What do you do when you get burned out spiritually? It happens to all of us, doesn't it? Moses was one of the greatest leaders the world has seen but even he experienced an emotional breakdown. We can't be immune to it, but we can be ready for it. So let's join Stephen in this message as he tells us how.
I once read, recently, “Good men die young.” Of course that statement is referring to that malady that we refer to, in our contemporary culture, as “burnout.” There are books written on the subject. There are articles warning us of it. And this is the disease that claws its way into the lives of men and women who have distorted priorities and overbooked calendars. The symptoms are obvious. They are: irritation, frustration, loss of vision; especially when that is taking place relating to some ministry. And, ultimately, the termination of that ministry or, perhaps even job, career. Burnout is always looking for people who are enticed by the lure of additional activities rather than essential activities. In the book of Exodus, as we have been studying through this rich book, we find a man, who is nearly exhausted, and the people that he is leading, obviously, frustrated. If you’ll take your Bibles and turn to Exodus, chapter 18. And also, from your worship folder, you’ll find notes that will help, as we follow along. We want to dig into this text of scripture this morning. You’ll find, in chapter 18, all of the symptoms very evident and, much better, the solutions that are there for you and myself to follow.
Now, in the case of every frustrated leader, as we find in Exodus, chapter 18, it usually takes some activity, some event, or even someone, who will invade their life and confront them and show them how their priorities are distorted, how their energies are being wasted on that which is additional, not that which is essential. In the case of Moses, it happens to be his father-in-law. Let’s take a look at chapter 18, verse 1. “Now Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt. And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took Moses’ wife Zipporah, after he had sent her away,” - perhaps in safety as he confronted the Pharaoh of Egypt - “and her two sons, of whom one was named Gershom, for he said, ‘I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.’ And the other was named Eliezer, for he said, ‘The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.’ Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was camped, at the mount of God. And he sent word to Moses, ‘I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her.’ Then Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and he bowed down and kissed him”. This is probably the oriental fashion that is still practiced, where they would bow down and touch their forehead to the sand and then they would kiss the hand of that one they are greeting and then stand and embrace them and give each cheek a kiss. It was a very warm reception. In fact, one of the points that I want to make, it’s ancillary to the theme of this message, is the person that God used in confronting Moses. And, you’ll note right away as we get into these verses of scripture, his tremendous encouragement. His tremendous appeal to the emotions of his son-in-law, who could have been so exhausted, and, I think, they were. He will come along and, in effect, embrace his son-in-law and encourage him in a tremendous way.
They kissed each other, “and they asked each other” - verse 7 - “of their welfare, and went into the tent.” And I can just see those men standing out there, the wind whipping about their clothing, as they stand in each other’s arms saying, “How is your family? How is the job? How is all that you are doing? Tell me what’s happened over these last few years.” You remember, Moses spent forty years with this man, tending his sheep. And they had developed a genuine relationship of love that is evident even in the names of Moses’ sons. Because, when he left Egypt, he escaped with his life, the first son born to Moses was this first son, Gershom, which means, “I’m a stranger in a strange land.” And you can hear the pathos in the name of his son. But, over that period of time, as he rubbed shoulders with this priest, this Godly man, Jethro, he names his second son, born much later, Eliezer, which means, “God is my help.” So, evidently, there was a tremendous trusting relationship that is reunited after many, perhaps months, maybe even years, of absences.
“And Moses” - verse 8 - “told his father-in-law” -everything you’d tell your father or father-in-law, if you had been away - “all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had befallen them on the journey, and how the Lord had delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians.” What a wonderful thing that’s taking place between Jethro and his son-in-law. It’s that kind of communion that maybe you have experienced with a family member. Or, perhaps, you don’t know the approval of a father or a mother. Perhaps you are burdened with the disapproval that they constantly send your way about the kind of job that you have or the kind of lifestyle that you are living, the kind of relationship with Jesus Christ that they think doesn’t make a lick of sense; the discouragement that comes from that. Well, here Moses shares with his father-in-law all that God has done and Jethro rejoices. He doesn’t say, “Moses, you’re exaggerating. And what are you doing out here in the wilderness anyhow? Why don’t you come back to Midian with me and take your job back?” No. It was a tremendous encouraging thing for Jethro to take what Moses had said and rejoice with him.
