October 17, 2017

Have Faith But Don’t Neglect Common Sense

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“Trust in God but tie up your camel” reads the ancient Arabian proverb. In other words, have faith, but don’t neglect common sense. Too often we split these concepts and treat them as if they were mutually exclusive propositions. We drive a wedge between bold faith and simple common sense. These two concepts, though, were meant to travel together as complimentary partners, not fiery enemies.

A Baby in a Basket
The Old Testament holds a rich and colorful story of a man named Moses. Most, if not all, of you are likely familiar with his life, even if only from DreamWorks’ adaptation. What you may not realize is that his birth, and the events surrounding it, are an incredible example of melding a strong right hand of faith and prayer with a strong left hand of common sense and strategy.

Remember the account? The people of Israel had a surge in population such that they outnumbered their Egyptian masters. The ruling Pharaoh had no warmth for the people of God. Long gone were the days of the shadow and influence of Joseph on the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh became nervous and issued a birth control/murder edict. All male Hebrew babies were to be thrown in the Nile.

The Nile wasn’t some lazy backwater with no risk. It was full of strong currents and deadly crocodiles, all of which the Pharaoh knew would mean certain death for the Hebrew babies.

The parents of Moses—Amram and Jochebed—knew this well and devised a plan. They hid baby Moses for three months until they could hide him no longer. They then decided to put Moses in a waterproof basket and place him in the Nile. He was found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who happened to be taking a bath and noticed the child. Her heart was mysteriously “warmed” toward the young baby. She paid Moses’ mother to nurse him until he “grew older” and she weaned him. At that time, Jochebed took Moses to Pharaoh’s daughter and she adopted him.

In this story we find a 4,000-year-old illustration of the powerful blending of raw and ruthless faith with intentional strategizing.

Common Sense and Strategy
Someone in Moses’ family did some pre-work, strategy, and planning; they didn’t just dump a baby in the river and cross their fingers.

  • They knew which day and what time Pharaoh’s daughter bathed. They also knew where on the river she went to bathe. They knew the currents of the river and the patterns of the deadly wildlife, and they planned accordingly.
  • Surely they thought through having to give up their baby, but they were able to raise him to a certain age (until he was weaned). As a family, they made a conscious decision when they pushed the basket out in the Nile with his sister hiding in the weeds.
  • They planned their “up-sell presentation” to ensure Moses’ mother and sister would be chosen for service. “Oh, you just found a beautiful baby, you might need someone to nurse him,  and there just happens to be one waiting behind that bush over there.” What a coincidence.
  • They also positioned themselves close enough to be able to immediately respond to the need for someone to nurse Moses, but not so close as to get caught and carried off.

Someone in Moses’ family did some pre-work, strategy, and planning.

Prayer and Faith
The planning and strategy employed by Moses’ family did not, however, minimize the tremendous faith involved in their actions. To any outsider, this plan would have seemed like a desperate, long shot at best. Their faith was indispensable.

  • There are no facts to make us think that this was a normal occurrence for a Jewish boy and an Egyptian woman, let alone Pharaoh’s daughter. There was no Hebrew boys’ home being funded by the benevolence of Pharaoh. As young Moses grew up in the palace, he didn’t run into other adopted half brothers. This plan was a one of a kind plan. It ran against the culture of the day and was extremely risky. Moses’ parents had enough faith to allow their young son to be raised in an Egyptian world.
  • They prayed for God to guard young Moses during his very impressionable developmental years.
  • Make no mistake; the best-laid plans of man are never enough. The family of Moses prayed like crazy that the Lord would work. And He did. They prayed that God would warm the heart of the Pharaoh’s daughter toward their child, who happened to be the offspring of a people her family despised. They also prayed she would be courageous enough to risk the potential wrath of Pharaoh. Remember, he was the guy who ordered all Hebrew babies to be murdered, and she decided to adopt one.

Maintaining the Balance
Most of us, if not all of us, often practice some blend of these two concepts. Regardless of whether you’re a Calvinist or an Armenian, a conservative or a liberal, an analytical person or a mystic, we pray and we plan. Regardless of the size of the issue or the stakes of the deal, we can pray as if it all depended upon God and work as if it all depended on us.

There are likely times, though, when we maintain this balance less skillfully. There are times when we try and white-knuckle our way through, depending entirely on our own strength, skill, and discipline. Likewise, there are times when we are so overwhelmed that we lose the will do our part, and we unconsciously adopt an attitude more akin to fatalism than faith. We sit back and wait for whatever may come.

In these moments, we would be well served to remember the story of Moses. We would do well to remember the amazing things that God so often does when we marry some common sense with a little bold faith.

In his classic work, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wonderfully describes this marriage as the “life of faith.”

“Faith in active opposition to common sense is mistaken enthusiasm and narrow-mindedness, and common sense in opposition to faith demonstrates a mistaken reliance on reason as the basis for truth. The life of faith brings the two of these into the proper relationship.” – Oswald Chambers


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