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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Root of Complaining

From the very beginning God has been nothing but good to man. Before the Fall He placed man in a lavish garden that was fully equipped to meet his every need. He gave man one prohibition regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Believing that God was holding back something good from them and eating from the forbidden tree changed everything. Ever since that day man struggles to believe that God is good. Complaining has become a settled characteristic of sinful man.

Several thousand years after the Garden, the Israelites have perfected the art of  complaining, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no costalso the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:5-6).  
Really? At no cost? How quickly Israel has forgotten their former days of slavery with long days and arduous work. Lost appetite? Sounds like their appetite is just fine, if not totally out-of-control! They have a heart problem, not an appetite problem. 
Israel’s complaining has moved rapidly from a low-volume verbal fretting to a collective high-pitched whine of grief and anger. Complaining never remains static. It is fueled by a number of elements:
  • Embellishing the past. Those who embellish the past or romanticize the past will never be happy in the present. 
  • Despising the present. Daily provision of manna give Israel exactly what they need. Daily. Never mind, as travelers, that they didn’t have the storage-ability to maintain more than a day’s supply. 
  • Uncontrolled appetites. Fleshly appetites demand attention (food, sleep, sex, entertainment, etc.). Those who refuse to control their appetites become chronic complainers. They become fixated on “more.” 
  • Ingratitude. God provided enough every day. Yes, the people had to collect it, grind it, and cook it up. And, yes, there was only so much that even someone with Martha Stewart’s talents could do with manna. But, Israel never had to wonder if manna would be on the ground the following morning. Instead of being “humbly grateful,” as Adrian Rogers has said, they became “grumbly hateful.”
Gratitude pulls the spirit of complaining up by the roots. It cures the ill of a complaining spirit by re-directing one’s attention from the horizontal to the vertical. God is good. He only does good. To have His presence and provision daily is to have plenty!

Older Post
"On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. …Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; whenever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped." (Numbers 9:15-17)

This passage records the wanderings of the children of Israel as they are led by the fire and cloud of God's presence. The cloud and fire demonstrate the immediate presence of God and the privilege of direct guidance. Believers today would be thrilled to know the guidance of God that is as easy to follow as a moving cloud or a guiding fire. 

Yet this passage also reveals a puzzle, for the text records that sometimes the cloud lifted after one day, two days, or a month. Sometimes the fire lifted in the night. While this leadership may seem exciting, the novelty wears off quickly when one considers that three million people had to pack up tents, animals, belongings, and awaken children to head off after the moving cloud. The Bible further says that sometimes they stayed a year. Perhaps as they camped in places where there was water they were finally able to settle down, pull out precious, hoarded seed, and plant them. They watched the seed sprout and watered the young plants carefully and waited for harvest. Just before it ripened, however, the cloud lifted. Can you imagine? They faced a choice—crops or cloud?

Sometimes God's ways seem hard, and sometimes they appear dark. Only later does God clarify the puzzle of this behavior. His purpose in these difficult movements was to equip His people for the warfare that lay ahead. Joshua 10 tells of Israel's fight with the Canaanite kings. Joshua and his men marched all night, fought all day, and then Joshua commanded the sun to stand still so they could fight another whole day.

Here the puzzle of God's leading takes on purpose. What seemed to be arbitrary movement was actually "boot camp" for later battles. God has a funny way of preparing His people. There will be times in your life that may seem dark, a puzzle not yet fully explained. But every puzzle crafted by the hand of God has a purpose that will one day become clear. Make sure you choose the cloud and not the crops.* 

*The contents of this devotion come from notes taken on a sermon preached by my husband.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Numbers 8:1-10:36 
  • Why are the Israelites to lay their hands on the Levites and the Levites to lay their hands on the bull?
  • What issue came up when the children of Israel celebrated the second Passover?
  • How often are the children of Israel to prepare to pack up camp and march out?
  • How were the children of Israel informed regarding every move or given marching orders?
  • How does God lead His people today?
  • What does this act of obedience require of every Israelite?
Turning truth into prayer:
Pray that you will live sensitively to the Lord's movement and leading in your life. If it all made sense then faith wouldn't be required.