Grasping God’s Purpose: “Seven Principles for Getting Things Done” – Exodus 36

The term “masterpiece” refers to a creation that has been given much critical praise, perhaps the greatest work of a person’s career. Originally, the term was derived from the singular piece of work produced by an apprentice or journeyman aspiring to become a master craftsman in the old European guild system. Suitability for entry into a guild was judged, in part, by examination of the qualities of the masterpiece. Regardless of the craft – from jewel setting to confectionery production – the masterpiece played a key role in your life’s placement.

Have you ever worked really hard on a project, only to see it finished and relish that moment when others are enjoying the work you completed? Whether it is a sumptuous dinner, or a beautifully written poem – there are moments in life when we can enjoy sweet completion. The longer I live, the more I begin to realize that some have, sadly, never enjoyed that feeling….they never seem to complete things. Even churches and ministries need opportunities to stop and recognize they have completed some tasks and are now about to stretch into new ones. Never ending work makes us perpetually tired and dull of mind. We need a pattern to organize work, and a standard to judge its adherence to the pattern. How do we organize the God given tasks to complete work for God? He gave us a pattern.

Key Principle: God’s work must be done God’s way.

We may agree with the idea in principle, but certainly need more information on how God says work should be done. The narrative of the building of the Tabernacle was an opportunity for God to record exactly HOW He wanted the work completed.

The notion of a plan in God’s work is offensive to some – but it is clear in the Scriptures that God’s work had never been haphazard. God’s people must be careful to observe God’s method of doing things. In the context of the first century public services of the church – with its requisite prophesying and “speaking in tongues”, Paul reminds: “But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.” (1 Cor. 14:40). The order is determined by God and revealed in Scripture. Fortunately, God left us a full communication of His will in His Word. Over these past studies, as we have been in the process of peering into the past – observing God’s work among the ancient Israelites in the Sinai desert – we have seen a pattern emerge. In Exodus 36 that pattern sharpens into focus with seven principles that can be observed if we carefully look at the text’s detail. Each principle unfolds more of God’s method of getting things done “decently and in order”.

The Seven Principles

Principle 1: Leaders must be appointed and recognized as such.

In the text, the directors of the work were both publicly named and openly recognized.

Exodus 36:1 “Now Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skillful person in whom the LORD has put skill and understanding to know how to perform all the work in the construction of the sanctuary, shall perform in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded.

We live in a time when people seem publicly schizophrenic – they offer some leaders a cultic worship at a “rock star” level of support, and at the same time seem to despise the notion of proactive leadership. We don’t send clear signals about what we want in leaders at all. We want higher benefits, but lower taxes. We want a stronger defense, but more take home pay. We want better education, but cheaper schools. We want better highways but lesser tolls. This is the “have your cake and eat it too” generation! That makes leading harder – because the goals often don’t match reality!

More than at any time in our history, the complexity of modern life requires that we raise, train and deploy better leaders. The old truth still applies: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Great leaders are essential for great tasks. At the same time, we have to admit, that many today measure leaders wholly on a pragmatic assessment. “Did it work?” they say. Yet, productivity is not the only measure of leadership – because good choices aren’t always as immediately effective as bad ones. Some things need to measured by a different yardstick. Let me illustrate:

In an old Peanuts cartoon, Lucy demanded that her brother Linus change TV channels and then threatened him with her fist if he didn’t. “What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asked Linus. “These five fingers,” said Lucy. “Individually they are nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.” “What channel do you want?” sighed Linus. Turning away, he looked at his fingers and said, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?Because it works doesn’t mean it is good, or that it will leave the troops inspired.

The Lord sets the limits and the pattern of the work, but leaders are essential to getting people on board to fulfill each step of the process. Note four truths about the leaders that verse 1 exposed:

  • First, they were called by NAME.
  • Second, they were said to have been CALLED and STIRRED by the Lord.
  • Third, they were ENABLED by the Lord as He gave them the practical wisdom to perform the duties.
  • Fourth, God placed firm FENCES – parameters around their responsibilities..

