it very inspiring, and would highly recommend it if you want to get motivated. One of the things about this is I think it was the best of the group over the span of all the Rocky films. The reason I bring it up is Rocky one came out in 1976. I was talking to my son about it. I said, “Jake, you realize that there’s a 40-year span in these films.” You watch Silvester Stallone over a 40-year arc. Not only is the Rocky character good, but you watch him and think that’s what made Creed special. He’s looking backward. You’re looking through the lens of his character, but it’s him too. It’s an interesting dynamic. We were talking about it. I said, “I actually saw it.” I told him, “I saw the original one when it came out in 1976.” I told him, “it ended up being not only the highest-grossing film of that year, but it also won the best picture” which was rare for a sports film kind of thing. It was more than a boxing film, I told him. I said it started a new genre of filmmaking.
At least, it made it more popular. We called it was the genre of training films. Where someone by sheer force of will begins to train themselves to accomplish a purpose. Usually, someone who’s an underdog humiliated novice, or a victim determines they’re going to settle the score, overcome the odds through meticulous relentless training accompanied by music. Until the climax, showdown, big match, or the fight, like it was with Rocky, the achiever either vanquishes the imposing champ, foe, or villain. Or as in Rocky, garners the grudging respect, all through training and dogged determination.
I can still remember the first time I saw the film, I was just a kid. I was looking at it through a different lens. I had never seen anything like it. He gets humiliated. He determines he’s going to start training. He totally commits himself to train. He starts to tap into his potential and gets up early. I don’t know if you remember this, but in the film, he starts drinking raw eggs in the morning. He is drinking those eggs; that was before they knew you could get Salmonella. There was that famous training scene where he is running through the streets of Philly. Then he’s doing these one armed pushups, using frozen slabs of meat as a punching bag, and finally the steps that Rocky runs up the Philadelphia Art Museum with all of that crescendoing music. It’s great. I was inspired. There’s a reminder that if we train, have the right attitude, are determined, resilient, refuse to quit, those are the keys to breakthrough. Those are the keys to victory. Give it your best, keep moving, keep trying, keep running up those steps. If you don’t succeed, keep at it. Be a person who perseveres, push yourself, train, stay focused and determined. Those are all good things.
Except when we get to places where no matter how hard we try, we can’t make it happen. I believe in determination. But what happens when giving it our best and our best shot isn’t good enough. We’ve all faced things, situations that we can’t solve, we can’t change them. Most of us, at some point in our life, are going to come into confrontation or face-to-face with some immovable limitation, and no matter how hard I train and face it, I can’t get past it. We live long enough where bodies are going to give out. That’s a fact. We can’t last. We are not made to last forever in this life. The way we are right now in broken humanity even with the promise of what is yet to be secured in Christ. The fact is that if we live long enough, our bodies start to break down. The tent can’t contain the spirit within it. We long for that. We imagine that. Jesus said it’s coming. For some of us, that’s a hard thing. We can’t stop it. We try as much as we can, as long as we come face to face with health-related issues and we’re doing our best, but it’s a real issue. Sometimes, there are times where our strength and force of character, no matter how strong we may be isn’t enough for the unique thing that we’re walking in. It’s almost like we just don’t have what it takes to fully break through from a habit that is sticking with us and we can’t get free of it. We trust and work so hard, but it’s just like hanging on.
There are times when no matter how hard we try, we realize to our deep dismay or disappointment that whatever it is we’re trying to pursue is not going to happen. That happens. I’ve listened. I’ve heard the motivation. I get it, I understand it, I’ve watched Rocky a number of times. The fact of the matter is there are some situations where no matter how hard we work or savvy we are, we’re not going to be able to make that business work. There might be some of us that no matter how much we love them, we can’t change them. What do we do?
