When there’s no burning bush

I honor God when I respond to his quiet invitations

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The awe-inspiring miracle in Moses’ story told in Exodus 3 story certainly gets my attention. I would sum up this story with the salacious headline: “Bush on fire calls man by name.” However, the most inspiring aspect of the story is not the miracle but the interaction between Moses and God.

To start the story, we see Moses at work tending the sheep, a response to God’s directive in Genesis 2. Then God gets Moses’ attention through the visual gesture of a burning bush. Moses’ curiosity moves him to approach this visual marvel. Verse four says, “When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’”

At this point God becomes audible and secures Moses’ attention by calling him by name. Moses responds with an open posture, “Here I am.” The remainer of chapter three and into chapter four, the Lord proceeds to identify himself and to instruct, encourage and empower Moses. Moses expresses his doubts and fears—important to note—but he stays engaged in the interaction.

Looking back on my journey from a banking career in Kansas to living in Burundi, Africa, I can see parallels to this story. Selfishly, I wanted a burning bush moment. I remember asking God, “If I am standing before a bush on fire and it is not burning and its talking to me, I’ll do whatever it says. No questions. Help me out, Lord. Please, I’m asking.”

Looking for a sign

I wanted a clear sign of my next step. I even presented this request to God prior to attending an event hosted by Multiply in the fall of 2016. I was well along in my professional career. I was successful and comfortable, and I was quick to disqualify myself from this type of event. However, I did want something more of God and my curiosity pushed me through the tension to take a step forward and attend.

I felt wholly out of place the entire time because of my imposed expectations, but I was engaged. During the small group time our leader asked the group, “What seems impossible to you?” I had just returned from a short-term mission trip the previous spring and it didn’t take me long to formulate an answer.

“Living in a foreign country with no job seems impossible to me,” I blurted out.

A bizarre reply as I listened to myself say it. I doubted such a life was something I was striving for. Is that why I’m attending this event? Is that the goal here? The analytical, practical, linear-thinking banker I’d grown into was perplexed. I didn’t know what I was saying, but that was my response.

Exiting the event, I realized I never got the “burning bush.” I had a litany of scrambled thoughts and not much clarity. My only clear response me was to proclaim, “Lord, I’m available.” It wasn’t until later in my journey that I saw the parallel with Moses’ response, “Here I am.”

At a crossroad

A handful of steps after that proclamation, I found myself navigating the interview process with Multiply at a retreat center in northern Washington. This retreat center was picturesque northwest America: towering pine trees, tumbling rivers, soft grass, moderately cool temperatures and several nature trails stitched into the campus.

During this multiple day interview, we participants were led into an intentional silent time focused solely on hearing from God, no talking with other participants or staff or guests. This was a new experience for me.

My quiet time led me on a walk. Instead of basking in the natural beauty curated in the property I decided to walk outside the campus. I retraced the mile-long driveway leading into the property. Halfway along my walk I thought to myself, “This is foolish. Why are you out here? You could be hiking and enjoying all these nature trails and instead you’re on this pavement, walking next to soggy grasslands which are not inspiring.”

I had my doubts, but I continued. The end of the driveway intersected a road with the options to turn right or left. I did neither. I crossed the intersection, stood under a tree, and turned to face the road I had just walked down. A road sign caught my attention. It read “Dead End.”

Instead of flippantly casting this observation aside I searched for something more. I felt God saying to me, “You can’t go back the way you came. You can’t go back to the life you were living. This way is a dead end.”

I was at a crossroads. The road to my right was obscured with many peaks and valleys. To me this represented an adventurous path full of unknowns with many ups and downs. The road to my left was evident with a long downward slope which turned to the left at the bottom of the hill. To me this represented a familiar path of security and comfort. Which path appealed to me?

In this silent moment in the Washington outback God was definitely speaking to me, but he was not audible, and nothing was burning. My God and I were responding in kind. I was experiencing a mixture of emotions and thoughts (including doubt), but I continued to respond. I wanted to get to the next step but did not know what that meant.

If I can’t go back, where do I go? The solitude time with God opened me to his response. Away from the praise and affirmation that I seek from humans, I needed him to tell me. I needed time with him to fully listen. We see the same situation in the Moses story—Moses and God responding to one another.

God’s questions and my responses

Further along in my journey, God used others to speak to me. During my training time with Multiply, I was invited to accept an assignment in Burundi. It stood alone. I called a mentor of mine to weigh this invitation. After some discussion, he asked, “Do you have any other options?” I thought for a moment and then answered, “Nope.”

Through his question and my response, I could hear what God was saying. It was clear. Burundi was the place. What more did I need to hear? What was I waiting for? I continually wanted Moses’ burning bush moment, but I came to realize my response was his desire.

My biggest fear is missing what God has for me. I put a lot of pressure on myself to experience the burning bush. I do not want to miss it. It better be blazing and it better be talking in English!

The more I journey with our creative God the more I embrace the response: his and mine. The God of mystery who shaped the mountains, who created the wind reveals his thoughts to me (Amos 4:13). My act of obedience is in the response: physical, verbal, prayerful, hopeful. As I honor the relationship with my response, he leads me into the places he has prepared for me.

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