Tag Archives: complaint

Spying On Our Fears

As Resurrection moves quickly through the Old Testament, many wonderful stories must be skipped. This Sunday we will jump to the book of Deuteronomy which is Moses’ final sermon to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land (recounted in the book of Joshua).

But this was not Israel’s first attempt to enter Palestine. The book of Numbers recounted a previous attempt to invade the land (chapters 13 and 14). Moses selected twelve spies from the twelve tribes to spy out the land of Canaan. They were selected leaders and instructed to be bold and observant. The spies returned with a huge cluster of grapes suspended on a pole. Their report emphasized a land flowing with milk and honey and with abundant fruit.

However their report also stated that the occupants of the land were many and strong, their towns fortified and very large. Caleb, one of the spies, countered “We can take the land.” The other spies disagreed, saying, “We cannot go up against this people for they are stronger than we.” Their fear overrode their trust in God’s promise. The fear of the leaders/spies also infected the people.

The whole congregation said to Moses, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to fall by the sword, would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Exodus 14:2-3)

Fear can destroy a family, a congregation or a nation. We see a potential danger and magnify it beyond reality. We feel threatened and we either seek to fight or flee. The people of Israel wanted to flee.

Caleb spoke again to the people, trying to turn their focus to God.,

The land that we went through as spies is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” (Exodus 14:7-9)

The people did not listen to Caleb that day. Their rebellion against God resulted in God’s declaration that this generation which yearned for Egypt must die so that a new generation of hope can arise. The story has a Christian connection: the fearful “old Egyptian” in each of us must die so that the new Christ can rise up within us. Baptism is a reminder of our being joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20

When has fear diverted your trust in God? When has your faith in God overcome fear?

Lord Jesus, today, kill the fear within me and reignite my trust in you.

Grumbles and Grains

Shortly after I turned 50 a friend sent me an article written by Garrison Keillor. It was titled:

Stop Complaining.

When you hit 50, you have to stop complaining about getting old, the strangeness of it, the fascination, the horror, etc., etc. That was okay in your 30s and 40s, but now that you’re old, it’s time to shut up on the subject. You shouldn’t complain about aging for the simple reason that nobody gives a hoot. If you were to pay people to care, they might care a little bit for an hour or two, but you didn’t and they don’t. So learn to be cheerful about it. When people ask you how you are, tell them, “Absolutely great. Never better.” (from 50 Things to Do When You Turn 50) 

I thought about Garrison’s advice as I read parts of Exodus. The Israelites are set free from Egypt but they immediately start to complain and grumble. First they don’t have sufficient water to drink (Exodus 15:24). Then they don’t have enough food.

The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness. The Israelites said, “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!” (Exodus 16:2-3).

We humans seem to have this wonderful ability to compare our present situation to some “idealized past” and think we have some right to complain about it. The Israelites practiced selective memory, remembering the sufficient food of Egypt, while forgetting the suffering and hard labor they experience as slaves. So they grumbled to Moses.

Does a grumbling spirit ever take hold in your mind?

The Lord God was quick to answer. The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you.” (Exodus 16:4). God provided manna for the Israelites throughout their 40 year journey in the wilderness. Manna was a temporary solution until they arrived in the promised land which flowed with milk and honey. It was also a test by which to see if they could give up their complaining and trust in God’s provision.

Have you learned to stop complaining and to trust in God’s blessing?

Lord Jesus, give us this day our daily bread.

How Long, oh Lord?

Yesterday in worship I was struck by the cry of Psalm 13.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Like many, I am naturally drawn to the psalms of trust and praise.  I seek to be an upbeat, positive person who sees the cup half-filled.  I prefer the happy psalms that shout praise to God.  Bless the Lord, o my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Psalm 103:2  So when I hear the psalms of complaint and lament, it seems to grate upon my ears and rub against my soul.  Shouldn’t we rejoice and avoid lamentations?

However the book of psalms has almost an equal number of lament psalms as praise psalms.  The book reflects God’s desire to hear our tears and anguish as well as our joys and thanksgiving.  All of life is God’s territory. 

One of the wonders of Psalm 13 is how the psalmist addresses God, even when God seems hidden and aloof.  These questions are not for casual conversation with friends, but a deep cry of the soul to God. Four times the psalmist cries out to God, “How long?”, not knowing when the answer will come, but trusting it will be heard.

Kathy was a parishioner who was wrestling with a potentially terminal illness.  She wanted to live, yet unsure if she had the strength to continue the journey.  When she came to my office, I listened to her complaint and then together we prayed Psalm 13.  The words touched a deep part of her soul, giving her permission to express the throttle cries of her heart, “how long, oh Lord?”

Psalm 13 has a marvelous ending of hope, common to many psalms of lament.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
y heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The psalmist still trusted God, even in the sorrow. God has been faithful in the past and will be faithful in the future, so sing to the Lord.  Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5

When was a time you cried out in complaint to God?  How did God respond?

Lord Jesus, teach us to trust in your steadfast love.