We need to take these apart a bit. How do these comments help us? The implication is that God’s pattern begins with enabled leaders that showed their qualifications by the work they produced, but they were limited to the work that God called them to accomplish. This needs more emphasis in a time when people believe in “the cult of personality” style ministry. Not everyone will do the same task the same way.  When leadership changes in an organization, we need to be open to a new way of doing things – as long as the things being done are Biblically correct. One primary reason a leader changes things from what was done before may be because we are gifted differently. Change is not always a vote on the past methodology. The important measure is this: “Is the work being done within the parameters God specified in His Word? If so, the differences in the WAY of doing things are not significant. What is NOT acceptable is not meeting God’s full parameters because of personality issues. We are free to serve God as ourselves, but we are not free to allow our personality to stand in the way of serving God.

We need to be constantly on the lookout for the ones that have the potential to lead. They are often the feisty and difficult Sunday School kids – but they have something of a call on their life. If we will offer them loving support, and carefully nurture the stubbornness into character building and positive modeling – we may reap the later benefits of growing a leader. Even so, they cannot and should not be leading until they have been readied, appointed and recognized – because that is where it all begins.

Principle 2: Good leaders choose people with demonstrable skills in the area of the task.

As we saw in the first verse, the second verse continues and emphasizes again the reality that the team was made of those who demonstrated skill and understanding in that area of the work.

Exodus 36:2 Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful person in whom the LORD had put skill…

One of the biggest mistakes in ministry is putting the wrong people in leadership. Work for God is not haphazard, so workers need to be carefully chosen. We dare not put leadership in the hands of the untested. Paul warned Timothy not to feel pressured to put people in leadership positions hastily:

1 Timothy 5:21 “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. 22Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.”

Leadership roles must be placed in the hands of those who evidence skill and understanding of both the areas they are working, and the people they are called to work alongside. More damage has been done by the wrong leaders than by the organizational paralysis of no leaders. I am amazed at how people will try to solve a problem by putting someone in place – even if they have little or no confidence in the ability of that leader. That is madness. Without leaders you may not move forward very much. With poor leaders, whatever direction you are heading swiftly – it is probably the wrong one. Paul cautioned Timothy to:

2 Timothy 2:2 “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Note the kind of people the leader was to replicate himself within. He was to find faithful people, and he was to find enabled people. The people Tim needed to pull in and train included those who were able to pass on truth, and showed the faithfulness to do it. This may sound incredibly dumb, but there are many who want to title of leadership, but will not inconvenience themselves to get the work that goes with the title completed. Leaders should be faithful and skilled – or not appointed.

Principle 3: The best workers are the called ones.

The work was planned and communicated by God – and God stirred them and enlisted them. He called people to the tasks – and that made their work of eternal value and cosmic importance:

Exodus 36:2 Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful person in whom the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him, to come to the work to perform it.

We need to recognize the call of God in people. Forgive the biographical story, but I have lived this problem. Years ago I wanted to go to Israel and build a work there. I believed with all my heart that I was called to do it. I saw God provide – again and again –  for my training, my education and my bank account. I couldn’t believe how well God brought it all together – it seemed to me a miracle! I went to our fellowship of churches and asked to be commissioned. I didn’t want money, but I did want prayer support, and to continue to be included among the family embrace of the fellowship. They declined. They told me, after hundreds of hours of paperwork and interviews, etc. that they had no mechanism for such a ministry. If they didn’t pay us, how could they make us accountable? If they didn’t make us accountable to them, how could they protect their name in ministry? I was stunned. I had been ordained in that fellowship. They suggested that maybe I should reconsider. I went to the Near East because God provided and God called my wife and I – and we knew it. The failure of other godly men to recognize God’s call on my life has marked me. I try now to be much more careful when dealing with others concerning their call. I bear no ill will toward those men, but I have seen it far too many times – a failure to see hear when God is knocking. Men and women, we lack visionary leadership on all levels. We have more technocrats and managers than leaders – and we need to be developing a future set of leaders – it is at the center of my heart.

