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Would That All the Lord’s People Were Prophets

By Jared Warner

Willow Creek Friends Church

May 28, 2023

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Numbers 11:24–30 (ESV)

24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it. 26 Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Over the past few weeks, it seems that much of what I have been speaking about is our emotional states. Anger, fear, and anxiety. In much of the discussion, I have encouraged a deepening life of prayer. I have spent a great deal of mental energy on understanding prayer and developing a lifestyle of prayer. And because of this I have spoken a great deal about it. I will be honest with you; I do not have the life of prayer I wish I had. There are times when I live in a prayer desert.

When I speak of prayer, I do not mean what most people mean. Most people have their prayer list. They will spend time talking to God about each item on that list, that is not how I pray. There is nothing wrong with this, it just is not the discipline I developed when it comes to prayer. When I pray, I take scriptures, often the scripture that I intend to speak about during the week, and I will read it repeatedly. I will sit and think about the words. I will reflect on the words as I drift to sleep at night, and again read. I do this throughout the week, every week. You would think how can I be in a prayer desert when this is my discipline? I give a message every week so clearly, I have interacted with the passage in prayer. This is true, but there are times when my emotions distract me.

When I am anxious, I will often rush through and will not let the words penetrate the deeper aspects of my soul. When I am tired, I sometimes will not reflect on the words. And there are times when all I do is beg God for something to say, instead of letting the Spirit work through my own life. Our emotional states affect our life of prayer. I have been drawn to the Spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius because of this very fact. Ignatius, is regarded as the founder of the Society of Jesus in the Catholic church, commonly known as the Jesuits. I know many people have strong opinions about these things. But there is something about the Spiritual Exercises that Ignatius developed that I find fascinating. He does not disregard our emotions, like so many people do. He instead encourages us to examine our emotions, in light of scripture and the Spirit of God. In much of my study on prayer, the teachers will often disregard our emotional states of mind as being immaterial or distracting. Ignatius would ask why we have those emotions, where they are coming from, are the bringing us closer to God or drawing us away from him, and what is God teaching us as we experience these emotions.

I respect the Ignatian Spiritual Disciplines and have incorporated them in my life of prayer. I embrace them because they allow us to be human, while still encouraging us to strive for a deepened relationship with God. And I have found that many of what Ignatius proposes reflect the teachings that George Fox proposed as he encouraged those early Friends. George struggled with faith. He had a desire to deepen his faith, yet often what he saw in the world was hypocrisy. In his journal he would lament over this. He would then say that he would often take his book of scripture out to the field to sit in silence.

Those that study Quaker history often identify with the meeting in silence that became the identity of Friends worship, but we often forget what those early Friends did between the Meeting for Worship. They spent hours throughout the week reading, praying, and letting the Spirit of God work in their lives. They prepared themselves for their first day Meetings. They studied deeply so they could speak a word when the Spirit would lead. They studied, and they prayed. They would take their books of scripture out to the field, and they would sit in silence on their own, so that they could be used of God later.  The Quaker spiritual practices resemble in many ways the practices of Ignatius, but they emerged at different times and in very different places. Yet oddly they both seem to teach a similar method. Read, pray, examine, and respond.

Emotions play a large role in our lives. We feel emotions but we should not be driven or led by them. Emotions are a tool that God has given us to observe and respond to the world and individuals around us. They are very important. Humanity would cease to exist without emotions. Emotions draw people together, and they also divide us. They give us cause to celebrate, and they also prompt us to remember that life can be short. We need to understand our emotions, and we need to become disciplined in our lives to tame our emotions so that we can use them for the good instead of allowing them to cause destruction.

Today we celebrate Pentecost. Often, we regard this holiday as the moment the Spirit of God came to the church. It is not wrong; it just is not fully correct.  For forty days after the resurrection Jesus walked with his disciples. He would appear within closed rooms and eat a meal with them and be gone. He would walk with them down the road talking with them and after he broke bread he would leave. There was even a time when Peter decided he just could not sit around anymore so he reverted to being a fisherman and Jesus met them on the shore the next morning cooking them breakfast. There is a reason food is often involved in these descriptions. Spiritual beings do not eat as flesh and bone do.

