Acting on assumptions can lead to all manner of blunders, can’t it? I have a friend who once took her kids to a “meet and greet” with the Prime Minister at a local library. He made the faulty assumption that my friend was the children’s grandmother. Oops! More embarrassing for him than for her, I can assure you.
We can assume all sorts of erroneous things about people, or even about God. Perhaps especially about God. The people of Jesus’ day made many assumptions about Him and how and why He had come to deliver them. I’m sure they were overwhelmed by doubt and disappointment when He ended up on a cross. What they didn’t know was that something infinitely better than their wildest conjectures was only a weekend away. Many years earlier, a deliverer named Moses had some things to learn about making assumptions too.
[Moses] assumed his people would understand that God would give them deliverance through him, but they did not understand. (Acts 7:25 CSB)
Moses’ people didn’t understand him, but he also didn’t quite seem to understand God’s plan at this point either. If you read the entire passage, it seems to imply that he had his own ideas about how God was orchestrating the events of his life.
He had grown up in the lap of luxury as an adopted son of an Egyptian princess. An “in” like that with granddaddy Pharaoh was quite a privilege compared to what his fellow Hebrews endured as mistreated, overworked slaves. I wonder when Moses first started putting the puzzle pieces of his life together. When did he have that first flash of insight that his position had a higher purpose than simply his own enjoyment and ease? Did he have his own timetable in mind for when he would lead his people’s march to freedom I wonder?
That fateful day when he intervened for a Hebrew who was being beaten by an Egyptian slave driver, was Moses testing the waters of his plan, assuming his people would be grateful and would believe him and follow him? Did he also have assumptions about what God would do next? Imagine his surprise and humiliation after taking such a bold step — a step that resulted in the murder of that Egyptian slave driver, by the way — after standing up so bravely for his fellow Hebrews, they wanted nothing to do with him or his leadership. On the run, in exile in the wilderness, I’m sure his dream of being deliverer must have also died that day. How could he have miscalculated so drastically? How did he get it all so wrong?
The day he ran for his life, he probably would have had a hard time believing that God still did intend to use him to deliver his people. But it wasn’t his miraculous preservation as a baby in a basket or his adoption by the princess or his elite Egyptian education that qualified him for the job. No doubt God orchestrated much of Moses’ life to furnish him with experiences that would come in handy someday, but it wasn’t those experiences that compelled God to use him. There is a huge difference! And it’s one that I am discovering in my own life too.
One approach has us in the driver’s seat, assuming we can serve God in our own strength. The other leaves that spot vacant for the Master as we learn how to serve in His strength. One is a “works based” philosophy that assumes our performance and our track record are what somehow make us more or less useful to God. The other is based solely on grace. It puts God at the helm and us following closely at His heels. And it relies heavily on redemption, knowing that nothing (good or bad) from our past is wasted in the hands of God.
Moses probably had no trouble making sense of how God could use him when he tallied up his column of blessings and benefits. But imagine how he felt when the charge of murder messed up the other side of his ledger! The trajectory of his life and all those neatly fitting puzzle pieces would suddenly stop making so much sense. But as Frederick Buechner eloquently put it, “. . .blessed is he who sees that, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, [God] is who he says he is and does what he says he does if they will only, at admittedly great cost to their pride, their common sense, their sad vision of what is and is not possible in the stormy world, let him do it.” 1 Delivering the people of Israel from bondage was God’s job. He would do it! And He would do it through Moses, but only after some painful lessons in the wilderness.
Like Moses, I used to think I knew how God was going to use my life. I thought I understood how my upbringing and my experience walking in the will of God from a young age would play out when I married my seminary student husband. It seemed obvious that God had plans for us based on how our lives had been shaped until that point, very much within the four walls of established churches. I never realized that God could fashion something beautiful from mistakes we would make.
The miracle of wilderness lessons though is that our messes don’t have to disqualify us. If we let Him, God can use those failures to radically transform us into surrendered servants, more desperate and dependent on our Redeemer and His redemption and more ready and able to follow Him. Whether our miscalculations resolve over a weekend or over years in the wilderness, they can lead us to beautiful, even if unexpected, destinations. I know I still have many miles to go, but I’m slowly learning not to make assumptions about where He’s taking me and how He’s going to get me there.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
and your ways are not my ways.”
This is the LORD’S declaration.
“For as heaven is higher than earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
(Isaiah 55:8-9 CSB)