In addition to developing leaders – we need to be reminded that God is also calling workers to serve on every level of ministry. God knows WHO He wants involved in every aspect of the work – and we should be seeking God as to our role, and awaiting His nudging onto the field!

The primary requirement to serve God is an open heart to do what is needed. Too many volunteer if the work can be tailored to their desires and needs, and they don’t do what they don’t want to do. Let me illustrate what we need more of in the kingdom:

In an earlier century, there lay a large boulder in the middle of the a mountain roadway. Traveler after traveler passed the boulder, veering off to the side of the road to get around it. “What an inconvenience!” drivers would say as their horse carts squeezed past. Riders felt the carts come so close to the mountain, sometimes they scraping as they passed.. All the while, travelers were shaking their heads and muttering, “Can you believe that? Someone should get that big thing out of the way!”  After many months, a man happened along and spied the obstacle. He dismounted his horse and tied a rope at a nearby tree, pulling a large branch down. He took the branch and pried the boulder enough to get it rolling and rolled it off to the side of the road, and eventually over the edge of the nearby ledge. When he turned to see the rut left in the road from the boulder’s placement, he noticed there had been placed underneath the rock a small bag with a note. He picked up the note and read it. It said: “Thank you for being a true servant of the kingdom. Many have passed this way and complained because of the state of the road. Some have even stated what ought to be done. However, you have taken the responsibility upon yourself to serve the kingdom instead. You are the type of citizen we need more of in this kingdom. Please accept this bag of gold that traveler after traveler has passed by simply because they wanted some  to serve them as you have. Many thanks, Your King”

Is it strange to suggest that we need to revisit what a servant truly is as we look to serve our King? I have noticed that when people are CALLED by God and STIRRED by God – they will go longer, work harder, serve better and complain less – because the best workers are the CALLED ones.

Principle 4: The workers were supported by all of the people.

This is a very important principle of getting the work completed – we need to learn to AFFIRM people in their business. In our text, the workers were affirmed by the people, and even supplied by them to do the work!

Exodus 36:3 They received from Moses all the contributions which the sons of Israel had brought to perform the work in the construction of the sanctuary. And they still continued bringing to him freewill offerings every morning.

Everyone is called to cheer and supply – even if they don’t have the skills to DO the work! Have you been cheering? Has the usher been told how you appreciate his or her smiling face? Are the people who work sound, care for coffee, deal with the power point, lead us in praise, watch our children, teach our teens, visit our sick… and the list goes on and on…. Are they getting CHEERED by YOU? Are you pulling your weight in prayer and support both behind the scenes and in affirmation? It is more important than you know. The Proverb writer reminds: Proverbs 25:11 “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.”

I believe that we have the power to encourage – and we have the power to discourage those who work for the Lord around us. Sometimes they don’t do it the way we would – but they are doing it. I cannot help but mention a little story:

Author Mark Mittelberg tells about a man he simply called “Jim” –  who wanted to do things God’s way. Jim had a passion for God, a love for people, and a burden to share the message of God’s forgiveness with people who had not heard. The big question for Jim was, “How can I get un-churched people where I live – those who are so different from me  – to see how much God loves them?” Well, he decided to take some risks and really try. So, he went all out! First, he shaved his head right down to the skin- all except for one little patch of hair which he grew out long. He started wearing it in a pigtail and even dyed it a different color, trying to fit in with the customs of the crowd he was trying to reach. Jim changed the way he dressed, what he ate, and even the way he talked so he could communicate God’s love to this group of people. He read the books and literature they read and did everything he could do to establish common ground with them. In fact, he even moved into the same neighborhood and tried making friends with them. Unfortunately, Jim faced outright rejection from the very people he cared so much about; not only from them, but also from his own church family. Instead of getting behind him and encouraging him, they actually started saying bad things about him. Only a few close friends stuck with him and supported his efforts. -Jim wanted to do things God’s way. Just as Jesus came into this world and became one of us in order to show us God’s love, so Jim tried to do. He faced loneliness, weariness, and discouragement, but he remained faithful to do what God had called him to do. If you’ve ever read about James Hudson Taylor, who ministered in China over a century ago, then you know what kind of criticism and opposition Jim faced. Yet, as a result of Hudson Taylor’s ministry (China Inland Mission), thousands of beautiful Chinese people came to know Jesus. (sermon central illustrations). Wouldn’t you feel a bit silly in Heaven if you got there after being his life-long critic?