Jesus did this for forty days. It is reflection of the forty years that Israel spent wondering in the wilderness. For these forty days or years, God taught those called by his name how to the people he wanted them to be. At the end of the forty days Jesus ascended into heaven, no longer visible and his physical presence was no longer felt. At the end of the forty years of wandering something similar happened to Israel, the cloud was no longer leading them, the manna stopped appearing as the dew, and both the church and Israel had to enter a period of limbo. What direction will we go, how will we live?

For ten days the disciples sat in the upper room. They had a great weight on them. They had experienced something beyond their human imagination. And Jesus gave them a directive:

Acts 1:7–8 (ESV)

7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

I want you to imagine the emotional whiplash that these events would have caused in a person. Their friend died, their friend’s body disappears, their friend came back to life, their friend eats with them and continues teaching them. Then their friend seemingly flies away and tells them, tell people about this in the capital and the nation, tell people about this in the neighboring nation, and tell it to everyone in the entire world. What will you say? How will you say it? Who would listen?

Today we move from accension to Pentecost. This is the day we celebrate the coming of the Spirit. The reality is that if God truly is triune as we claim, the Spirit along with the Father and the Son has always existed. The problem is that the Spirit was always seen as a wild and untamable wind that could bring death or blessing. And yet throughout the scriptures we see the Spirit of God working within the lives of people, mainly Prophets. After ten days of waiting, after ten days of prayer in the upper room, something happened.

This holy day was not something that is unique to the Church, but it has a long history within Israel. This is the Feast of Weeks. It celebrates the first fruits of harvest which is seven weeks after Passover. But even this is not fully what is celebrated. It also celebrates the renewal of God’s promise to Noah, which established a relationship between God and all flesh that is upon the earth. And it also celebrates the giving of the law to Moses. There is a great deal going on in this one little holiday that we often forget.

The disciples were up in that room doing what honorable people of faith did on the night before the great feast. They were up studying Torah; they were reminding themselves of who they are in relation to their God. They are Israel, the nation that God chose as an inheritance. They are Israel, the light to the nations. They are Israel the people of God the Most High.

We might know things, but often knowledge does not always reflect in how we feel. Israel was chosen for a purpose. They were the nation through whom God was going to reveal Himself through. They were to be the instruments of God’s redemption of all of creation. You might think that to be a noble task that everyone would embrace. They had a purpose and a mission. They had a calling, yet they found themselves slaves in a foreign land. They knew their place among the nations long before Moses ever entered the picture. Their father Abraham was given this promise, and it was passed down to each generation. But life is hard.

Moses was called to lead the people out of the land of slavery and restore them to the land promised to their ancestors. They witnessed the mighty hand of God as he brought the gods of Egypt to their knees and established his greatness to the nations. They saw God’s mighty hand working, and they followed Moses out into the wilderness. But as soon as they faced hardship they began to complain. They complained, they challenged, they yearned for the security of their chains. And this weighed heavy on Moses.

Moses felt as if he were a failure during much of this time. He freed the people just as God asked, and yet they complain. There are Biblical scholars who also are trained in psychology, that have read through these passages and have said that throughout much of the narrative within the Torah Moses is exhibiting something that many of us struggle with, depression.

I want us to just consider this for a moment. If we were to contemplate all the great and inspiring people of scripture. If we were to make a list of all our heroes of the faith, many of us would Include Moses on that list. Moses, we regard as a pillar of faith, yet many today will look at what is written either by Moses or inspired by Moses, point that often this man struggled with depression. One commentary says this,” When we are depressed, our understanding of the key issues is scarcely objective. [Moses} jumped to the conclusion that all this was happening because God was displeased with him. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The Lord was angry with the grumblers, not disappointed with the leader. Moses was too wrapped up in his troubles to see that, and spurted out his bitter anguish: ‘What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me?’ His words reflect a common reaction to trouble: ‘What have I done to deserved this?’”  We have been there right with Moses. We have struggles and burdens. We have bouts of darkness within our lives. This same commentary continues and says this, “the trouble with depression; it maximizes the problems and minimizes the resources.”

