Saturday, February 03, 2007

What you are doing is not good

Today's Old Testament passage reminded me of a time I interpreted the sermon at Kobe Bible Fellowship. Interpreting a sermon was both harder and easier than I thought it would be -- easier because Tomohiro-san walked me through the message beforehand, and harder because I couldn't possibly remember all the new vocabulary, and also because standing in front of a crowd is always nervous-making for an introvert like me.

But here was the setting. Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, comes to see him in the desert, bringing Moses’ wife and their children. Moses must have figured the thing with
confronting Pharaoh and the plagues and all would have been rather much to have his wife and children watch. So Jethro comes to visit, and he hears all about the deliverance from Egypt, and the next day he sees Moses sitting as judge, and people coming to him "from morning till evening" (Exodus 18.13). Jethro asks him what this is all about (presumably he does not speak Hebrew) and Moses explains. Here's the interesting part.
Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 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. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you.
Exodus 18.17-19
Jethro goes on to explain the idea of delegation, of building the organization's capabilities -- what some present-day management gurus call "sharpening the saw" (or the axe) -- or what Oncken used to call "moving the fulcrum" (think "leverage" and "lever"). What Moses should do, he says, is to teach the people about God's laws, and appoint people of integrity to serve as judges over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.

Moses takes Jethro's advice, and it works.

I wondered briefly why this story was considered important enough to include in the Bible. Was it so that we would know, 3,000 years later, that one can go to business school (as either a student or instructor) and still follow God?

Here's what I think, which is also what Tomohiro-san's sermon was about: that when information comes, it's worth listening to, even if it's in the form of a rebuke. When somebody doesn't like my work, my immediate reaction is to think, "It's not that bad, is it? I did it because..."

But better to listen, see what useful truth is in the advice (which can sometimes be tactless), and take what's good. Because most of the time, critics (used in the positive sense here) have good intentions. And even if they don't, they still might have something useful to tell us.

And what makes it possible to reduce our defensiveness, to listen for truth rather than being defensive? What I've found is that when I can remember I belong to God, that he is the one I ultimately answer to, that my identity and self-worth isn't based on how well I do things or how popular I am -- that's when advice and rebuke is easier to take.

May we remember today whose we are and who we are ultimately.

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