If you’ve been aware of our ministry in Russia for any time, you know that orphans, both literal and spiritual are a constant theme I return to for understanding what God is doing and wants me to do as a spiritual father for so many. It’s a topics that seems deeper and more powerful the more I study it. Now this is Father’s Day, so making a connection with the orphan is not hard at all. I called this message “The Orphan Moses,” but I might just as well have called it, “The Sonship of Moses” since the desired end for any orphan should be adoption as sons. Or I might have also called it, “The Fathering of Moses,” since it’s all really about God’s work in us. But I’m getting ahead of myself. By now you are possibly wondering about calling Moses an orphan, and that leads us to our Scripture passage.
Read Ex. 2:1-10.
What a real orphan and a person with an orphan spirit have in common are the same spiritual and emotional deficits. Moses just happens to be a good Biblical example of how these deficits can take root and how they can manifest over time.
Although it is tempting to put the blame for why some children become orphans solely at the feet of their parents, there is almost always a larger social/political and economic context that promotes the destruction of children. There are three sources of evil: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Of course it is all demonic at its root, but it’s important to see the world systems of oppression conspiring against children. In Moses’ case, it was political aspirations rooted in fear that drove the Egyptian ruler to make a policy that all baby boys should be killed. Child sacrifice is the end result of the orphan spirit, and it’s as old as this text, and as current as the 3000 babies sacrificed a day in the US and 4500 a day in Russia through the more sterile sounding process we call abortion. It’s always political or personal aspirations rooted in fear. Times don’t change.
In this political context, it’s not hard at all to imagine the fear that would overwhelm even a god-fearing young mother. The government says I have to kill my baby if it’s a boy. So what happens to a pregnant mother who otherwise would joyfully be expecting a new baby in this situation? Remember she doesn’t even know the sex of the baby until it’s born, so she spends 9 months in paralyzing anxiety. Does the text say this? No, but I don’t think there is a mother out there who would doubt this conclusion. Assuming this is the case, then we know scientifically what is going on in utero. That mother is passing some major bad chemicals on to the baby. A Christian neurologist has said that there are only two kinds of chemicals that the brain produces: love-based chemicals and fear-based chemicals, and our entire health is radically effected by the presence of these two options. We also know from science and from the kind of prayer ministry that we do with people in Russia that the mother’s emotions are transmitted to the baby. The unborn baby learns to respond to the world based on trust or fear, based on the conditions it faces in utero. Trust is the posture of a son or daughter, at peace in the care of its parent. Fear is the basic emotion of an orphan, because it is in the fear of not being cared for that we distance ourselves from our earthly parents, and our view of our earthly parents colors how we view God by extension.
Biblically, there are 7 points in a person’s life where God commands blessing: at conception, in the womb, at birth, during the time of infancy, at puberty, marriage, and at old age. When the blessing is withheld, the result is the same as if there had been pronounced a curse. Moses was wanted as a baby, but the conflict between Hebrew values and the political reality likely caused him to not be wanted as a boy.
We see this in session after prayer session in Russia. When a root of rejection in utero is uncovered, the lie that a child takes with him through life is that he is not wanted, or that he is not loved, or some such belief relating to his identity. The enemy’s first line of attack is against our identity, and the Father’s first job at conversion is in re-establishing our identity as His child in Christ. We may know in our head that we are loved by God, that we are of infinite worth to Him, that we are saved by grace and not by our own behavior, but the old tape still plays, and when we are honest, we know that we doubt the truth of God’s word in various ways – peculiar to each of us. What is truly miraculous is the transformation that takes place in a person’s life when the Holy Spirit, like a surgeon with laser technology, speaks to that place of vulnerability and orphan-fears. The impact can be dramatic, and it is always permanent.
What the text does say is that at birth his mother did all she could for Moses for three months. But Moses was in a tenuous position, and it got worse when he was essentially abandoned to the basket on the water. As far as we know, he never saw his father again (who is curiously inactive in Moses’ life from the very beginning), and he only had the benefit of his mother’s presence until weaned.
