How Do You Know When You're Ready?

How do you know if you’re ready to do what you’ve been called to do? There is the story about Moses, who fled for his life into the wilderness after killing an Egyptian. We don’t know exactly why Moses killed the man, but he probably thought this would be the beginning of his ministry as leader and deliverer of his people.

Patrick Morley wrote, “Moses wasn’t ready to do what he had been called to do. His character wasn’t deep enough to support his calling – at least not yet.” (How God Makes Men)

How often is that the reason our calling hasn’t kicked in yet? We say we are in training for our calling, like the young future Zorro in the training circle, but assume that training is about skill, not about deepening our character.

I wrote in the margin of my book: “Is it possible to know this about yourself?” Of all the things we can’t accurately judge, our own character must be the greatest. How can we possibly know the depth of our own character? How do we know if we’re ready?

My friend Bob Cain asked, “So, if it's not possible to know that about yourself (the depth of your character), who do you have to do that for you?

That’s a fair question. There aren’t many friends, no matter how close, who’ll say, “You just aren’t grown up enough yet to do that. Wait a few years.”

About twenty years ago, in 1995, I wanted to lead a class at my church on the Great Books of the Christian Faith. I wanted to start with Knowing God by J. I. Packer. I had a study guide, I read and re-read the book during the summer, and made notes in the margin. I was  ready to teach.

When I shared with Cyndi my dream of a Great Books class she smiled sweetly the way she does to let me know she loves me and believes in me and is proud of me, and asked, “But who would come to a book class besides Bear?”

Well, I didn’t know who would come, but surely there would be a few people. I thought it was a great plan to read Augustine and Luther and Eusebius and Calvin, and discuss their approaches to Christianity, and together we’d all grow smarter about God and have a better understanding of how we should live. I thought it was a worthwhile project, and I was the one to lead it.

Well, about two weeks before my class was scheduled to begin, the church asked me to teach something else instead – they had a video series about – I don’t remember, but I think it was relating to one another as church members – and they wanted me to teach that instead of the book. Well, bummer.

I mean, I was flattered they asked me to lead a class normally taught by staff. I appreciated the confidence they had in me, and I knew I had the skills and heart to teach the material. But I also felt the loss of a dream, and I wondered if someone at my church thought I was too much of a light-weight to teach Packer, or thought Knowing God was the wrong book. I mostly took it as a personal hit.

The video study went well but it was like a lot of canned courses I’ve taught where they take one magazine article and stretch it into a twelve week course. Classes like that are difficult to teach after everything has been said two or three ways and you still have eleven weeks to go.

I never mentioned my idea of a Great Books course after that, except to Cyndi and Bear. I was not the guy to do it, if indeed it should be done.

But then one morning not long ago it occurred to me that I had been leading a men’s book study class on Thursday mornings. We call I Iron Men. I was doing what I once dreamed of doing, only twenty years later

However, the difference was way more than twenty years. I had become a different person. Back in 1995 my goal was that we’d all become smarter in the ways of God; now, my goal is that we’ll grow together in our Christian walk, a band of brothers on a common mission. Twenty years ago my focus was on books and intellect; now it’s about relationship and leadership and how we help each other live as men.

It was a surprise to realize I was doing what I wanted to do so long ago. I wasn't ready back then; I was living the wrong message. I had to personally grow into the man God needed. My heart needed more training.

Thinking again about Moses, it was during those hot lonely wilderness years that he went from being a spoiled, privileged, rich kid to a patient, persistent, and wily backcountry survivor. Morley wrote, "What Moses no doubt thought was abandonment was actually equipping."

I once saw Gary Barkalow pull out a claymore, one of those huge Scottish swords, as in William Wallace, and swing it around the stage. He said, “This is a powerful and lethal weapon; but imagine going into battle with a sword this big before you’ve been trained to use it. You would hurt as many of your own men as the enemy. Having a powerful weapon from God can be dangerous if used before God makes you ready.”

That would’ve been Moses had he moved into leadership forty years too soon. That would have been me had I taught the class twenty years too soon.

Back to Bob Cain’s question – How can we know? – I don’t think we can know ourselves. But if we keep learning, and training, and equipping, and being patient, God won’t keep us sidelined forever.

“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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Four Leadership Lessons From The Desert

I found four lessons about leadership while reading from Numbers 13 and 14 in my Daily Bible. Realizing how much I needed to learn them myself, I wrote them out so I could let them soak in. They come from a time in Bible history when the wandering nation of Israel, recently freed from Egypt, was poised to move into Canaan and seize the land God had promised. Unfortunately, they chickened out, failed God, and the entire nation suffered for the next forty years.


Lesson #1: Think about what you say

Moses sent twelve spies into Canaan to scope out the best way to conquer the land, but instead of coming back with a battle plan, the spies lost their nerve and convinced the people they couldn’t win against the current inhabitants.

They said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. (13:30-33)

They spread more than information; they spread fear. They infected the entire nation with terror and faithlessness. Shame on them. Don’t ever be someone who spreads fear.

The result? Because the people refused to follow Moses into Canaan, God was ready to strike them all down and start over. But Moses pleaded for mercy. God answered Moses’ prayer, but declared that the people would have to wander in the wilderness for forty more years, until the entire fearful generation was dead and buried in the desert. That works out to be at least ten funerals per day, every day, for forty years. (14:1-18)

It matters how we live. Don’t go through life spreading fear. Think about what you say (and post).


Lesson #2: Take your failures to God

After the people refused to confront the Canaanites, and they heard the terms of their punishment, they tried to correct the situation on their own. They ran toward the border to invade the land. But they went without Moses and without God, and they were quickly defeated and turned back. (14:39-45)

I think this part of the story would’ve turned out differently if the people had humbled themselves and appealed to God for a second chance instead of charging up the hill. It would have changed everything. God gave second chances repeatedly, but only when they had a possibility of restoring the relationship.