When we were in Dallas, this past week or so, we had lunch with a young man who had come by Raleigh, on several occasions, to spend some time with my wife and I, as he was contemplating seminary. And we encouraged him to attend our alma mater, Dallas Seminary, and he did. And, when we were there, we had lunch with him. And he shared with us all of the pain that he is going through because he has made a decision that his father cannot accept. In fact, he’s lived a life that his father has never accepted. His father, a man who says he is a believer but, has no encouragement for his son who is living for Jesus Christ. And he shared with us the pain of disapproval. And he made the statement, “I can never live up to what my father wants me to become.” And then he shared with us the encouragement that he had received, which was virtually the only encouragement that he had received. I know many of you, I’ve talked to many of you who have that kind of situation, where you lack encouragement. And those of you who don’t, those of you who have gained the approval and you have a loving family, it’s easy for those of you to underestimate the impact of encouragement on those in your family.
Jethro encouraged his son, rejoiced with him. But, not only did he encourage him, I want you to notice his worship. Look at verse 10, “So Jethro said, ‘Blessed be the Lord who delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods; indeed, it was proven when they dealt proudly against the people.’ Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for” - Yahweh - “and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law before God.” What a tremendous picture. “All that God has done for you, I’ve just got to go and, myself, thank God for the way that He is taking care of you, for the way He is leading you. Even though you are out here in the wilderness, it doesn’t make sense. How will you provide for my daughter and my grandchildren? I don’t understand. But, it’s obvious God is involved and I want to thank Him on your behalf.” What a tremendous example for every parent here as we see God working in the lives of our children.
Now, he not only rejoices and worships but, he also has great courage. I want you to notice carefully, as we get to the heart of the message. Verse 13, “And it came about the next day” - evidently Jethro was there for an extended stay - “that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening. Now when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone’” - circle that word “alone,” it’ll come up again later - “‘sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?’ And Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor, and make known the statutes of God and His laws.’” I want to give you, in outline form, some things for you to jot. That is, three problems that were very evident that Jethro, not only had the insight to discover but, the courage to confront. He is confronting, not just his son-in-law, he is also confronting the miracle worker, the man with the rod that does mighty things, that parts the sea, that brings the plagues. This is the man who is, in a sense, the voice of God, and he will confront him. He had great courage. And, in fact, one of the things that gives us evidence that Moses had great character is that, even though he was the miracle worker, he will listen.
The first of the three problems that is very evident is this, obviously Moses is overwhelmed. You are doing this alone from morning until night. I want you to think of the lines of people that are stretching out from that tent where he judges. They stretch out into the sun waiting to have Moses’ ear because he is the one who settles disputes. And you have two-and-a-half, perhaps, three million people. That’s four or five times the size of Wake County. And all of the disputes that arise, one man is working twelve, sixteen hours a day. And you notice his answer is, “Because there are so many needs. Besides, they’re coming to me.” Let me even step on the toes of all of those in here who are involved in spiritual ministry, who may teach, who may lead. It’s so easy to have the thought, “Well, there is a need and so, how can I say, ‘No.’ Why they’re coming to me.” I read a survey that startled me. And I’ll even talk more specifically about myself. In fact, this sermon has clobbered me over the head all week long. I can’t wait to get rid of it here and go on to something else! They took a survey of pastors. Sixty-six percent feel isolated and lonely. Eighty percent experience feelings of futility. Ninety percent suffer stress related to problems that they constantly must deal with. Here’s the catch though, this shows you how dumb we all are. Ninety-five percent are satisfied with their work. (laughter) Imagine me coming into IBM and interviewing. I can use IBM because no one here works at IBM! And I pull up a chair and I say, “Hey, I want to interview you. Tell me how you feel about this job you’ve had for six months.” “Well, I feel lonely and isolated.” “Well, do you feel like you’re performing?” “No, actually, I have great feelings of futility.” “What about the team effort?” “Well, I’m always dealing with problems between people here.” “So, I take it you’re looking for another job?” “No, I love this job.” That would be ludicrous. But here’s the catch, when you are involved in ministry, it’s wrong to think anything other than, “Oh, yeah, I love this job. This is ministry.” The facade goes right up, “I can’t let them know.” You know the question that I really want to ask Moses, if I were there? I would say, “Moses, where are your two sons? Where is your wife? You have so booked your life that those who are essential cannot invade. And it is so easy for those of you who lead, whether corporately or in some ministry related occupation, to get so booked and scheduled that your children make appointments. And it’s never right, even though Moses could say, “They’re coming to me. They come to inquire of God.” So, Moses was, obviously overwhelmed.