So how do we see the impact of all this on Moses later on? We know that Moses grew up as a child of royalty, with all its privileges and responsibilities. What is interesting from the text, which tradition ascribes to Moses himself, is that we have no mention of it all. Moses somehow knows about his background and chooses to identify with the Hebrews more than the family he knows. This identification is so strong, that it amounts to what later in the New Testament is called a bitter root judgement. He is angry about the evil system that his own adopted mother and grandfather are perpetuating. He is not only angry, he seethes with resentment.
I learned recently of a Russian orphan who was adopted by American parents to train her as an Olympic gymnast. When she rejected that identity, they found a way to get her off their hands by another family to adopt her. And this kind of story is not all that rare. Moses, unlike Joseph earlier on, could have seen his move from Hebrew origins to the court of Egypt as part of God’s perfect sovereign plan that he could cooperate with rather than resist. But Joseph had a close bond with both his earthly father and with his Heavenly Father. Moses had no bond at all with an earthly father, whether biological or adopted. And probably as a result he had no trust in his eternal Father.
An orphan either totally expects others to take care of him or he takes everything into his own hands. Moses was the second sort: he was going to do things Frank Sinatra’s way. And this is exactly why he ended up taking the next 40 years off in the wilderness. There are two different kinds of wilderness experiences that God can take us through – ones of our choosing, which was the case for Moses, and those of God’s own choosing, which was the case for Jesus.
And just as the Israelites had to spend 40 years purging themselves of their Egyptian idolatry, Moses had to be purged himself beforehand, so he could become their leader and spiritual father later.
Orphans, like the prodigal son, often have to go through a seemingly pointless and lengthy wilderness experience before they can come to their senses and recognize that their way is powerless to give them the life they crave. That wilderness usually begins right after leaving the orphanage. They, like the prodigal son, get their “inheritance” from the nanny state in the form of a lump sum of cash and a free apartment. And, like the prodigal son, who should be called the prodigal orphan, they squander it in licentious living. The tragedy for the Russian orphan, however, is that he truly has no father waiting for him to return to. We see our work as setting up an alternative family, which includes the 5 of us and the core team we work with, to jointly and lovingly provide the sense of belonging that they never had.
When God breaks his 40 year silence with Moses, or rather, when Moses is ready to hear God at last, God is fairly dramatic. Just like Jesus does when He walks on the water, actually passing by the boat before the disciples notice Him, God here waits for Moses to give Him the open door to speak through the burning bush. Like the father of the prodigal orphan, God is waiting for us, but He will never violate our free will, for then our love would not be genuine.
After displaying His utter holiness to Moses, God proceeds to have an astoundingly relational conversation with him, meant to show that He shares Moses’ concern for the plight of the slaves. It’s the mark of an orphan that we assume that our passion is our own burden to deal with. The fact is, God put our passion inside us, and He promises to give the strength, resources, and His very presence with us to fulfill it.
Moses offers 5 objections to taking on God’s assignment. On the one hand, they show that Moses had learned to discount his own abilities and understanding over those 40 years. On the other, they show his orphan heart, because he was so afraid to trust that he was not alone.
Marina is a member of our core team. She, like so many with an orphan spirit, like Moses in the wilderness, had long since given up on her youthful dream – in her case to bring freedom and new life to orphans all over Russia. The interchange between Moses and God at the burning bush is like what she has experienced.
Objection #1: I am not the one. (3:11) False identity
Answer: I will never leave or forsake you.
Objection #2: Whom am I representing? (3:13-14) Lack of relationship with God
Answer: You are an ambassador of the great I AM.
Objection #3: They won’t accept me. (4:1) Fear of rejection
Answer: I will cause you to bear fruit that others will notice.
Objection #4: I am not competent. (4:10) Self-reliance
Answer: I am your competence.
Objection #5: Not me. (4:13) Passivity
Answer: OK, not you.
And God is so incredibly merciful, that He even met Moses halfway. Rather than cutting him out of the deal altogether, Moses still had a role to play along with his brother.
These objections are a tell-tale sign that you’re dealing with an orphan spirit. But this dialog is also stages of growth through with we progress as God gently speaks His truth to our lies.
