Courage for a Reluctant Leader

By Mark A. Taylor

Two things amaze and encourage me when I read the story of God’s call to Moses.

The first is his excuse making in response to God’s clear commands.

The second is God’s equally persistent patience in the face of this whining.

Initially we might understand the reluctance of Moses at the burning bush. Who wouldn’t have been surprised by what God proposed to this murderer in exile turned shepherd? Nothing in his decades of sheep tending in Midian would have appeared on the résumé for nation-deliverer.

So when God said, “You will convince Pharaoh to free the whole nation of Israel now enslaved in Egypt,” anyone listening might have had trouble believing him.

But God made clear that the voice Moses heard was from the Lord himself. Nevertheless, Moses argued. And after God answered every excuse Moses could think of, Moses still begged, “Please send someone else” (Exodus 4:13). “The Lord’s anger burned” (v. 14), but he did not punish Moses. He only promised Moses a partner, his brother Aaron.

At last Moses relented.

But when Moses secured an audience with Pharaoh, instead of releasing the people, Pharaoh only made their work harder.

The Israelites blamed Moses, and Moses carried their complaint to the Lord.

God calmly replied, “Now you’ll see how my power will free your people. Tell them to trust me.” Moses tried this, but the people wouldn’t listen. In response, God simply told Moses, “Go to Pharaoh again.”

And again Moses hesitated. “If the people won’t listen to me,” he reasoned, “why should Pharaoh?”

God might have asked, “And if you won’t listen to me, I’ll just find someone who will!”

But instead God endured the words and weakness of Moses, all the while assuring Moses that his promises would prevail. And of course, finally they did.

I was talking about this with a friend, who observed, “Effective leadership is most often reluctant leadership.” When God calls one of us today to an “impossible task,” he’s not put off when we answer, “I can’t do it.” In fact, only then does he have us where he can use us best. Finally we’re ready to admit to God, “Only you can do it.”

Neither my tasks nor my faith have approached those of Moses. But when I believe God’s handed me a job I know I can’t handle, Moses is the one to remember. This reluctant leader reminds me what can happen when I stop objecting and just trust God enough to obey.


This column is adapted from one that first appeared November 10, 2006.

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