I want you to notice, secondly, and this is interesting, the people were being neglected. Don’t ever fool yourself that the job is being performed and people’s needs are being met when you refuse to delegate. Note verse 17, “And Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing that you are doing is not good.’” Can you imagine that? Moses probably rocked back in his chair. “I just told you, this is my ministry. People are coming to me. I am inquiring of God. And it’s not good? Why is it not good?” Verse 18, you’re not going to believe this, “You will surely wear out,” - the original says, literally, “You will wrinkle up” - “both yourself and these people who are with you”. In other words, “You are, literally, wearing them out. They stand in line, they cannot have needs met. They are frustrated and irritated because you must, alone, do everything. The people are being neglected.” Interesting observation. You could almost hear the grumbling outside the tent where Moses judged. He is out of touch. He is unavailable. There were rumblings in the camp.
The third, and I think this is implied in the second use of the word “alone,” and that is that potential leaders were being overlooked. Would you look at verse 18? “You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.” Implied in that, there are others who can do it too. There are others who can help. There are potential leaders in the wings who can help you. Whether it is in ministry or in corporate life, why is it that you do everything yourself? I believe there is the subtle thought, given to us by Moses, that no one else can do it. Or let’s get a little bit more challenging, no one else can do it as well. There were thirty to fifty thousand leaders in the camp that hadn’t been discovered yet. Because, as he divides the body, he will end up with, maybe, as many as sixty thousand men capable and qualified to share the load. And I think this is an innocent thought that Moses says, “They come to me and I must inquire of God.” But, you know, it may be ambitious pride. You see, nobody can do what you do as good as you do it, right? Delegate? Have someone else join? No. You know, “I’m doing this.” And again, boy, I got a great illustration of my own life, of how I’m doing it wrong. I came back from Dallas and it was Saturday night, last week, and the thought hit me, “Hey, who set up the auditorium?” Now, for three years I’ve been setting up the auditorium. There are a couple of guys who have been helping every Friday. And, let me tell you, this just isn’t set up. Look around. The flowers, you know, we tried fifty different arrangements. If you don’t like it, forget it! This is the way it’s done. The chairs, the front legs are along a tile line, or the back legs, depending on where that particular row is. Certain rows are doubled, certain rows are left so the crowd can move. Three sections, we know there are 210 chairs set up in here. I’ve got it down to a system. And it hit me Saturday night, “Who set the thing up?” I made some phone calls, couldn’t get any answers. I finally found out, from one of the guys that, “Yeah, don’t worry about it. It has been set up.” Don’t worry about it? I was here, eight-thirty Sunday morning when the doors opened, because I was expecting to just kind of fix everything up. And walked in the door and everything was perfect! I was crushed! They didn’t need me! They don’t need me! They probably wish I didn’t come so they can do it their way. What an illustration. You know what? There are people who can manage the store so you can take a lunch break. There are people who can handle that meeting. There are people who can handle the accounts so you can take your children and wife on a vacation that is much needed. You see, the advise is here, “You are going to wrinkle up. You’re going to wear out because you have to do everything.” So potential leaders were being overlooked.
Finally, he comes down and he says, “Now listen to me:” - verse 19. I like this father-in-law. We need somebody in our lives like this. “Son,” - “listen to me: I shall give you counsel, and God be with you.” I think it’s implied, “And God help you if you don’t listen.” “You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God,”. We can divide the counsel into two simple words. The first one is, pray. As the leader, your responsibility, your priority is to pray. You know what our thought is? “Nothing will get accomplished. Pray? What about the details? What about ALL that has to be done? What about those accounts? I pray?” Yes, you pray. You be the representative before God that you need to be. You take the needs of that Sunday school class to God. You take all of those ministry related needs to God. Priority: YOU pray. In fact, we could go to Acts, chapter 6, which is a perfect illustration of what’s happening here. Where the apostles, in this emerging church, decided that they would select leaders. Why? So that they could what? Pray. “You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God” - that is, you pray. You know, every family here has a leader; whether it’s a single Mom, whether it’s a father. And you represent leadership in that home. And you and I can be viewed a number of different ways. We could be viewed by our children as creative, a good athlete, a person who listens, a Mom who cares, a Dad who cares about me, but do they perceive in us people who have a relationship with Jesus Christ, they KNOW we pray?