Fathers, watch how you can catch it early on in a family context. Here is a sample from mine:
Daddy: Kerith, I have a wonderful plan for your life… today. I’m calling you to clean the bathroom.
Kerith: Uh, thanks, but that’s not for me.
Daddy: I will be right with you the whole way.
Kerith: Who said that’s important?
Daddy: Your father, who begat you and raised you.
Kerith: Lydia and Simon will make fun of me.
Daddy: I will help you do a great job.
Kerith: I’m no good at that, Dad.
Daddy: That’s for me to decide. I’ll make sure it works.
Kerith: Uh, how about asking Simon?
Aside: At this point, I’m wondering how to honor the text.
Daddy: OK, Kerith. I’ll tell you what needs to be done, and then you instruct Simon. It’ll be like he’s you, and you are me!
This kind of reasoning is why Marina has been waffling for over a year now about whether to take God’s call seriously or not. What we try to offer is a safe place to wrestle with God, a supportive environment to question, doubt, pray, and let others walk with us towards victory and confidence. What all these objections all boil down to, what demonstrates the orphan spirit as clearly and simply as anything else we might say is the question, “what if?” When we ask the question “what if?” we are wanting control over the future, which is the surest sign that we don’t trust our future to our heavenly Daddy.
It’s not like I had all this down. I have gone through these stages myself since hearing my call to Russia.
God: Son, I’m calling you and your family to move to St. Petersburg, Russia.
Lyle: But God, that’s 5 times as big as Richmond where I tried to serve you. I’m not the man.
God: I will be with you.
Lyle: I still don’t know you well, don’t understand you, don’t walk in real power.
God: Come up here and just spend time with me.
Lyle: I’m afraid Russian Christian leaders won’t accept me; they are so self-sufficient.
God: I will cause you to bear fruit over time, in my time, and they will notice.
Lyle: This is a really big dream, Father. I can’t pull it off.
God: You’re right. It will be my Spirit working in you.
Lyle: I still haven’t finished what you called me to do in Richmond. Send someone else.
God: I got nothing to say.
That’s the final test for all of us, isn’t it? After God has dealt with all our objections, will we take Him at His word, or not?
The rest of the story, as it were, is history. We see Moses changing from timid to courageous, from doubtful to powerful. At the Red Sea, for example, Moses starts to turn to God for help. But God puts it back into Moses’ hands and promises to cooperate with him. Moses stretches his hands, and God parts. That’s the heart of a true Father – to help his son see the power and riches of his inheritance and just access it as a son.
The process of sonship is complete in Moses when he is no longer worrying about himself, no longer looking to God for help, but just wants to know God for who He really is. He asks in Exodus 33:13, “Show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight.” And then in verse 18 he asks, “Show me your glory, I pray.” Now that’s the kind of request only a son can make. A slave would never ask that. An orphan would never ask that.
Lena is another example of a person we work with who could only focus on her own incompetencies, her own neediness, her own sinfulness, and her own fears. We have had to embrace her as a group, each of us loving her in our own way. Some of us just hang out with her. Some of us counsel her. Some teach her. Some pray with her. Some play the role of father or mother. And the power of teamwork is paying off. What none of us could do for such a needy orphan, God can do through the combined willingness of a team. Lena is more at peace with who she is and her place in Christ than ever before.
An orphan doesn’t ask questions of his father, because he has no father. But in the Kingdom, being an orphan is only an illusion. We keep our status only until we accept His adoption into sonship. Even a Christian can have an orphan heart. Look at how you speak to God. If you largely ignore Him except for your personal requests (like the prodigal son), then you are an estranged son or daughter. If you are wrestling with objections and doubts as to your identity, calling, who God is, and how that will affect others’ perception of you, then this is actually good. You are grappling with the adoption process. Keep wrestling. Don’t quit. Don’t stop until you get all the answers from God you need and then say “yes” to His call.
Lastly, if you have come to the place of being more focused on asking God for a revelation of who He is and to understand His ways, then you are realizing your position as a son or daughter. Don’t let others tell you that your relationship with Him has to look like it did before you became a son, but also don’t quit pursuing Him all your life. There are greater riches and depth at every step of the way.