The people God brought out of Egypt, left that land of bondage celebrating and then they began having second thoughts. Now what are we going to do? They were in the desert, what will we eat, what will we drink. And Moses their leader took all those complaints onto himself. He was leading them, how can he, one man even begin to provide for this multitude?

As we follow Moses and Israel through the wilderness, we often see signs of depression creep into Moses’ narrative. He pleads with God to let him die, not let him face his own ruin. He often believed himself to be a complete failure. He believed this of himself, but he was a great leader. Good leaders recognize their own limitations and seek help when needed. Moses knew that he did not have the strength, but he did not trust the people either. And why would he, they were complaining about him. So, he turned to God for relief.

Often Moses has been encouraged to appoint leaders and elders. His own father-in-law encouraged him to do this and a couple of times in scripture we see him responding to this advice. The problem is that he held onto the responsibility. We do not see the depression and concern in today’s passage. We do not see Moses’ pleas for a respectful exit in perceived failure. We see something else. We see God’s response.

Moses’ had elders, within the tribes. He already had the people to support him and to carry out necessary tasks. The problem is that in the perception of the congregation, Moses was the only one that did the work, Moses was the one that had true authority, and was the only one that did. Aaron had some authority, but he was a priest, he worked in the tabernacle. Moses had a special place to meet God, a place only he could go, the tent of Meeting. We often see this as being the same thing as the tabernacle, but it is different. Some scholars even think that the tent of meeting was within the Holiest area of the tabernacle. The problem with this idea is that Moses would not be permitted in that place. Only Aaron, the High Priest, could enter that place and Moses was not Aaron. The people knew that Moses had his own tent, a place separate from where the rest of the congregation would go, and that place was not within the camp like the tabernacle but was outside of camp. Moses would visit this tent and he would return to the camp changed, he glowed or grew horns depending on what translation you are reading. Yes, horns. Translation is not as easy as we think, and I think every person that is in this room able to speak multiple languages has a great gift.

The point is that people could tell when Moses met with God, the others, the elders and even the priests, they just did not have the same status as Moses. And every day that the grumbling proceeded, the deeper Moses sank into his depression. Until God told him to bring seventy of the elders to the Tent of Meeting. Moses believed that He was responsible, that everything was up to him. We get trapped in this mode of thinking as well. If you have ever been in charge of a major project, you understand the stress.

I want to share with you something that might be shocking. In 2013, 90% of pastor reported working nearly eighty hours a week, and over half of them felt as if they were unable to meet the demands of the job. That was in 2013, that was before the pandemic. That same study presented something that I found to be quite disturbing, pastors were among the top professions contemplating suicide. This was a report from 2013, and I am sure those numbers have changed. I do know that medical doctors and nurses have had a sharp increase over the past few years, but I want us to think about this for a bit. One in ten ministry leaders retire from ministry meaning ninety percent of all pastors will seek employment outside of the church, and over a third of them quit within the first five years in ministry. If you know five pastors, at least one of them is struggling with depression.

I tell you this because it is startling. Those are my friends and colleagues. They are leaders in the church, and many are devout and caring people. They would get up at three in the morning to help if you needed them. They inspire, encourage, pray, and counsel. Often, they take responsibility for things when no one else will.  And yet we are not immune from the very struggles everyone faces.

God asked Moses to bring the elders to the tent. And as they gathered God descended on that tent in a cloud and began to speak to Moses. “And [God] took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders.” I find that statement to be odd, but as I have reflected on it, I find that I like it. God takes some of the Spirt off of Moses, he removes some of the burdens Moses feels he must carry, and God transfers it to someone else. It does not mean that Moses is less Spirit filled, it speaks of responsibility. Once God finishes this division of the Spirit, all of them prophesied.

