Never backtalk a burning bush

By Dondi Costin | June 30, 2023

My godly mom has been with the Lord for more than a decade now, but I still hear her voice in my head from time to time. I would give anything to hear it for real just one more time.

That voice made sure I finished my homework, did my chores, read my Bible, apologized to my sister, wrote my thank-you notes, called my grandmother, made good choices, took responsibility for my actions, and refused to quit when the going got tough. Week after week, decade after decade — well into my 40s — she asked if I had gone to church, even on those Sundays when she knew I was the preacher. Making sure I was walking with the Lord was the one responsibility she never relinquished, long after I left home for good at 17. Our Sunday afternoon telephone conversation became my moment of truth.

I don’t know where I would be today if I had landed in somebody else’s crib. I do know that I am who I am today because God whispered words into my mother’s ear that she relayed to me, though the decibel levels varied based on my willingness to listen.

Most of our conversations ended well. Every conversation ended predictably. On those rare occasions when I foolishly assumed my personal ambition superseded her parental authority, I found myself on the losing end. Even though our spirited discussions routinely became debates, she entered heaven undefeated versus me.

I never discovered the glossary she used when she raised her voice, but she had an uncanny ability to string phrases together that left no doubt who was in charge. She forcefully observed that I was too big for my britches, while wondering aloud who I thought I was. She said she alone could reverse the miracle of my birth. Apparently, the fact that she brought me into this world gave her the authority to take me out of it.

Her fever-pitched voice offered me good options if I would just straighten up and fly right. Who knows why I thought things would end differently if I persisted in my rebellion a little longer? They never did.

Yet as discombobulating as her unforgettable diatribes were, there was nothing more detrimental to my cause than crossing the ill-advised line between talking and backtalking. I saw my life flash before my eyes more than once during those slow-motion moments of my childhood. Thankfully, I never experienced whatever came after she jerked a knot in me. But I got close a time or two.

Without fail, backtalking became backtracking. To be clear, my mom’s feet never moved. I should have known better than to question the fact that Mother knew best.

God’s feet don’t move either. Father knows best. We should know better than to question that fact.

I have never heard the Lord’s outside voice, but His inside voice sounds remarkably like my mother’s when I backtalk God. I am still too big for my britches. He brought me into this world, and He can take me out. Mercifully, because of His grace, I am still here. 

He is still God. I am still not. Why do I think things will be different this time? Or next time? For the same reasons Moses thought he could backtalk God and get away with it. If he couldn’t, who do I think I am?

Like most of us, Moses was minding his own business in Exodus 3 when God called him to leave his comfort zone to do something big for the good of others and the glory of God. Working for your father-in-law can be challenging, I’m sure, but it sure beats poking Pharaoh in the chest and demanding that his free labor force walk off the job never to return. 

The Great Resignation wasn’t really a thing in ancient Egypt. Quiet Quitting wouldn’t enter the lexicon for several millennia. But saving your own hide has always been in style.

I know why Moses wanted somebody else to have this opportunity to excel. Anybody but me sounds perfect for the job. There’s just one problem. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [God’s] ways higher than your ways and [His] thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

Most believers have declared that if God would just speak to us in a way that is unmistakably Him, we would jump at the chance to do what He asks, when He asks, in the way He asks, for as long as He asks, without Him having to ask again. Nonsense.

Moses is Exhibit A. I am Exhibit B. You are Exhibit C.

Moses was called to a burning bush that was so unmistakably God that Moses immediately removed his shoes because he realized he was on holy ground. Never having seen a bush burn without being consumed, he proceeded to have a conversation with the bush that became a spirited discussion and then a debate. 

There was no doubt in the mind of either party that God was God and Moses was not. Shockingly, Moses backtalked the burning bush from the moment God asked him to do something he did not want to do. More shockingly, God let him. Most shockingly, God let him live to tell the tale.

Excuse after excuse went up in flames until Moses finally had no choice but to say yes to God’s demands. That’s how things always went with my mother and me. As she reminded me over and over and over again, things would have gone a whole lot better if I had obeyed a whole lot sooner. She wasn’t quite as dramatic as a burning bush, but she had a special talent for picking branches off bushes that tanned my hide with a burning sensation I will never forget.

God may never speak to you through a burning bush, but He doesn’t have to. As Henry Blackaby has famously said, God speaks to us in countless ways through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church. The God of the bush is the God of the Bible. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). And your backside less burny. 

Backtalking always leads to backtracking. It’s just a matter of time. Better for everyone if you skip the debate stage and jump right to obedience. A bunch of folks in Egypt have waited long enough.

Never backtalk a burning bush. Why? Because Father knows best. 

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