Second to Chinese water torture is having to stand in a long, slow-moving line. Notice again Exodus 18:13, “The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening.” These good people evidently had some significant issues causing a lot of pain.
The other day we pulled up to Chick-fil-A. Because it was lunchtime, the cars were bumper to bumper, wrapped around the restaurant. We decided to use a stopwatch and see how long it would take. We had our food in six minutes. Smiling faces with iPads taking took our order outside, asking, “How can I serve you?” They had two lines moving, and team members working like bees in a hive. I wanted to get back in line it was so fun. Moses was alone trying to serve everyone’s needs as they pulled up to the window.
When Moses headed to work on the second day of their family reunion, Jethro followed and watched as the line inched along. Exodus 18:14 says, “…his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people…” No murmuring from Moses. He was willing to give his all, and sacrifice everything for the call. For humble Moses, this wasn’t about personal glory or fame. He had a sincere desire to be obedient and faithful, to hear God say, “Well done.”
Watching from a distance, Jethro sensed the frustration. This was not a sustainable ministry model. Finally, he asked in Exodus 8:13, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” Notice the gentle, indirect approach. “Hey, just curious. Why are you sitting alone while all these good people stand around all day long?”
Moses responded in Exodus 18:15, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will.” Every soul on this planet is hurting in some way. If you’re offering hope and healing, they’ll keep coming. Looking for relief they will dump all their burdens on you, and hold you up as their personal Jesus, putting all their faith in you for salvation. If you agree to do it all, the people will show up and stand around as you wear yourself out. But, even the Son of God had physical limitations, and could not heal every sickness and save every soul.
Ministry can become a hidden addiction and secret obsession. We love feeling needed like an addict loves crack. It’s called “helpers high.” So hooked on fixing problems we can’t see our life is becoming a problem.
It’s a rush to play the role of personal Jesus for our community. But our job is not to crucify ourselves to save others but to connect people to the one who will never leave or forsake them, their ever-present help in time of need. The joy of sacrifice in time turns to pain when we run out of stuff to give. That pain quickly turns to bitterness, and we become angry at the people we once loved. Tragically, when we burn out, the people we cared for will pack up and leave us for the next big thing, throwing in the trash like an empty wrapper. In just a short while, as Moses spent time alone with God on the mountain to refresh his soul, this same group came to Aaron and said in Exodus 32:1, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
Moses answered, “Can’t you see? These people need me.” In the shortest verse in Exodus 18, Jethro said, “What you are doing is not good.” I remember having a nasty case of athletes foot. I had oozing blisters all over my feet and in between my toes. I was a young kid of 13 and didn’t know what to do. My grandma Whitlow, saw me limping, and took off my shoes and smelly socks. She said, “What you’re doing is not good.” She proceeded to pop those blisters and rub in Absorbine Junior. I thought she lit my feet on fire. As I writhed in pain, she smiled and said it would be all right.
We can limp through life, irritated and frustrated without knowing why. The more we scratch the mysterious fungus from hell, the worse it gets. A wise friend, mentor, or counselor can observe and ask the right questions. As they pull back the layers and start popping blisters, it will sting. When their questions sting and burn making you squirm, you’ve found the source of the problem. That’s where healing begins.
Exodus 18:18 Jethro continues, “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.”