This is where things get a bit strange. We have a mixed understanding of what prophecy is in our culture. We often think of it as telling the future. Some may even say that it is speaking in tongues. There is something odd about how they describe this here, and we really do not know what they mean. All we can fully understand is that each person experienced something powerfully in that moment, but they did not continue doing it. My opinion, each of these men most likely had a vision of God’s redemptive mission, and how they could participate in it. And while they were in attendance of this vision, they informed each other what they saw. But we are told that they did not continue, I believe that this does not mean that the Spirit left them, it means they were only given a singular glimpse. A glimpse of where they personally fit, or what they could contribute to the greater mission.

There is something interesting about the story. Not all the elders went to the tent, some remained within the camp. Even these men at a distance received their portion of the Spirit. We are not told exactly why they did not attend this gathering, but I think it was part of God’s plan. They went into this state of consciousness among the people within the camp. God met with the elders both outside the camp in the tent of meeting, and inside the camp among the people. It shows us that God does not dwell in any one place but is with us. A young man saw this occur and he ran to tell Moses what had happened, and Joshua Moses’ assistant became angry.

“Stop them” he begged Moses. But notice what Moses says, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” Moses received the message God intended. Moses thought it was all up to him, but it is not, and it never was. Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets.

Joshua, much like Moses, believed that all the responsibility was on one person. That is a lie of the world. I am all for individuality, but each person in this place is important. The truth is those depressed pastors are right, they cannot do everything, and they are silly to try. I am silly to try. That is what Pentecost is all about. God did not give the Spirit to Peter or one of the others, he gave the Spirit to all of them. Each person had a place and a portion of the greater ministry. Joshua wanted Moses to have the monopoly of the Spirit, because Moses was his mentor and his friend. But Moses realized he and the community needed the elders. We need every unique person speaking and telling their own stories of faith. We need everyone helping however they can.

We can often get caught in a state of depression, we can often get caught in a trap of hero worship and becoming jealous for those we admire. The truth is, the president of the United States is human, as is every world leader. They will rise in power and they will wither like a flower after they bloom. Pastors will come and pastors will go. People will join with us in worship and people will find some other expression of faith. It does not matter what other people do, or what others might say, the important thing we should focus on is are we encouraging one another? Are you being obedient to what God is calling you to do in this moment? Are you meeting God in your own tent of meeting wherever that might be, and are you allowing the Spirit to meet you in that place as you read scripture, pray, examine and respond? I will be completely honest. I am often that one in the five. I am often among those that feel inadequate. I am fully aware of who I am. I know I cannot do it all, and I am grateful for everyone that contributes. I am grateful for those that take care of the building because I cannot find a hammer half the time. I am grateful for the musicians and teachers. I am grateful for artists and scholars. For doctors, nurses, and the various technicians in those fields. I am grateful for the clerk at the store and those that repair our roads. Each of us contributes to something larger in some way. Each of us has a story to tell, a story of tragedy and accomplishment, of hope and despair. And without your voice, without your presence in this place at this moment we would not be the community we are.

On Pentecost the Spirit rested on the disciples and they spoke to all the nations, and three thousand people responded. Those three thousand went back to their homes and they told the story and lives began to change. Today God is calling you to participate. Share your story, “would that all the Lord’s people were prophets.”

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About jwquaker

I’m sure everyone wants to know who I am…well if you are viewing this page you do. I’m Jared Warner and I am a pastor or minister recorded in the Evangelical Friends Church Mid America Yearly Meeting. To give a short introduction to the EFC-MA, it is a group of evangelical minded Friends in the Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado. We are also a part of the larger group called Evangelical Friends International, which as the name implies is an international group of Evangelical Friends. For many outside of the Friends or Quaker traditions you may ask what a recorded minister is: the short answer is that I have demistrated gifts of ministry that our Yearly Meeting has recorded in their minutes. To translate this into other terms I am an ordained pastor, but as Friends we believe that God ordaines and mankind can only record what God has already done. More about myself: I have a degree in crop science from Fort Hays State University, and a masters degree in Christian ministry from Friends University. Both of these universities are in Kansas. I lived most of my life in Kansas on a farm in the north central area, some may say the north west. I currently live and minister in the Kansas City, MO area and am a pastor in a programed Friends Meeting called Willow Creek Friends Church.


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