I hate being told I’m wrong – especially when I actually am wrong! I’m the kind of person that googles an answer in a quiz to prove how my answer is correct – not a very attractive quality!
I also find it very hard to challenge people in a thought-out, measured sort of way when I think they are doing something that isn’t good. It either all comes flying out in an untimely explosion, or I hold it back and never speak with them about the issue but instead bubble away – worried for them, for those they are affecting and more often than not get myself into a state of mild confusion and disbelief because I have no understanding as to why someone would be doing what they are – all because I haven’t spoken to them about it.
It was into this reality that the story of Moses’ father in law, Jethro, really challenged me. It’s the story of when Jethro went to visit Moses and all the Israelites while they were camped out in the desert on their way to the promised land. The Israelites are ex-slaves in the midst of learning how to become a free people and how to govern themselves. (You can find the full story in Exodus 18.)
Several things struck me about Jethro that challenged my attitudes. Firstly, he takes the initiative and tells Moses he is coming. Then he sits and listens to Moses as he tells him everything that has happened since they last saw each other – which was a lot! Then he watches Moses in action for a whole day whilst Moses tries to sort out all the disagreements that have come up between the people he is leading. Then he questions Moses about why he is doing things as he is and listens to his response. And then he challengesMoses – in a way that shows he clearly cares about him, but that is forthright in telling him what he is doing “is not good” and gives him wise advice in how to change things. Then he steps back, and from this point on in the story it is Moses that takes the initiative by putting changes into practice and finally by saying goodbye to Jethro and sending him on his way.
There are three separate types of challenge here for us – depending on whether we are in Jethro’s position, Moses’, or neither… And we may be in more than one of these positions.
Firstly for those of us who are in Jethro’s position – with an employee, child, official or unofficial mentee or any other type of relationship where we are in a position where we are in some way responsible for providing support for someone, where we have an outside perspective, and where there is a healthy existing relationship there (Moses was not only his SIL but it was also Jethro who had taken him into his house when his daughters found him when he escaped from Egypt, and he had then given his daughter in marriage to Moses – so he must have been impressed with him in some way! And Moses then worked for him for 40 years before God sent him back to Egypt) – so Jethro spoke from within an existing relationship.
If we are in Jethro’s position – who do we need to make time and be proactive in making contact with them, listening to them, observing how they do life, questioning those things that appear less than ideal to us – and listening to their response, and only then giving our advice – but also not shying away from challenging from a place of genuine concern for that person’s well-being. And then, stepping back – regardless of how they choose to respond to your advice – not trying to control them and make them do what we would do but allowing them to take up the initiative.
And secondly if we are in Moses’ position – where we are receiving outside advice, a listening ear, and someone we trust is speaking into the way we’re choosing to live and the choices we are making. If we are in this position could we start consciously asking for and developing humility in our lives – so that we are able to hear, accurately weigh-up and act upon advice we are given – but also so that the Jethro’s in our lives feel we are the type of person that will receive advice without getting our backs up – Moses was known for his humility – can we learn from him in this? I admit that this is easier said than done (I can be particularly prickly and arrogant in how I go about my days and have a lot of growing to do in this area!) – but we all have blind-spots, and we all have lots to learn – if we are willing to say sorry, admit we have made mistakes, and willing to make and accept changes we will be much more fruitful in our kingdom work – but also more widely in our lives here on earth.
And the third challenge is for those of us who need what Moses had but don’t seem to have anyone in that position of speaking into our lives at the moment…
If we don’t currently feel like we have what Moses had – then could I suggest that we become proactive in asking people we trust to listen and ask us questions about how, why and what we’re up to? There are official routes to do this – through paid spiritual directors and mentors but also informal ones where we simply ask someone to be that person and make sure that we make it a priority in our diary to catch up with them regularly. Alternatively, could it be that there are people already in that position but that we have pushed away? Be it a parent, leader or friend? This could be due to their or our actions – or it may be due to the pandemic disrupting our routines… Who do we need to reconnect with – for our own well-being and for the benefit of those who are affected by our lives day to day?
Loving God, help us to grow in humility – enable us to hear and act upon your guidance and correction in our lives, but help us also to listen to those you have placed in our lives to encourage, correct and support us.
Develop in us the wisdom needed to support others in the way that Jethro supported Moses – help us to have the patience to listen and watch, and the compassion to challenge them as you would with love and grace.
Direct us, we pray, to those who you would have be the Jethros in our lives and bless them with the wisdom and patience to deal with us as you would.