I like to keep track of the teachings that I have the opportunity to give from time to time, so here are my thoughts (for my local women’s Bible study) on the wonderful interaction between Jethro and Moses in Exodus chapter 18.
THE 10 HABITS OF SPIRITUALLY EFFECTIVE (& RECEPTIVE!) PEOPLE
In my life B.C. (Before Children), I had an awesome job as a Resident Director for five years at my alma mater, Biola University. An RD is part dorm mom, part student leadership developer, part event coordinator, part counselor/disciplinarian and 100% relational, which was right up my alley! But the demanding nature of the job put us on the fast track toward burn out, so our wonderful boss secured a grant for all the RDs to receive spiritual direction, to fill us back up and encourage us in our own spiritual growth.
I had a lovely Spiritual Director named, Betsy, who gave me much wise counsel that I still remember to this day. But the most notable came during a season of my life where I was wrestling with God. In a nutshell, I was experiencing disillusionment. My idealized Christian life where Jesus was here to make me happy, was starting to break down as losses and frustrations and weaknesses and the over all hard stuff of life was starting to crop up.
I can still remember the straw that broke the camels back, when I lost it over something relatively insignificant. I was in the midst of a busy day and began to collect a bunch of strewn about empty water bottles from a completed event. For some reason, I didn’t have a bag, so my arms were just full enough that every time I took a step, one would drop to the ground. I would maneuver my body to pick it up, take a step, and down went another. Like a comedy of errors, this happened over and over again until I finally stopped picking them up and began to just kick them (like a child in tantrum) toward the recycle bin. I remember thinking angrily, “So would it really just ruin Your overall plan, God, if I were to get these water bottles to the recycle bin in an efficient manner? I’m doing a noble deed, for crying out loud!”
At our next meeting, I relayed all of this to sweet, spiritually directing Betsy, expecting a compassionate nod, perhaps an acknowledgement of the “mysterious ways of the Lord.” But instead, she looked at me kindly, but intently, and said, “Well, it seems like you think your arms are bigger than they really are.” WHA?! I did not see that coming! It was the beginning of many conversations that continued to put me in place of humility, listening, and the acknowledgment that I simply can’t do it all.
However we women are in a culture that tells us that we can, and even must, do it all. And each of us is currently in some position of leadership that requires much of us. Whether you play a role of influence in your family, church, workplace, volunteer organization, circle of friends, etc., we all can grow in giving and receiving wise counsel. And we saw this well exemplified between Jethro and Moses in our study this week.
According to Tremper Longman in How to Read Exodus, chapter 18 comes right during an important transition for the relatively new nation of Israel. They are going from wilderness wandering to God leading them into a place where they will receive his law. And it couldn’t be better timing. The Israelites were disillusioned. Their idealized future after the exodus out of Egypt had been broken down and now there were disputes from morning till evening all coming before 1 judge. Can you imagine the chaos?
Enter Jethro and his wise counsel. But wait a minute! God had been speaking directly to Moses much of the time and could have easily done so in this courtroom drama. But instead, in His mysterious ways, God chose to use someone else to speak wisdom on His behalf – and an “in-law,” no less! =)
Much like God used Aaron and Hur’s strength to hold up Moses’s hands in the victory against Amalekites, we are often called to be God’s voice in each others’ lives. So the question is: to whom are you called to be a Jethro? (Write it down if God brings someone to mind.)
As you consider your specific call to give wise counsel, let’s look at 5 Habits of Spiritually Effective People that Jethro demonstrates in his interaction with Moses.
- POSITIVITY IS PARAMOUNT. Jethro and Moses’ began their interaction with a warm greeting and asked about each other’s well being. Then Jethro listened to Moses’ encouraging updates, rejoiced with him and then led Moses and the elders of Israel into a time of praise to God in celebration of the defeat of the Egyptians. It is important that we begin any advice-giving by demonstrating kind and selfless care for the other person. Such positivity also happens to have the by-product of producing a more receptive openness to upcoming critical feedback.
- DON’T ASSUME; ASK. Jethro could have observed what was happening and jumped right in with correction, but he gave Moses the chance to explain himself first. Even though he was probably correct in his assumptions, it communicates respect to hear someone’s perspective first. And asking questions gives us important details that our own limited perceptions don’t.
- SPEAK TRUTH IN LOVE. This statement comes straight out of Ephesians 4:15 and doing so leads to maturity and building one another up. Jethro knew that the work was too heavy for Moses and that he and the people would get worn out. There was no selfish motivation for sharing this truth, just a concern for the well-being and maturity of Moses and the Israelites.
- GOD HAS THE LAST WORD. Regarding the counsel he gives, Jethro encourages Moses in verse 23, to follow his advice “if God so commands,” encouraging Moses to check his counsel against God’s will. And after telling Moses to listen to his advice in verse 19, Jethro speaks the blessing, “May God be with You” echoing God’s declaration in Exodus 3:12, “I will be with you.” God inhabits the giving and receiving of all wisdom.