Principle 5: Even in the midst of God’s stirring, people needed to be channeled and directed in their desire to help.

Even when people are right with God and obedient, they will still need direction – because they cannot see the whole of the work!

Exodus 36:4 And all the skillful men who were performing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work which he was performing, 5 and they said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the LORD commanded us to perform.”

How exciting to see God’s people bringing supplies! Yet, there was a point at which what they wanted to give was MORE than what God called for them to give. I am willing to wager you have never had a sermon on that – the STOP GIVING message! Here is the truth: People can join in obedience, but they can also join in a “bandwagon frenzy” – and that isn’t what God wanted. Not everyone was called to give everything they had – because other needs would arise later. They were to give until the need was met – then they were to stop, hold and wait.

I have seen it happen more than once. A church board got so enthusiastic about a new building project – they over committed funding and killed the work. Leaders need to channel the well intended energy of a work, and keep a watch on the horizon of God’s direction. People will give to projects, but fail to give to the electric bill. It isn’t because they don’t want to help – it is because they don’t see the whole field in front of them.

Principle 6: When needs were met, they stayed inside the vision and cut off the flow of needs.

It is a well known fact of bureaucracy that it grows to eat whatever budget is available. When God put parameters on the work, they stayed within that frame – even when they could have enlarged it based on supply.

Exodus 36:6 So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, “Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.” Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more. 7 For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it.

Here is an essential word to ministry people as we work – stay inside the plan. More supply doesn’t automatically mean expanding the project. The parameters are established in the plan God gave to them. When ministries keep growing and growing, they fail to build in the “staying power” for the lean days. … and there will be lean days!

Churches can attempt to meet every need of every one – and many will applaud them for doing so. Yet, the church has a primary call. Very few will caution the church NOT to take on some societal problems – even when it pulls vital energy from making disciples. There are countless programs run in the ministry that will not truly help us complete God’s call in our lives to make disciples and teach them all things Jesus commanded us.

Here is another startling thing to say – coming from a Pastor. Ministries need to limit their expenditures, even when money is flowing in. It is NOT because they are to become a BANK – they are NOT! It is because supply doesn’t drive the visionGod’s Word does. How many times I have sat and watched God supply great amounts of money to local churches – and they have BLOWN the money on things that are secondary to their call – continuing to neglect the essentials of their call. We must be very careful!

Principle 7: The work was attributed to the leadership –even though it was a shared project.

Look at the way HE was credited, then read the modifier in verse 35 and 37 – these were team projects!

Exodus 36:8 All the skillful men among those who were performing the work made the tabernacle with ten curtains; of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material, with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman, Bezalel made them. 9 The length of each curtain was twenty-eight cubits and the width of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains had the same measurements.

