“Is this all we get to eat---manna?”
“Why did you bring us out into this desert to die? Weren’t we better off in Egypt?”
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read these lines in the Old Testament and thought “Are you serious? What’s wrong with these people? Are they crazy?”
Why would they possibly want to go back to Egypt where they were---remember this--slaves?
In Egypt they were oppressed, abused, and mistreated. It’s a huge underestimation to say that their lives were HARD. They were more like HORRIBLE. Yet, every time the Israelites came up against a problem or even an inconvenience in the desert, they repeated the same old chant, “Life was so much better in Egypt.”
Without fail, every time I read about their whining, complaining attitudes in the book of Exodus, I find myself thinking, “What is their problem? Don’t they realize they are living the dream? They’ve been miraculously delivered from slavery, and every step of their journey is being supernaturally led by the God of the Universe, Who, by the way, is fighting all of their battles and providing all of their needs. How are they missing all this and seeing nothing but the problems and challenges of the journey?”
And then comes the self-righteous thought that we’re all prone toward as we read the Bible: “If I were in their shoes, I’d never act like that.”
I think sometimes the Holy Spirit must chuckle to Himself when He observes thoughts like that passing through our human minds. At least I think He laughs when He’s dealing with me, because many times I’m prone toward the exact same tendencies that I find ridiculous and annoying in other people.
During a recent experience, the Holy Spirit pointed out that I was acting just like the Israelites in the desert and focusing on the challenges and problems rather than on the amazing things God was doing all around me. Just like the Israelites, my misguided focus was causing me to develop a complaining, whiny attitude that was robbing me of the joy of the amazing journey we were on in our lives.
When the Holy Spirit said, “Everyone that’s acting ridiculous and missing the greatest adventure of their lives because they’re too busy worrying about silly things, please step forward.” He meant me. With a few convicting words, (specifically, telling me that I was acting like the Israelites who complained all the way through the greatest adventure of their lives---Ouch!) I knew it was time for me to make a choice to make a change.
You see, all of my life I have dreamed of serving God in ministry. In between all of the dreams and today there were a lot of ups and downs. God had many detours and side trips designed to get rid of the junk in my life and develop His character traits inside of me. Quite frankly, in all the years and decades of dreaming and waiting, there were times when it seemed like my dreams were only dreams and there was no possible way they would ever come true. Eventually, I finally learned the lesson that my joy comes from serving Jesus wherever He puts me in life, and not on whether or not He ever fulfills the dreams I have for my own life. During this time, I can honestly say that I learned to be joyful and content even in circumstances that were far different than my dreams.
Yet, believe it or not, (and there are still so many days when I don’t believe it) fast forward ten years and God has miraculously and supernaturally opened doors for many of these dreams to come true. (Honestly, I know that it was God Who allowed each and every one of these opportunities, because there’s no way they should have happened after all of the detours He led us through.) Today, I find myself loving the opportunity to share God’s Word through writing at The Manzone at Mantour Ministries Magazine. I get to lead a men’s group at a local church. And now, like the cherry on top of the sundae, I get to travel week after week offering one-day Men’s Conferences throughout the Spring.
It’s a dream come true! Yet, what has the Holy Spirit convicted me of doing for the past few days and weeks? Complaining!
“This is too hard---we’ve got too much to do---I’m overwhelmed.”
“It is taking forever!”
“This is not the way I thought it would be.”
I hadn’t picked up this attitude for more than a week when the Holy Spirit said, “What is wrong with you? Why are you acting like an Israelite and grumbling and complaining the whole time you’re living the dream?”
I have to say that question stung a little bit. (Mostly because it was pretty accurate)
The discipline was also pretty necessary because what I was doing was a sin. (Because even though we don’t like to think about it, complaining is a sin. Paul says in Philippians 2:14, “Do everything without grumbling”.) Quite honestly, I needed a good kick in the pants to get my mind off of all the challenges and problems and start thinking about the amazing, miraculous things that God was doing. It was time for me to stop focusing on the difficulties and start choosing to rejoice in the blessings God had given.
