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By Nathan Hagan
Finding yourself “between a rock and a hard place” never sounds like an ideal metaphorical location for any leader. Most of us would prefer to find ourselves in the serene landscape of the Shepherd’s Psalm (green pastures and peaceful streams).

I am not sure where the phrase “between a rock and a hard place” originated, but a case can be made that Moses was the first to find himself there as a servant-leader. Twice he found himself stuck with a very ungrateful and whiny group of followers near an actual rock (not just a figurative one). Both times he was frustrated with the people’s apparent lack of faith and turned to God for help. As He had every time to this point, God miraculously provided for the Israelites. On these particular occasions He did that by using a rock to produce water. Although the first instance calmed the Israelites for a season, it did not take long for them to march up to Moses’ doorstep and complain once again about not having all they wanted. This spun Moses into a full-fledged fit with his people. As in the time before, Moses turned to God who instructed him to speak to the rock instead of hitting it as he did before. Rather than follow God’s blueprint, Moses chose to strike the rock … twice. It probably felt good to hit that rock as hard as he could, perhaps imagining the rock was instead one of the more vocal complainers of his tribe. God again provided for His people, but also pulled Moses aside for a stern rebuke.

We do not know how quickly the dynamics of that circumstance unfolded, but we do know that Moses found himself precisely “between a rock and a hard place.” His human nature caused frustration and anger toward the sheep he was leading. He was in a latter season of leadership development and had seen God do countless miracles throughout their journey thus far. But in that moment, when he was facing pressure from his followers and a shortage of resources, he chose to take the matter in his own hands. Rather than making the situation an opportunity to center everyone’s hearts (including his own) on God, Moses made it about himself.

As humble as Moses was, even he found himself between a rock and a hard place and made a poor decision. We have all “been there” as leaders where we grow impatient with those we are called to serve.
It is possible as we grow older in leadership that we become more reliant on our past experiences than on the voice of the Lord. In Moses’ frustration, he did what he knew had worked in the past rather than listen to the direction of the Lord in the present. His frustration with his people caused him to take matters into his own hands rather than depend solely on the Lord for direction.

Following are four things we can do when we find ourselves between a rock and hard place:

Refuse to let frustration get the better of you. Remember we are stewards of sheep and not the owners.
Overlook complaints and view the big picture. We should not ignore complaints, but we cannot allow them to drive us either.
Capture God’s heart for those you shepherd. It is easy to forget in moments of frustration that God cherishes His sheep (warts and all). For us to lead well, we must have His heart.
Know that our past experience can only carry us so far. God wants us to depend on Him and not necessarily on our experiences, no matter how successful they were.

About The Author

Nathan Hagan

Nathan Hagan, an Open Bible minister, serves as associate pastor at Turning Point Open Bible Church in Spokane, Washington. He graduated from Eugene Bible College with a degree in pastoral ministry and Gonzaga University with a master’s degree in organizational leadership. He and his wife, Candi, have three children and together enjoy showing God’s love to those in the Spokane community.