But it Works!

I find it frustrating when well-meaning friends and acquaintances try to convince me of something I know to be a bunch of hooey. When I try to point out that their “facts” aren’t confirmed by science, their standard retort it, “But it works!” As if having something work means it’s true, or right, or God’s will.

From a science point of view, having something work doesn’t prove anything. Just by chance, sometimes doing A will result in outcome B, even if there’s no connection. I’ve said it before: correlation doesn’t prove causation. If you don’t believe me, check out these fun charts.

But how about something more spiritual? Christian bookstores are full of solutions to problems such as “how to grow your church” and “proven fundraisers.” One pastor in one place finds that sending the bus around to collect parishioners causes attendance to soar, so he writes a book encouraging all pastors everywhere to literally hop on the bus. It works for me, so it will work for you. We just need to follow these Christian principles.

There’s nothing inherently evil about church buses or fundraising banquets (although failure to consult and obey God is sinful), but sometimes desperation causes well-meaning people to adopt an “ends justify the means” attitude that can do real harm. They lie to donors to raise needed cash. They  cheat on their spouses to “do more effective ministry” (yes, we’ve actually encountered this logic). And everything is justified because it works.

Some years ago, God woke Pete in the middle of the night to ask him a simple question: “Why didn’t Moses get to enter the Promised Land?” We discussed it the next morning. Um… he did something wrong, obviously. He… disobeyed God? We both headed for our Bibles and turned to Numbers 3:

Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be any problem. After all, it worked. Water came out of the rock. But this wasn’t the first time God brought water out of a rock. Turn to Exodus 17:

The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Do you notice the difference between the two events?

The first time, God told Moses to strike the rock. The second time, God told him to speak to the rock. Yet, both times, Moses struck the rock.

Moses was used to hitting things with his staff. He had struck the Nile, changing it to blood, and Aaron had struck the dust, creating the plague of gnats. Moses had even struck the rock before. He knew the ropes. So instead of obeying God, Moses did what works.

It worked this time, too. Water came out of the rock. But God wasn’t happy, and there were consequences.

(Moses never did take responsibility for his sin. In Deuteronomy 3:21-26, at the end of his life, we see that he is still blaming the Israelites for his failure: “But because of you the Lord was angry with me… .”)

This isn’t the only example in the Bible. Consider Jericho. In Joshua 6 we read how God told Joshua to take the ark and march around the walled city once a day for six days. On the seventh day, they were to make seven laps, then make a lot of noise and the walls would fall down. It worked. Joshua might have rushed off to write a book: Conquer Your Enemies: a 7 Day Plan.

The next time they had a city to conquer, God had a different plan. You can read about it in Joshua 8. It didn’t involve any marching or trumpets. Instead, they were to set an ambush, then lure the fighting men out of the city. And that worked, too.

God doesn’t always do what worked the previous time. He doesn’t want us falling back on methods or “best practices.” I’m convinced that He changes things around intentionally, so we always have to come and ask Him what to do. Once again, it all boils down to relationship.

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