I was thinking about the story some of us may have heard before the proverbial story of the 18th-century battle warship on exercise at sea in bad weather. The captain is on the bridge. It’s foggy and just after dark. In those days, they didn’t have radar. The lookouts are out there. One lookout spots light on the starboard side, that’s the right hand side when the ship’s facing forward. The captain asked if the light was steady or moving? The lookout replied, “it’s steady.” Meaning, they were on a direct collision course with the other ship. The captain ordered the lookout to signal the other ship. “Tell that ship to change course 20 degrees because we’re on a collision course.” The signal came back from the other ship telling them to change course 20 degrees. The captain signaled,” I am a captain change course 20 degrees.” The signal came back, “I am a semen, second class, you better change course 20 degrees.” The captain’s furious. He sends back, “I am a battleship, change course.” The signal comes back, “I am a lighthouse on the land, your call.”
There are some things we must accept and work around. If we force it, we are going to find that we’re just not strong enough, smart enough, or good enough. If we keep at it in the same way the captain of the ship did, we’re just going to destroy ourselves. We can say I’m a battleship. But, I’m a lighthouse. There are some things we look at and we must adapt to reality. Then let the Lord help us find another way. There are some situations where the Lord wants to show us another way. It’s not about us praying harder, being more determined, doing more of what we’re doing, or not giving up. There are values and virtues in that. But there are some situations where it just can’t happen that way. We’re going to have to face that limitation. What do we do about that? What do we do when we fail? What do we do when we come face to face with limitations that no amount of effort on our part, no matter how strong we have been or think we are, is going to change that situation.
We have to deal with it in a different way. How do we deal with that? What does the Lord have to say to us? It got me thinking about Moses. I know that everybody knows the story of Moses. He’s one of the most well-known figures in all the scriptures. Certainly, in the older Testament, he stands out. He’s a deliverer of Israel type of Christ in a way. Some of us may have grown up in a Children’s Church, Sunday School. We learned about Moses in the Bible stories. Others of us have become acquainted with reading the Bible and we know about Moses, but some of us may not. Some of us may be very new and somewhat unacquainted. Moses is an amazing figure in the Bible because he was someone who as a younger man nearing his prime, took a risk and failed miserably. You recall that he was not born an Egyptian prince. He was, through a unique turn of events that clearly were divinely orchestrated, adopted by the princess of Egypt, the daughter of Pharaoh. He was adopted and found by her as an infant. Moses was raised as a prince in Egypt while his people, the Hebrew people, were enslaved.
The Hebrew people were not always enslaved in Egypt. They prospered in Egypt, but over time they became enslaved by a Pharaoh who did not know or care about their ancestor Joseph, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, and the son of Abraham. There was this sense that these people were oppressed while Moses himself was given an opportunity to live at the highest level of Egyptian culture, power, and prestige. Yet, Moses had to grapple with the fact that while he was so blessed to live life this way, his people were oppressed. It created a deep dissonance inside of him. If you read Hebrews 11, his struggle is described as he wrestles with his sense of what God is calling him to do. He feels at an early age that he’s been put in his position for a reason. He comes to understand he has to act courageously. He does what he thinks is the right thing.
In Exodus 2, we see it ends up being a disaster for him. He thinks he has the right idea, but he exercises it in the wrong way. In verse 11, it says the day when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people, looked on their burdens, and saw an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew that was one of his people. He looked this way and that way. Seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day and there were two Hebrews who were fighting with each other. It was getting physical. He said to the man who was clearly the agitator, ‘why do you strike your companion?’ The man answered, ‘who made you a prince to judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed that Egyptian?’ Moses was afraid and thought surely the thing is known. When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian which is the desert wilderness and the land of Midian. We’re told he sits by a Well.
What unfolds out of that is a completely new chapter in Moses’ life. As we begin to watch what happens, we see he ends up becoming a shepherd. He fully transitions. He ends up working for a very good man named Jethro, who has a daughter named, Zipporah. He falls in love with her, marries her, and has two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. For 40 years, he’s been a shepherd. Let’s go back to the fact that there’s this gap between when God speaks to him, and during this time where it’s a totally foreign life for him. Remember, Moses grew up with all these advantages. He was highly trained, exposed to the most advanced learning of his day, and negotiated deals with ambassadors. Egypt was a preeminent power in that day with a wealth of knowledge. Some of the things they built are still there. The pyramids are a testament to the past glorious engineering. There was sophistication, even at a medical level. Moses was groomed in the courts of Pharaoh. He understood things. He was exposed to things. His upbringing was urban, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan.