- HELP OUT AND THEN GET OUT. Shortly after Jethro gave his counsel, he and Moses amicably parted ways. He didn’t hang around to micro-manage, or count to make sure Moses appointed all his officials in mathematical multiples of ten. When we have done our part to share the wise counsel that God has led us to give, then our job is done and we can fully trust the Holy Spirit to do the follow up.
Taking the risk to give counsel is a difficult position to be in, and we have to follow God’s lead and trust that He goes before us. But receiving such counsel can bruise the ego, so we must also trust that God has a divine purpose in what He is trying to teach us.
So here are 5 Habits of Spiritually Receptive People that we can learn from walking through chapter 18 in Moses’ sandals.
- KEEP GOOD COMPANY. The best way to get wise counsel is to be in relationship with wise people. Jethro was a trustworthy, God-honoring person whose advice to Moses was to surround himself with trustworthy, God-honoring people. Keeping good company multiplies our likelihood to be successful in whatever we try to accomplish; not to mention developing some great friendships along the way.
- LISTEN WITH HUMILITY. Verse 24 starts by saying, “Moses listened…” It’s a simple sentence, but not that easy to do when someone is telling you that you are wrong and giving you lots of detailed advice about how to fix it. But he didn’t defend or argue or pout – he just humbly listened.
- PRAYER PRODUCES TEACHABILITY. In verse 15, Moses knew His role was to seek God’s will on behalf of the Israelites. But those daily prayers were also softening his own heart to receive God’s will. Teachability is defined as “developing a heart-attitude that seeks God’s guidance for living to honor him each day.” A great prayer for teachability can be found in Psalm 143:10. “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.”
- JUST DO IT. (Stolen by Nike) It may sound obvious, but it can be very easy to acknowledge that something is true, wise and good, and still somehow procrastinate or get distracted or drag our heels. Put the wise counsel into practice! The second half of verse 24 says, “and [Moses] DID everything [Jethro] said.”
And finally, #5. We’re going to hang out on this one for a little bit since it’s something that can often be difficult for women to do…
- SHARE THE LOAD. Jethro basically gave Moses an ultimatum: Share the load or wear yourself out. Anybody currently worn out in any area of their life?
According to David Guzik’s online commentary of Exodus 18, “Delegation is the exercise of leadership, not the abandonment of it.” And every week we ladies get to see the truth of this displayed. We are blessed with a variety of delicious treats that miraculously show up on that table every time we meet. We just had luncheon season where you can bring a cup of chopped nuts and go home with your tummy full of a gourmet salad. And we end our semesters with one of the best buffets in Santa Barbara.
If we leaders took on all of those tasks ourselves, Women’s Bible Study would have died an abrupt death of burn out about 20 years ago. As evangelist D.L. Moody once said, “It is better to set a hundred men (or women) to work, than to do the work of a hundred men.” Or as I am constantly telling my children during chore time, “Many hands make light work!”
Another very important reason to share the load, is that if we don’t, we are actually depriving others of the ability to use their gifts and talents. Did you notice that when Jethro first arrived and led Moses into worship and a meal in the presence of God, that Aaron and the elders of Israel joined them? There were other leaders already within the nation of Israel, but Moses was taking away their opportunity to lead.
If you are wearing yourself out, seek God as to who you can ask to share the load, so they can use their gifts for God’s glory too. And remember that our greatest Load Sharer is God Himself, who commands us to cast all our cares upon Him, because He cares for us. (Psalm 55:22, 1 Peter 5:7)
Fortunately, since my “Water Bottle Temper Tantrum”, I’ve matured in receiving wise counsel as well as sharing the load. In fact, the first year that I ever hosted Thanksgiving at my home, a wise friend encouraged me to do it “potluck style.” And I have proudly done so ever since. Now I could have stressed myself out by cooking and cleaning for three days straight, but I would have missed our friend John’s deep-fried turkey, Meghan’s Southern Pecan Pie, my mother-in-laws Sourdough & Sage Stuffing, and my friend Amy, the artist, who reinvented the veggie & dip tray by forming raw vegetables into the shape of a turkey. And this was before Pinterest!
Now, food aside, giving and receiving wise counsel is no easy task. But before you start sighing heavily about what God might be nudging you to do, did you notice that Jethro promised Moses a REWARD for his obedience? Verse 23 says, “If you do this, you will be able to endure and all these people will have peace.”
I’m going to take a quick survey: By a show of hands, how many people want to endure and have peace? Right?!
The grace and beauty of our God, is that even His wisdom and commands that are hard to carry out, come with eternal blessings that far outweigh the difficulties.
May we each seek God as to how we can be a caring giver and humble receiver of His wise counsel in our current communities and spheres of influence. And may we grow to experience more of the endurance and peace that comes with sharing the load. Let’s pray.
Jesus, Thank you for such a wonderful example of the healthy and fruitful relationship between Jethro and Moses. And thank you for using us to bless each others’ lives. Please speak to each of us as to how you want us mature in receiving Your wise counsel from trustworthy friends and where we can pass along wisdom to someone else on the journey. Thank you for the endurance and peace that comes with sharing our loads with each other. Amen.