That’s not all, he says, secondly, “I want you to do this, I want you to teach.” - “then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk, and the work they are to do.” This is a beautiful passage of scripture. Teach means to “spread light.” And there are two words here, “statutes,” or it may be ordinances in your translation, and “laws”. A statute or an ordinance, literally, means “to cut out” or “to engrave.” This is the absolutes or the absolute truths. These are the doctrines. These are the elements that are unchangeable. “And you are to teach your people, who are really a fragmented group of ex-slaves, who are bound together in their pursuit of the promised land. But they have no Decalogue, they have no standards, they have no laws to govern them. You teach them what’s absolute. You give them truth. Those never change.” And, by the way, the further we get along the pike in our community, ladies and gentlemen, those of you who are involved in teaching, the less our community wants to hear of the absolutes and unchangeable doctrines. That which is right and will always be right and that which is wrong and will always be wrong. But, not only the ordinances but, the laws, the word is “torah,” from which we get our word, obviously, “law.” But this means “to lean” or “to guide.” These are the applications of the absolutes. The absolutes tell people what to believe. The laws tell the people how to behave. The doctrines are how to think. The applications are how to live. He is telling Moses what every pastor, teacher, Sunday school teacher, those who lead Bible studies, this is the job description. Give people the absolutes. Teach them those things that never change. But, don’t stop there. Apply. Show them how to live from the absolutes that are taught. Now applications are funny things because you and I, at any given time, may not want to take them. I read a funny little paragraph last week. A woman who, actually this happened, shook hands with her pastor at the back and she said, “That was a wonderful sermon, just marvelous sermon. Everything you said this morning applies to someone I know.” Moses was to teach in such a way that everybody caught it, everybody knew how to behave as a result of how they believed. So pray and teach.
Let me give you one other more beautiful factor of this. Then we’ll go on. The word “teach,” in the Old Testament, comes from the same word that is the calendar month name of April and May, “zif,” it actually means “to blossom.” One of the most beautiful things, when you teach the Bible, when you show to people that this is a living book, you are blossoming their lives. They then live in a way that, by understanding the word, whether the Spirit of God teaches you in your own personal study or you learn it from sitting under a teacher, as you learn that the Bible is alive, that there are laws and ways to think and live, what happens to our lives? Like the months of April and May, the “zif” of the Hebrew calendar, we will blossom. One of the tragedies of our contemporary culture is that people are not convinced. And I lay the burden right at the feet of every pastor or teacher who has ever stood and preached. And I heavily consider this burden myself. Because the people of our American society do not believe that this book has anything to do with life in the twentieth century. And let me read some statistics that just came out. This was done by the Barna(?) Research Group. They discovered, of 600 people, and they covered a wide range of culture, one out of four people read their Bible more than once a week, half do not read it at all. These are Christians, half do not read it at all. The president of this research group tried to summarize why, and he said this, “People aren’t reading the Bible because they think it is irrelevant to everyday life. Many people, even those who read the Bible, do not see the scriptures as containing instruction and answers that deal with the everyday problems they face.” Catch this. “They think of the Bible as they would a cook book. That it is a wonderful thing for putting together thirty person dinner parties but it doesn’t have any recipes in it for tonight’s dinner for the family. It’s great for special occasions but not for everyday situations.” The burden of proof, on those of you who have the responsibility of teaching and those of you who know Christ, is to understand that this book is alive and powerful and “sharper than any two edged sword”. And, as Paul exhorted his young son, he said, “This book is profitable for every event and activity of life.” It’s alive. And Moses was being instructed by Godly counsel to make that, which was revelation from God, yet to be put in written form, come alive to the people so they would know what to believe and how to live.
Now the second part of his counsel was not just related to Moses’ own personal job, that which was essential, but how to delegate and organize. And this is great. We could spend a series alone on the principles related to this organization. But note here what he says in verse 21, “Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men” - and here are the qualifications, first of all - “who fear God” - that’s primary. They have a relationship with the living God and they have a reverential awe and trust of God. It’s not that they have experience in leading people spiritually, it’s not that they know all of the programs, it’s not that they have been trained in how to lead, it is that these men KNOW God. They did that in Acts, as well, as they began to select men who would lead that emerging body. What was the qualification? Experience? Expertise? No. These are men full of the Holy Spirit. Men who know God.