Moses was trained in a number of levels of communication. His knowledge was vast. His skillset is strong. His understanding of power was impressive. He understood how to use it. That was his life and the circle he ran in. Now, as a shepherd, we can imagine him like that. With the majority of the population-based in Egypt, compare that to where he was. He couldn’t go back. He tried to respond to what he thought God wanted him to do only to find his people utterly rejecting him. He runs from his life, an exile, a total disaster. He leaves with huge limitations and loses everything. I wonder if there were times where he was a long-time shepherd in a desert that he was alone. The desert’s a beautiful place, especially at Dawn and dusk.
It has huge pastel colors that we don’t normally see. It’s one of those places because of its baren beauty, you’re so easily invited into long thought thinking. It would not have been hard to imagine Moses at different times in his life falling back into a place he remembered. A place where he spent the first part of his life rehearsing in his mind, how and why everything went wrong. What happened doesn’t matter, should he even be thinking about it? He’s so far apart that, the other man doesn’t even exist anymore. You can imagine that moment happening with Moses, he’s just drifting back having regrets. Maybe some of us might find ourselves in certain alone times rehearsing things in our lives that we think, “I wish I would’ve done that differently.”
In Moses’ case, I imagine in my mind as I see him as this rock early on, this rock monolith. As the years go by slowly over time in the desert, the sand starts to cover that rock. It’s now 40 years later, that same piece of rock that he could be so easily identified as is now simply a covered hill of sand. It’s a metaphor, if you will, of his life was, is no longer there. That’s how he assumed it would be an end. He was not prepared for what happened next. Not all days are the same. I think we understand that. In Exodus 3, the Bible’s gives us this very unique event that is clearly supernatural. One day, Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro the priest of Midian. Moses led the flock far into the wilderness. He came to Sinai, the Mountain of God. There, the Lord appeared him in a blazing fire from the middle of a Bush. God’s presence is there and it’s a consuming fire. Moses is looking at it from a distance.
Moses is staring at the bush in amazement because the Bush is on fire, but it’s not engulfed in flames. In other words, it didn’t burn up. It’s on fire, not getting consumed, and he can’t figure it out. He’s never seen anything like it. It’s a unique thing. This is amazing. Am I having a Mirage? Is this real. Moses asks himself why isn’t that Bush burning up? I must go see it. He gets closer. As he approaches it, it says in verse four, “when the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the Bush, Moses, Moses. Moses replied yes here I am. It is me.” So, when God comes to Moses after an astonishing 40-year interval, Moses is a much, much different man. Yet in every way, 40 years later, he’s still a man who’s been affected deeply by his life-altering failure. That failure sits with him.
Moses had skills as I mentioned before. Now, he had different kinds of skills. After 40 years as a shepherd, spending a majority of his time alone in the sun and wind of the desert, his face was no longer what it used to be. He was a different man, more weathered, I suppose. We also know from the scriptures that he was a man in his advanced years, he was a man of uncommon strength. The pace of life had been health-giving to him. We also know that he had acquired other kinds of skills. He knew how to lead sheep. He would end up leading a nation through the wilderness. There’s a lot in common there. He knew how to use a staff. He didn’t know how to do things he used to do in Egypt before, but he knew how to use a staff.
A staff was like an extension of his arm where a shepherd was like a third leg. It was like an extended arm. You used it, it was your life. He knew how to negotiate with chiefs and veterans. He knew how to read the lay of the land in a barren place. What he didn’t know was what he had left behind. One thing is clear, he never really healed from what had happened in Egypt. He let it dissipate. This reminded me of a couple of things. These are tools for us to use as we run into our own kinds of traumas or limitations. Let me suggest the great failures, rejections, and traumas, we may have. I don’t know if we had them. Maybe some of us experience them now. Great failures, rejections, traumas, or extended painful seasons where things are really hard, tend to alter who we are at a core level. What happens to Moses? I look at this and think, “I had my own version of a really difficult trial coming out of 2015.” I shared with you over the past weeks how hard a period of time that was for me. How much it challenged me to think about what it meant, not just at a physical level, but at an emotional level as well. What it meant was not to be in control of things and the effect that had. It was a very difficult period in my life.
