They said life here is on “Africa Time”. They said the environment is more relaxed, more relational. They said we would have to learn how to slow down, and not worry so much about getting things done.
Well, I suppose in some ways it’s true. There are things I love about that. I never really knew that I was as extroverted as I am. I love walking to the office and stopping to greet every single person I know, and I love that it might take an hour. I don’t mind the interruptions so much, but I seem to have an uncanny ability to compartmentalize which helps me in those situations. Some of these aspects of life aren’t so easy for my introverted wife, but I think she also enjoys some this very different culture.
This makes things interesting when I start to think about maintaining my work/life balance. What exactly is work? Sure, budgets, organizational charts, management of profit and loss in a donation based ministry, and administrative efforts are clearly “work”. However, in a new culture where our only relationships are inside the ministry, where do we ever really escape work? Building cross-cultural connections and learning how to function in a foreign culture is work, but it’s also family time. I imagine pastors and other ministry positions must be so much the same.
As my wife and I read through our Bibles together in the early mornings, we have been considering the responses of pharaoh as he is confronted by one plague after another. At first, his response is that he will not let the people of God go to worship their God, and he increases their burden in slavery. There are many times that I feel like I am pharaoh. Can I make a confession here? At times, I don’t read my Bible every day. Sometimes my prayer life is dry. Sometimes I forget why it is that we are here. Most of the time, it’s because I get too busy with the work. As a missionary, it might even be easier to justify. All my work is a result of what God called us here to do, right? So, do I really need to devote that time to Him? Imagine how much more I can get done if I just get right to the tasks of the day?
As pharaoh is hit with more plagues, he comes to the point of telling Moses that it’s okay for them to worship their God, but let them do it in the land of Egypt. This is really an amazing compromise. If I had been Moses, I might have just taken him up on this offer and called it good. In a foreign land, under a foreign king, in slavery to him, the king has just said that he recognizes your God and is willing for you to stop work long enough to pay your homage to your God. This means that pharaoh is willing to give you space to publicly honor your God in a land that pays their homage to many other gods. Pharaoh is actually giving something significant in this. I feel like this is where I am way too often satisfied. My sinful heart says it’s good enough. Let’s live in a land of tolerance, where my faith can be tolerated in the midst of many others, and no one has to fight. Let me blend in with my surroundings, and still enjoy the benefits of living in Egypt. The society is rich, the king is fair, I can have my faith, and I can also enjoy this place. Why get uncomfortable and go out to the wilderness for my God? Pharaoh says for the Israelites to not go far. Isn’t that the devil speaking? It’s like Pharaoh is still speaking to me today. “Don’t go so far to serve your God. Just blend in, and serve Him here.”
After more plagues, and more pain in the land of Egypt, pharaoh is willing to further relent. He offers that the men of Israel shall go into the wilderness to honor their God, but he demands that the women and children stay behind. Satan has always been an adversary of family. He divides men from their wives, children from their fathers, and more. At times, he calls out and tempts men away by such things. “Aren’t you, as men, the authority in the household? Why then would need for your wives and children to endure the three day journey into the wilderness? Leave them, and you go do whatever you need to do.” Satan hates marriage, and he hates family. Even here, as a missionary to Uganda, I can hear Satan calling me away from my wife. He begs me to do it alone, in my own strength, and spare my family the trouble.
Repeat the story. More plagues, and another hardened response from pharaoh. Now he’s happy to let all the people go to sacrifice in the wilderness. However, he demands that the people leave their possessions behind. He tells them to leave their herds and all their livestock. This has been a struggle for us on the mission field. We were instructed to go, and we listened. We are here, living this life that God called us to! So, shouldn’t we be allowed to hold onto some things of our own? What about our rights to have a certain quality of life, certain things? It was even these things that the Israelites were supposed to take out to the wilderness in order to sacrifice to their God. Why do I claim any right to anything? If I model my life after Christ, I would be modeling the way He gave up His throne in heaven to come and serve as a man with no reputation. He intentionally took the form of a servant, and became obedient to the point of death for me. Still, I hold on to things, even in my simple acts of obedience. Why am I as stubborn as pharaoh, holding on to my things?
In pharaoh’s final response, he not only sends the Israelites out to do what was required of them, but he chases them out. He is intent on killing off the whole lot of them. That’s the reality of the struggle. God is there, beckoning to us all. Blessing after blessing, disaster after disaster, God is working in His creation to prove the undeniable truth of His existence to bring us to that point of either accepting Him or rejecting Him. The things of God are impossible to understand by those who are hardening their hearts and choosing to reject the only real truth.
In the past I have wondered how this pharaoh could be so stubborn. In reading through his responses, I realize I am looking into a mirror. I should be asking how I can be so stubborn!! Even after God delivered the people in miraculous fashion, they would still cry out from the wilderness with a strange desire to go back into slavery in Egypt. How can I, as a born-again believer in Christ, still have such desire for the things of this world?
Having accepted truth, my wilderness journey is not finished. God help us to never assume we can somehow honor you while blending in with any society that rejects you. God help me to refuse to abdicate my role of leadership and authority in my household. God, you made me to be a leader, a steward of this home, and my wife and children will be a living testimony of my devotion to my God. God help us to lay aside our rights, living for the only worthy reward. Help my family to be obedient, but not for the purpose of some pride or ambitious reward in this life. Help us to draw our strength from the only source. Help us to never get lost in the task list of today. Cure me of my desire to accomplish for my sake, and replace it with a desire to know You so that I might live for Your name’s sake.