He said, not only that they know or fear God but, that they also love truth - “men of truth”. And I would translate this “integrity,” “men with integrity,” who will say, “No,” to that which is wrong and “Yes,” to that which is right. I heard a fascinating thing last week. In fact, my cup was so full I apologize for referring to that week so often. But I heard one man say that every believer every day is given two tests. I love this. He is given a test of integrity and a test of obedience. Every day, God, by way of developing and maturing us, is giving us a test, integrity and obedience. And would you know that the night I heard that, the next morning I had a test, a test of integrity? And this is funny, probably funnier to you than it was real to me. That morning I had this on my mind and I was even thinking, “Okay, Lord, I’m going to be ready for my integrity test. Where is it? Let me have it. I want to pass this thing. Obey? Tell me something to do.” Well, that morning we were getting up, getting ready to go in the hotel room. And I decided that my shirt needed a little bit of pressing. And, since I’m not a delegator, I didn’t ask my wife to do it. I do it better than anybody, right? So I did it. I pull a cushion off this beautiful Queen Anne chair and put it on the floor. Don’t laugh yet here. And I put my shirt over it. And I kind of get on my knees and I was ironing away. And I ironed too long in one spot and it melted the velour on that beautiful cushion and stuck it right on my shirt. And I peeled my shirt off and there was an iron-shaped brown mark on that expensive chair. And you know what went through my mind? This is it buddy, this is your integrity test. Are you going to report this? Here we are in the nicest place I think we’ve ever stayed, little sitting area, you know. And now I’ve got to consider the question, “Am I going to go down and report that I am absolutely ignorant of how to iron my shirt?” And I struggled with that thing. And I decided to wait until we checked out, that would give me three days. And I turned the cushion over. On the last morning, I, in fact, shared it with Marsha. And, the last morning, I decided, “I can’t fail. Even though this is so small, I know, if I walk out of here not reporting that, that I have failed my integrity test.” And the last thing, put yourself in my shoes, I got down there to the counter, eight-o-clock in the morning, all these executives are checking out. You know, leather brief cases in their hands, on top of everything, you know. Finally, it’s my turn and I’ve got about four people crowding the counter. And we check out and then I said to the gal, “I need to report that, ah, I was ironing my shirt, ah, the other morning and I burned a hole in your chair.” And the moment I said that, all the heads looked, “What a weirdo, man!” I said, “I’ll definitely pay.” I looked around for my moral support. Marsha was sitting across the lobby in a chair; nothing to do with this, “I don’t know that guy. Not until we’re finished here.” And she kind of looked at me and she said, “Well, just a moment.” And she went back and talked to the manager and he came out and said, “No problem.” And I walked out of there liberated that I had passed that test, totally embarrassed. And I think that’s part of the point, that here these men are about to lead these people, and saying or doing something right sometimes is extremely uncomfortable. It may be a small thing, and I have failed integrity tests, this one I passed, but these men must be characterized by passing. They are men of truth.
And then, they are men - “who hate dishonest gain”. It’s this phrase that creates the idiom in Hebrew, “judges with oiled palms.” We refer to a judge, or someone who makes decisions, as a man who has clean hands. That’s where we’re getting this from. Because, back in that day, you would bribe a judge by giving him costly oil. And they would refer to a judge, who could be bribed, as one who had “oily palms.” He says, “We need leaders without oily palms. Leaders who cannot be bought, who cannot be bribed, men who hate deception.”
And what are the results, by way of application? The results are found right in our text. The first is, the leader is able to endure. Verse 22, “And let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure”. Last. Burnout? No, not part of the picture here. You will last in that which God wants all of you to do. And, I think implied here is that, new leaders will be able to develop. Obviously, he will then bring on his staff, he will bring on his helping team, perhaps as many as sixty thousand men.
The third thing is that the people are able to have their needs met. Note the last part of verse 23, “and all these people also will go to their place in peace.”
“So Moses listened to his father-in-law,” - ah, there’s a great ingredient of character - “and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. And they judged the people at all times; the difficult dispute they would bring to Moses,” - he, sort of, formed the supreme court - “but every minor dispute they themselves would judge. Then Moses bade his father-in-law farewell, and he went his way into his own land.” Now, ladies and gentlemen, maybe God has brought someone into your life to re-evaluate the use of your energy, to check the calendar, to see if you are involved in essential things and not just a host of additional things. Now what’s essential? The priority given to these future leaders would be that they know God, that they are spending time with God, that they are in the word, learning truth. If we are too busy for that, then we are too busy. And where do you put your family? Perhaps the one that God has brought into your life is a son with a fishing pole in his hand, saying, “Hey, Dad, when? When? When?” Or a wife who says, “Hey, can I make an appointment to see you?” Perhaps there are wives here who have never gotten involved in the lives of their husbands work and they, in a sense, labor alone. Perhaps there are husbands who are not involved in the labors of a mom who struggles all day with the kids and, “there is a woman’s work and there is a man’s work.” Your wife does it all alone then. Perhaps your children never gain the aid and the help from a parent. Perhaps there are people in this ministry who feel that needs are going unmet. Whatever it may be, we are challenged to re-evaluate what we do. Perhaps God has brought someone like Jethro into your life. Undoubtedly, it’s time to listen. Let’s pray.