One of the things I noticed is when we come into these places of great failure or rejection, or we are traumatized by something like Moses. Or we are in the middle of a painful season of life that is hard. One of the things that happen is they tend to do something to us. They tend to humble us. Sometimes they even shame us. They change the way we see ourselves, our identity gets affected. Our self-confidence dips. We see this clearly when we look at Moses. When God’s interacting with him, we see he is so defeated. You can tell whatever was, is so far back. Ours may not be a 40-year span, but we might have a period in our life where we have to work through the implications of something that has been tough, hard, defining, and defeating. Honestly, it’s hard for us even to begin to embrace the invitations of God. We’re humbled. Moses was a brash confident, borderline arrogant man. I’m going to call him self-absorbed, I don’t know if that’s accurate, but he was certainly self-assured. He was so much better than everybody else in so many ways. Yet, at this point, Moses is a very different version of that man.
The second thing about these trauma times is they tend to force us to think about things in a different way. They start to make us fearful and reluctant to move forward. I mentioned that Moses is going to be challenged to embrace something, to re-embrace a dream. He’s going to be revealed as being hesitant and so impacted by his failure that he’s stuck in fear. He placed this on himself. There are certain things that happen in his life where they do permanent damage. It’s like getting a tattoo. It just is there. It’s a reminder of something. He’s been so impacted by that life-altering rejection and failure, that he can’t even move forward. He’s stuck in fear. He’s reluctant to take on any responsibility that would cause him to commit to anything because it didn’t work out too well for him before. He’s a different person now. “I just like doing what I do.” Thirdly, what those things do for us is create an openness that wasn’t there before. It allows us to welcome the Lord in to do things that couldn’t have happened before. This is why, even though we don’t want them, we shouldn’t be afraid of these places.
To me, there is opportunity in adversity. When God is welcomed in, He can bring good from the bad. He can take what was bitter and painful, and bring good from it. A lot of times, the good that He brings from it, is a change that comes from within. The way He’s shaping and molding us through it, as we wrestle through what it is to trust Him, leads to a second piece. Which is, God often uses our failures. Our struggling wilderness times to grow us. That’s when things are forced out of us, new ways of emerging. Let’s disregard Moses’ 40-year timeline. Let’s say that for us, there’ll be some situations in life where it’s a different timeline, but nonetheless, it’s a wilderness time for us. It’s in these places where our character is getting changed. The things that the Lord was doing in this man with his failure and obscurity, were the very things that God used to shape Moses.
Moses has been forced to yield because he now knows weaknesses and limitations. That got me thinking about the reason I originally went here. I was thinking about my own trial when I was back in 2015. The message was a product of it. I started studying Moses a little bit. I was looking at it in a different way, through the lens of limitation, and feeling like I was failing. I started thinking about it and during that time, I kept reminding myself that one of the things I was learning was you can’t fight this trial the same the way that you’ve done in the past. It was almost like the Lord was saying you need to learn a new way because I wasn’t strong enough by sheer grit to make it out of my predicament right away, even though I tried.
I came to the conclusion that my old way of doing it wasn’t working. That’s why I go back to the battleship in the lighthouse. If I just try harder, go full speed ahead, I am going to break out this thing. The more you have to push, the harder it sometimes is to solve our problems. You don’t give up. But there are times where grit is not enough. As with Moses, grit was not enough. Grace is going to be required. It’s not about how hard we try to make it happen. If that thing is there, it’s a limitation and God’s saying there’s another way to beat this thing. You’re going to have to walk with Me in it. A lot of times it takes a timeframe that is different than ours. Moses had a 40-year timeframe. There will be times when the Lord is going to say to us, “you want this thing solved, it’s not going to happen that way. You’re going to have to learn.” In my case, part of my new, I can call this shift, was how do I align myself with grace when it’s really hard? I want out of this thing, so I don’t want to disappoint anybody. I don’t want to disappoint God. You have to trust me. Maybe this will help some of us.
