IL 10/07/22: Lessons from the Desert

IL 10/07/22: Lessons from the Desert

(Audio Transcription Below)

Admiral William McRaven, Navy Seal – delivers commencement speech at the University of Texas titled, “What it Takes to Change the World”. Listen to just one of his points – what he calls “The Circus”.

In his speech, McRaven says–

“Everyone makes the Circus list, because of the Circus men built inner strength and resiliency, life is filled with Circus’ – you will fail, you will likely fail often, it will be painful, it will be discouraging, it will test you to your core – but don’t be afraid of the Circus’ .

For Moses the Desert was the Circus 

Moses Review: Draw first 40 year box 

Exodus 2:11 – Moses is in his prime. He was 40 years old and had been raised as a Prince of Egypt. He received the best education, the finest training and mentoring from the most powerful leaders in the world. He was physically and mentally ready. Problem: Moses wasn’t emotionally or spiritually ready. He had a high IQ but low EQ. 

Moses Leadership Style Pre-Desert and Pre-Solitude: 

  • Recognizes a Real Problem: Injustice 
  • Overwhelmed by Emotion (Anger): Moses no longer in control 
  • Exaggerated Response: kills Egyptian – Moses’ response was not equal to the problem…it was exaggerated. Because of Moses’ exaggerated response there are now 2 Problems!
  • Hiding: Moses buries the body. He does not want to take responsibility, driven by an opposite emotion – Anger to SHAME 
  • Runs: When he fears he will be discovered – Moses flees 

Recognize anything here in your leadership style?

Parker Palmer says:

“A leader is a person who must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside himself…lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.” When Moses killed the Egyptian – he did more harm than good —- so God gave him a “Circus” – this circus didn’t last 2 hours but 40 years! 

Draw second 40 year box – Moses Circus! 

Lessons from the Desert 

1. (2:15) “Moses fled from Pharoah and stayed in the land of Midian” 

Egypt to Midian – 400 miles….several weeks journey alone

Although FORCED – Moses takes himself out of the action – Moses moves toward solitude. This is a KEY first step in finding out who you are (or) are not as a leader – or recovering from a failure: 

(Barton) – “God’s call to us is to find a way to do what Moses did – to leave our life in the company of others at least for a time, to let go of all our attempts to fix “out there” to leave whatever hope we had of leading people somewhere, and to believe that what needs to be done in the deep interior places of our life is the most important world to be done right now. In fact, to try to press on without paying attention to whatever it is that is bubbling up from way down deep is the most dangerous thing we could do.”

What the Desert might realistically look like for you: “Circus” 

  • Season of saying: NO – What if for 3 months you said NO to everything that wasn’t absolutely necessary…3 weeks? 
  • Counseling – really giving time & attention to a specific issue 
  • Sabbath – unplugging from the world (TECH) 

I realize for some of you this seems impossible because you are so use to being productive….

“To live your life without God is the most unproductive thing you can do” – Matt Pearman

Recall Moses Pre-Solitude Style of Leadership: 

  • Recognizes a Real Problem 
  • Overwhelmed by Emotion (Anger – other options: Lust, Jealousy, Pride, Passivity, Envy, Depression): any emotion that takes control of you! 
  • Exaggerated Response: The way you respond becomes a bigger problem than the original problem 
  • Hiding: Buries your actions by hiding or making excuses. driven by – SHAME 
  • Runs: Fear of Man – so you flee … No one ever really knows who you are….YOU don’t know who you are. 

(Barton) “Moses’ natural gifting was at the mercy of his unresolved past and the unexamined emotional patterns that drove him.” 

“Moses forced time in the desert (Circus) was his path to read freedom. Only those whom God has freed at this level are prepared to lead others into real freedom. Only those who have been brave enough to ride their own monsters of anger and greed, jealousy and narcissism, fear and violence all the way down to the bottom will find a truer energy with which to lead. Only those who have faced their own dark sides can be trusted to lead others toward the light. This is where true spiritual leadership begins. Everything that comes before is something else.” 

Application:  Without God at center of your life, what’s your leadership style? What unresolved past or unexamined emotional patterns drive you? What’s your “Circus” – What habits do you employ to find solitude? 

Interlude: (vs. 15) – “Moses sat down by a well” – In the Bible, “wells” tend to be places where transformation begins. (See John 4 – The Woman at the Well) …. so when you read this phrase….(Movie – hopeful music playing) 

2. Solitude begins to have its effect: (vs.16-19).

Two Character Effects

SELF-CONTROL: The next time we observe Moses exercising leadership – he starts to use it in more effective ways. Moses witnesses another form of abuse, not an Egyptian vs. Slave but Men vs. Women. Notice – Moses stood up and saved them but didn’t put anyone to death. (Wow – Now that’s Real Progress) 

You are supposed to notice how Moses was being re-cast from Killer (2:12) to Deliverer (2:19) – God reshaping Moses in the Desert 

Solitude, Sabbath, Saying NO….are ACTIVE exercises in self-control. The ability to say NO to yourself and the world….enables you to exercise self-control which is critical to your ability to lead yourself and others. 

Proverbs 16:32 – “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.” 

Proverbs 25:28 – “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.”


First: (vs. 19b) – Moses waters the flock for the women. This was unthinkable. For a well cultured Egyptian Prince to serve these women and the animals was a HUGE step down. NOTE: This HUGE step down (in the world’s eyes) was a HUGE step up in God’s eyes. God defines leadership not by how many people you are over but how many people you are under. 

  • Matthew 19 –“I tell you the truth…when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne….many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”– **Servant Leadership was completely different than what Moses learned in the Egyptian School of Business. 

(Visual – Two Pyramids….God turns it upside-down) 

Numbers 12:3 – “Moses was a humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” – Moses learned humility in the Circus! 

3. Coming to grip with yourself – Exodus 2:22 

Moses stated the Truth Out Loud: “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land” – Moses was referring to his experience in Egypt….Moses was now looking back at his first 40 year box and saying: I was always a stranger in Egypt….I didn’t belong there… 

This was a profound admission. Moses acknowledged what was underneath his behavior. He was finally able to admit that all his life he had struggled with his identity and he was mad as hell about it. Moses was so accustomed to being unclear about his identity and adapting himself to whatever situation he found himself in that he just kept quiet and let people believe what they wanted. (Notice vs. 19 – Moses is fine with the women at the well believing he was an Egyptian) – But after time in solitude, Moses began to make sense of his own history. He was finally able to say, “This is who I am.” Moses had come home to himself. – Barton

All of us have need this kind of homecoming in which we claim our experiences as our own and acknowledge the ways they have shaped us. Then we are in a position to take responsibility for ourselves rather than being driven by our unconscious patterns of manipulating and controlling reality. Taking responsibility for oneself may well be more demanding than taking responsibility for a congregation or an organization! Taking responsibility for yourself, living in reality not an illusion – is crucial to your capacity to lead” 

Application: So many leaders don’t actually know who they are…and when we fail to see reality clearly…..then we are left to wander around in the wilderness of our own illusions…or driven by unresolved past or unexamined emotional patterns – we lead out of an illusion and not reality.

Questions: Lessons from the Desert 

1. Without God at center of your life, what’s your leadership style? Are there unresolved past or unexamined emotional patterns drive you? 

2. Solitude was Moses’ “Circus” – Do you a regular habit of Solitude? If not – what would it look like to create one? 

3. Solitude led to Moses’ life being recast. Moses learned Self-Control, Humility and Servant Leadership. Which of these character traits need attention in your own life? Why? 

4. Prior to the desert, Moses was confused about his identity…so he led out of an illusion. How does the way you identify yourself shape your leadership? 

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