In this case, when the people charged into battle, it had nothing to do with returning to God, but it had everything to do with proving their own strength.

Don’t try to repair spiritual failures using the strength of your own will. God wants you back. Ask him for another chance.


Lesson #3: Take care of the people God has entrusted to you

I often wonder how many times Moses met with God during the next forty years to complain about sending those spies. Moses could have been the hero, leading God’s people into the Promised Land. Instead, he was stuck babysitting a bunch of whiners, in the desert, for forty years. All because of those spies.

No one who answers God’s call to leadership considers they might end up circling aimlessly in the desert for the rest of their life. As the years ticked slowly along, funeral after funeral, Moses must have hurt over what seemed to be a lost opportunity.

I wonder if Moses ever complained to God, “Darn your scaredy-cat spies,” only to hear God reply, “Hey, you picked them out - they were your spies.”

Yet, Moses stayed on task, guiding the people toward God. God entrusted these people to Moses, and he gave his life to them.

Take care of the people God entrusts to you, regardless of the assignment.


Lesson #4: Don’t research your courage away

One more thought. I think it’s possible to do so much research we can talk ourselves out of doing God’s will. And I say this as someone who likes to research every important decision. Moses knew it was God’s will to invade Canaan, so why send those spies? This story might have been very different if he hadn’t.

I saw this very thing happen many times when I served in city government … a fellow member of the city council would ask for input about a controversial issue, and keep asking and asking, until they eventually heard the safest choice. As a result, they lost their nerve, allowing the fear-spreaders to shape their decision. Instead of voting with the conviction God placed in their heart they allowed fearful opinions to scare them away.

When God speaks, we can and should ask opinions of people we trust, but we should be prepared to move forward on the word of God, even if we move alone. Don’t let too much research steal your courage.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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How Much Can You See?

Does God intentionally hide himself from us? Sometimes it feels that way, doesn’t it?

I was reading a cool story in my Daily Bible, from Exodus 33:17-23, when Moses said to God, “Show me your glory.”

God said, “I will cause my goodness to pass in front of you … but you cannot see my face … I will remove my hand and you will see my back.”

So Moses asked to see God’s glory, but he got God’s goodness instead. He couldn’t see God’s face, but he was allowed to see God’s back.

I doubt there is a big theological difference between glory and goodness, or face and back. I think God wanted to reveal himself to a much-loved and trusted friend, and showed as much of himself as he could.

Maybe Moses would have melted down if he saw all of God. Or maybe he would have seen nothing since God is so huge. Maybe he needed small details to focus on since the full nature of God was too much to take in.

I don’t know; I am guessing. But I don’t believe God was being coy, or contrary, or even hard-to-get. He doesn’t tell Moses - “If you handle this wilderness adventure like a big boy, I will show you some more.” No, I believe God was being generous with himself. He showed as much as Moses could take. Too much too soon wouldn’t help him see more clearly.

Here is an example: My ten-year-old nephew, Kevin, asked me, “So what are the Lord of the Ring movies about?” He has trouble seeing past the image of Gollum, having been creeped out by seeing one of the movies when he was too young. And in fact, I hardly know how to answer him. To describe the story behind the LOTR movies is complex even for people who’ve spent their life reading the books and watching the movies. I told him, “Frodo has to destroy a magic ring so the rightful king could be restored to his thrown.”

That hardly does justice to ten-hours’ worth of movies, but to explain further wouldn’t have helped Kevin understand. More details would only have confused him further.

I think there was an element of that between God and Moses. Showing more wouldn’t have helped Moses understand. It would have confused him further.

Another example: If you meet someone on an airplane - one of the few places where we sit close to strangers and have plenty of time to talk - and they ask, “Tell me about yourself,” what do you say?

Do you dive into childhood stories, life victories, and emotional wounds, telling about your goals and dreams, listing off New Year’s resolutions, spilling the content of your heart? I don’t. I doubt even my most extroverted friends tell their whole story to strangers.

Why is that? Without the context of a deeper relationship and shared history, most of what you tell won’t make sense anyway. Too much too soon does not become deeper understanding.

But then there is another question from Exodus 33: Why did God show himself at all? Why not tell Moses it couldn’t be done? And even more, why did Moses think he had the right to ask it of God?

I think part of the answer lies with the traumatic moment they shared. They had just discovered the entire nation worshipping a golden calf in full Egyptian fashion, and it broke both their hearts - God’s and Moses’s. God was so angry he was ready to destroy the people and start over with Moses, and Moses threw himself in front of that anger to plead for mercy and grace.

When we go through something traumatic together, it pulls us closer. We become combat buddies, of sorts. And mutual survival of a struggle earns us the right to share more of ourselves. We learn to trust each other through shared hardship.

I have hiked Guadalupe Peak at least a dozen times with the Iron Men group, in addition to multiple trips up Tejas Trail and Permian Reef Trail. And something happens to conversations as the miles on the trail pile up. Guys start sharing more about themselves and opening their hearts in a way that could never happen back home in a classroom. Not every guy; not every trip; but guys have told deep secrets they’ve held close for years. Why? Because we earn trust through the shared struggle of the hike.

And so, the more of life we experience alongside God, the more we’ll learn to trust him, and the more of himself he can reveal to us. We have to grow further up and further in to before we can see God more clearly.

Maybe God allows us to travel extremely difficult trails because that is the only way we’ll know him better. Maybe living through those moments when God seems to be hiding are the very times we learn to trust him so we can see him more clearly.

“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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