One of the things I realized was that in times where it’s hard in the wilderness seasons is you need to cultivate proximity to His words. Let His words come near to you. Start writing them down. Write the Psalm, pray them, and as we’re doing that, zero in on a couple of key promises that you can adopt for the season that you’re in. Pray and say, “God, will you show me a word within your words that would allow me to have the strength that I can claim. I can claim this promise as my own for this season.” It’s a way of positioning ourselves for something that may require a lot more patience with process than a moment of deliverance and that’s okay. A lot of times, that’s exactly where God is. I find that there are times when we start collecting prayers and talk about being prayer collectors. We collect all kinds of things when we’re in a struggling season in the wilderness, hitting a wall, stuck, or feel defeated. Collect your prayers.
Prayers are more than just good feelings. They shake things at foundational, spiritual, and emotional levels when they’re set up in the right way. Don’t beat yourself up for the slowness of progress. Many times, we become our own worst enemy. We start to tell ourselves how poor we are. I’m not talking about self-talk such as, “you’re a great guy.” I’m saying there are times we make things worse because we clench instead of surrendering, clenching surrender. I’m a clencher, the harder the grip, the more you can do this. No, you’re going to have to let go. You’re going to have to trust.
Someone came up to me after service last night and said, I have this situation. We were talking. He asked, “how I’m going to do this?” He starts talking about down the road. “What happens when this happens down the road?” I said, “do you remember what we were talking about before? Is it possible the Lord is saying what He said to me? When I was trying to get out of this thing, accelerate the process, holding on so tight? That you need to be more patient with this. Be gentle, trust me, calm this thing down, and surrender. This is the phrase, don’t ask for the whole way, just ask for the next step.” He said, “I have to know how it’s going to work out. How it’s going to get done. I have to figure it all out on the front end. Then, I can see where I’m going. I just have to press in and work hard.” “No, one step at a time. Be patient with the process.” “But I might mess up.” “The Lord is with you. He loves you. He’s on our side that’s why He gave all this for us.”
The last thing is God delights. He delights in reawakening dreams, reigniting passions, and I love this last phrase, healing our souls. The Lord wants to heal our souls and work with us in the place of our greatest wounding. Where is it? Do I even know it? Where is it now? Where does the master healer want to work His healing touch? Where is that wounded place? Where this stuff is coming out of? What does He want to heal? What does it look like to gently get better? Sometimes, it’s wrestling to get better. Sometimes, it’s just being patient and that’s hard. Being patient is a wrestling of its own type. Wrestle to be patient. Hurry up and wait on the Lord. I came across a great phrase. A great little quote because God likes to awaken our dreams. One of the things we’re going to see with Moses is he thought he was defined and done. The Lord said, I’m the giver of new dreams and I’ve got a new thing for you. He has new things for each of us. He has a seasonal assignment ways for us to go. Howie Hendricks said, “most people die at 25 and are buried at 80 a flat line.”
I know this is not the Lord’s will for us. Maybe I can’t see that far down the road, but I can learn to understand what His Goodwill for me is in this season of my life. I can love the people He’s called me to love. I can let Him touch the things that are dying, dormant, or half-dead and bring them to life again. If I can work with His plans, welcome Him into mind, and trust Him in a humble way, then there are amazing things that God can do. Surprising things that God can do. Let us not die at 25 and then be buried at 80. No, God has more for us. One final thing, do you know how old Moses was when he had that burning bush moment, 80, that’s what it says.
Who can say what God wants to do. I want to close with a prayer. I would like us to pray together in spirit. I’m going to pray this even now to you, Lord Jesus. I declare this. We declare this by faith. Lord of no limitations. Would you help me with mine? I just want to plant that right there. Lord of no limitations would you help me with mine? Would you be merciful? I know that blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Let me offer that. Let me receive it in your name Lord, would you be merciful? Would you help me when and where I need it most? I thank you. I truly do. I thank you for your faithfulness because you are not only the giver of dreams, you are also the awakener of dreams. There will be times when we hit a wall and no amount of effort will be enough to get through it. In those places, teach me to trust you. Help me not to be afraid or defeated by what has been taken, lost, or squandered. Help me to be patient until new possibilities emerge. This is what we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.