Exodus 36:10 He joined five curtains to one another and the other five curtains he joined to one another. 11 He made loops of blue on the edge of the outermost curtain in the first set; he did likewise on the edge of the curtain that was outermost in the second set. 12 He made fifty loops in the one curtain and he made fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that was in the second set; the loops were opposite each other. 13 He made fifty clasps of gold and joined the curtains to one another with the clasps, so the tabernacle was a unit. 14 Then he made curtains of goats’ hair for a tent over the tabernacle; he made eleven curtains in all. 15 The length of each curtain was thirty cubits and four cubits the width of each curtain; the eleven curtains had the same measurements. 16 He joined five curtains by themselves and the other six curtains by themselves. 17 Moreover, he made fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that was outermost in the first set, and he made fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that was outermost in the second set. 18 He made fifty clasps of bronze to join the tent together so that it would be a unit. 19 He made a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering of porpoise skins above. 20 Then he made the boards for the tabernacle of acacia wood, standing upright. 21 Ten cubits was the length of each board and one and a half cubits the width of each board. 22 There were two tenons for each board, fitted to one another; thus he did for all the boards of the tabernacle. 23 He made the boards for the tabernacle: twenty boards for the south side; 24 and he made forty sockets of silver under the twenty boards; two sockets under one board for its two tenons and two sockets under another board for its two tenons. 25 Then for the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side, he made twenty boards, 26 and their forty sockets of silver; two sockets under one board and two sockets under another board. 27 For the rear of the tabernacle, to the west, he made six boards. 28 He made two boards for the corners of the tabernacle at the rear. 29 They were double beneath, and together they were complete to its top to the first ring; thus he did with both of them for the two corners. 30 There were eight boards with their sockets of silver, sixteen sockets, two under every board. 31 Then he made bars of acacia wood, five for the boards of one side of the tabernacle, 32 and five bars for the boards of the other side of the tabernacle, and five bars for the boards of the tabernacle for the rear side to the west. 33 He made the middle bar to pass through in the center of the boards from end to end. 34 He overlaid the boards with gold and made their rings of gold as holders for the bars, and overlaid the bars with gold. 35 Moreover, he made the veil of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen; he made it with cherubim, (the work of a skillful workman). 36 He made four pillars of acacia for it, and overlaid them with gold, with their hooks of gold; and he cast four sockets of silver for them. 37 He made a screen for the doorway of the tent, of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen, (the work of a weaver); 38 and he made its five pillars with their hooks, and he overlaid their tops and their bands with gold; but their five sockets were of bronze.

Team leaders get credited and faulted for the work of the whole team. They have the responsibility for the overall product. If the team fails, the leader fails. In the physical work sphere, this simply means that our sloppy work reflects on our boss.

In the spiritual world of the ministry of God’s Word in the church:

  • Failure of a children’s church worker to show children that God’s Word really is the decision source of life can produce children that don’t believe that God is truly interested in relating to them – and the lost education system is happy to fill in the gap left concerning the meaning of life.
  • Failure of a church usher to take the time to carefully make a visitor welcome can make a fractured and unhappy lost person pull away from the only place they can truly find inner healing.
  • Failure of a worship leader to try to disappear before the people that they might see Jesus and worship on Him – will leave people unsatisfied in worship and merely caught up in cults of personality.
  • Failure of a Bible teacher to carefully study and parse the Word of God – rather than focus simply on relevance and the latest topical fad subject – will keep people leaving with the sense that God hasn’t really communicated to their need.

In every case the end is the same – Jesus doesn’t get His work properly represented. The believer needs to see His ministry not as bringing people to his church, or to his cause – but reflecting  his of her Savior! We don’t want our leader to look bad – so we work on every level of ministry to the fullest. That keeps me studying. That keeps me sharpening methods of communicating the Word. Jesus is the leader, and I want Him to be shown in the world as He deserves to be shown. I do not always do it well, but it is the cry of my heart – to reflect His care and His truth properly. This is the deep meaning of Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The idea of PROVING the will of God may be better understood “purposing to move through life in a way that will bring a smile to the face of the Savior”!

We need to clearly understand that God’s work must be completed God’s way. We cannot do what we do by our own rules.

  • The work is deeply hindered when people work to promote themselves – and not the work God called them into.
  • The work is deeply hindered when people work out of compulsion – because “no one else will do it”.
  • The work is deeply hindered when leaders won’t stick to the plan God revealed – and want to build well beyond that to satisfy themselves.
  • The work is deeply hindered when people do not want to take direction from their leaders – because they feel they know better what should be done.
  • The work is deeply hindered when leaders are not well respected by their team – because suspicion will kill forward progress.

God’s work must be done God’s way.