Thanksgiving and Failure
Today is Thanksgiving. In a perfect world, right now you are gathered with those you love the most. You’ve worked hard to serve well, and you’re reaping the benefits. Everyone is getting along, no one rolls their eyes when you suggest everyone say what they’re thankful for, and you even have help with the dishes. This is how it is, theoretically.
But in reality, your sister lives too far away to come and your grandma – the one who always made Thanksgiving special - is with the Lord. You can’t ask your good friend for her pumpkin pie recipe because she’s not speaking to you. You can’t invite your aunt because she and your uncle are getting divorced, and that same uncle gets agitated whenever you talk about Jesus. No one really wants to talk about what they’re thankful for. This is how it is, realistically.
And sometimes, at the end of a Thanksgiving Day like this, you ask, perhaps as you wash the dishes alone: Why do my well-intentioned efforts fail? Why aren’t things the way they’re supposed to be? The answer is that your best efforts must await God’s appointed time to make things the way they’re supposed to be.
Moses’ Well-Intentioned Efforts
Moses had the best desires. Although he grew up in Pharaoh’s luxurious household, he wanted to be identified with the Hebrew slaves because they were his people and God was his God. He called them his brethren and longed to be one of them. The author of Hebrews says that this was because he considered “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” (Heb. 11:26) In other words, Moses would rather suffer for the sake of the promised Messiah than have all that the world has to offer.
Moses also wanted to set his people free from unjust oppression. When he saw an Egyptian brutally beating one of his brothers, Moses intervened. This, too, was a good desire. In the book of Acts, Stephen says, “And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian” (Acts 7:24) Moses knew that God wanted to deliver his people through him.
Just like you want your family to love Jesus and each other this Thanksgiving Day, so Moses wanted good things. There was nothing wrong with what he wanted at all.
Moses’ Well-Intentioned Efforts Fail
And yet, Moses’ well-intentioned efforts failed. The day after he killed the Egyptian, Moses saw two Hebrew slaves fighting. He was appalled by this, so he intervened to stop the perpetrator from severely injuring or even killing his companion. Instead, however, of understanding that Moses identified with him and wanted to deliver all of them from oppression, the perpetrator rejected him. (Ex. 2:14)
In Acts, Stephen attributes this rejection to a rejection of God’s plan. To Moses, it meant that he had to run for his life. Someone ratted on him, Pharaoh tried to kill him, and Moses had to flee to Midian for the next forty years. His good desires utterly failed. Things were not the way they were supposed to be.
The Wrong Time
The reason Moses’ well-intentioned efforts failed was because it was not yet God’s appointed time for those things to take place. If you know the story, you know that Moses is going to be identified with God and his people (after forty years in the wilderness, perhaps more identified with them than he wanted!) and he’s going to be the one God uses to deliver them. However, Moses did not know these things yet. In the face of failure and his own powerlessness, it might have seemed as though the things that were happening were arbitrary and out of control.
That was not, however, the case. God had reasons to wait.
First, he wanted to save a Midianite family. When Moses fled to Midian, he met Jethro and his daughters; he married one of Jethro’s girls. Though Jethro was a priest, he did not know the true God. Later, when he saw how God delivered the Israelites, he exclaimed, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods.” (Ex. 18:11) Because the fulfillment of Moses’ desires was delayed, this man and his family were saved.
Second, God spent the next forty years preparing Moses to be the deliverer of his people. Moses needed further revelation and power, which he got when God met him at the burning bush.
Third, God was also waiting for the Pharaoh who wanted to kill Moses to die before he sent him back to Egypt.
And, finally, God was waiting for Israel to cry to him for help as they realized they could not set themselves free from the suffering of slavery. All of these are reasons why Moses’s efforts failed until God’s appointed time.
You and I don’t always know why our well-intentioned efforts fail. I don’t know why your best friend won’t speak to you or why your uncle’s heart is so hard towards the gospel. Sometimes the Lord gives us glimpses of what he’s doing, but sometimes he leaves us in the dark. But one thing you can know for sure: His delays are not arbitrary. He is actively redemptive as you wait.
The Right Time
And then, wonderfully and inevitably, the right time – God’s appointed time – did come. For Moses, this came when God sent him to Pharaoh to deliver his people from unjust oppression and bring them to the Promised Land. For the whole world, this time came one Christmas morning when Jesus was born. The appointed time came when he went to the cross and died to deliver his people from a much worse slavery – slavery to sin. Three days later, God’s appointed time came and Jesus was raised from the dead. After Jesus ascended, another appointed time came when the Holy Spirit was poured out and God’s people became witnesses to the gospel to the whole world. You and I live in the light of these appointed times having already come.
And yet, we are still waiting for the final appointed time when Jesus returns. Your less-than-perfect Thanksgiving Day, when your well-intentioned efforts fail, is evidence that we are still crying out, “How long, O Lord?” You and I are waiting for the time when we will be made righteous through and through, when we will have eternal life with other people in perfect relationships, and when we will enjoy intimate fellowship with Jesus face to face. And though the day tarries, God will keep his promise to make all things the way they’re supposed to be.
So take heart as you continue in your Christ-honoring, well-intentioned efforts (even if you’re washing the dishes alone). Just like with Moses, they are good desires and pleasing to the Lord; they are not wasted. God is at work. He sees, he knows and he will answer in his appointed time.