Stop, Look, and Listen
How did I miss it? It was a familiar passage that I had read countless times over the years, but somehow, I had missed it every time.
I had always assumed that Moses had heard God’s voice calling him and, as a result, he had turned to see the burning bush. But several months ago, I was reading Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, and she helped me see something for the first time. Moses didn’t turn because he had heard God calling as I had always assumed. No; he turned to first look at the unusual sight, and it was only then that God spoke!
You probably know the passage too. Moses was having an exceptionally ordinary day. At this point in his life, Egypt was a distant memory. He was now working as a shepherd for his father-in-law in Midian. He was out in one of his old haunts with his sheep, walking well-worn, well-traveled paths. Sheep (and shepherds!) are creatures of habit.
And it was on this mundane day, along this common path, that Moses saw a very ordinary object: a bush. But there was something extraordinary about this ordinary bush, and Moses picked up on it. It was on fire, but somehow, it wasn’t burning up! In Exodus 3:3, Moses muses, “I’m going to go over and see this strange sight.” In one Bible paraphrase, v. 3 reads, “What’s going on here? I can’t believe this! Amazing! Why doesn’t this bush burn up?” (MSG)
The next verse (v.4) indicates that his curiosity led him to go over and look. The Hebrew verb there means to “turn aside.” It means “to make a change in direction from the path you’re on.”
In other words, Moses first had to take notice. He paused, turned aside, and with his interest piqued, went over to look more closely. And that’s when God spoke! Somehow, I had missed it in my many previous readings! God didn’t speak until Moses stopped. Until Moses noticed. Until Moses turned aside. If it wasn’t for his curiosity and his decision to press the “pause button,” Moses would’ve likely missed God’s call altogether.
In this season of leading and serving amidst a global pandemic, it’s easy for us to be distracted. There is such a glut of information coming at us, and the increased demands and needs we face in our ministries is so great, that we’re pulled in a thousand different directions and we have a hard time knowing what to pay attention to! COVID-19 and all it entails has distracted us to the extreme.
If Moses had been scrolling through Facebook while he walked through the wilderness that day, he likely would’ve kept right on walking. He wouldn’t have even seen the bush! God was at work; there was an ordinary bush on fire with God’s extraordinary presence, but Moses would’ve completely missed it! God was wanting to speak, but He chose to hold His tongue until Moses stopped, asked himself what the sign God had placed before him could possibly mean, and then turned aside.
One of the greatest responsibilities (and privileges!) we have as pastors and leaders is to practice the spiritual discipline of “attentiveness.” This discipline is all about living intentionally and deliberately alert to the signs of God’s presence and activity everywhere around us. We can be sure that all of us have burning bushes in our lives and in our ministry because Jesus said, “My Father is always at work.” There are places where God wants to reveal Himself to us, but you and I need first to be paying attention.
I wonder if it’s possible that Moses had walked by that bush before when it had been burning. I wonder if he had maybe even walked by it many times but had failed to see it. The Bible doesn’t say, of course, so we certainly can’t say one way or the other with any degree of certainty. But what we do know is that this time, he was paying attention and chose to pause, to stop, and to question. And when he finally turned aside to look and to listen, he heard God speak.
What might we be missing in this season of distraction? Exodus 3 reminds us to pay attention. Stop, look, and listen daily. Know that God’s at work in you and your ministry!