It was time for me to stop acting like an Israelite and start acting like Joshua and Caleb who didn’t focus on the challenges of the wilderness but on the God Who delivered them and was leading them into the Promised Land.
It was time for an attitude adjustment.
At this point you may be thinking, “Nice story, but what does it have to do with me?” You might even be thinking like I thought about the Israelites, “Well, if I was in your shoes I wouldn’t be grumbling either.”
However, the question today isn’t what I would do in the Israelite’s shoes or what you would do in mine. The question is: "How are you responding to your own circumstances in your own life? Are you grumbling and complaining or counting your blessings while you’re living your own great adventure?"
Many, many years ago, there was a song called, “The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of”. The point of the song is that too often we become so familiar with our lives and the pressures, challenges, and sheer monotony of it all that we lose our perspective. We begin focusing on all of the downsides to our lives as we forget that these annoyances are all part of living the dream.
For instance, the young Dad can become so overwhelmed with dirty diapers, crying, and sleep deprivation that he forgets all the years that he dreamed about being a Dad.
A man can become so caught up in the routine of marriage and the day to day difficulties of life that he forgets all the years he asked God to bring the bride He had for him into his life.
We get so caught up in the rat race, the competition, and the demands of the job that we forget all the years of hard work, study, and dreaming that we would someday have the position we have today.
As we get caught up in the day-to-day tasks and pressures of life, too often we lose focus and become grumbling Israelites complaining about the momentary discomfort without ever taking a step back and remembering, “I’m living the dream. I am truly blessed. What is there to complain about, really?”
Now I realize that at this point, this article may be getting a little annoying as it’s starting to step on some people’s toes. (Just remember, I started off stomping all over my own toes first.) Before we go any further, let me say that I’m not saying it’s wrong if we ever say a word of complaint or get together, vent, and blow off a little steam once in awhile. (Please, if you knew me personally, you’d know I couldn’t ever say that without being a complete hypocrite.) We all have our bad days and difficult times when we just need to vent.
However, I believe there is a big difference between the occasional momentary complaint and living a lifestyle of constant complaining and grumbling. In between the two, there is a fine line that is defined by our choices. Will we focus on the difficulty or focus on the blessing?
You see, the problem with the Israelites was that they continually focused on what they didn’t have or what they wanted rather than focusing on what God had done and was doing in their lives.
Yes, they were hungry---that was the difficulty. But was the answer to go back to Egypt? No, the answer was to ask God how He was going to provide them with food.
Okay, they were thirsty. A genuine problem that needed to be addressed. However, they took it too far when they accused Moses (and God) of trying to kill them.
The truth is that the Israelites were losing their perspective as they let their problems become a mountain in their lives rather than taking a step back and realizing that the God Who had moved mountains to set them free had a solution to their dilemma. Rather than complaining, they should have been seeking His direction and trusting that the God Who’d delivered them, would preserve them as they followed Him.
This is the same principle that we need to apply to our lives whenever we feel a complaining spirit trying to blow our problems out of perspective and keep us from following God down the path that He has for our lives. It’s at this point that each of us needs to make the choice to say, “I will not be a grumbling Israelite who grumbles and complains the whole time they are living God’s dream for their lives.”
It’s a choice we make on a daily basis to step back from the problem, regain our perspective, see God’s hand at work in our lives, and choose joy and thankfulness over complaining and grumbling.
It’s the choice to say:
“I don't like losing sleep every night, but I thank you Jesus for the privilege of being a Daddy and raising these children for you.”
It’s the choice to say:
“My job may be challenging and it this circumstance may not be ideal, but I thank you Jesus that you allowed me to have a job and that you’ve got a plan to use me to make a difference in this environment.”
It’s all about perspective. Yours. Mine. Ours.
Will we focus on the problem or look at the big picture and realize many of the things we complain about are just the stuff that dreams are made of, and choose to enjoy the life God’s given? I’ve made my choice, now it’s time for you to make yours. Will you be a complaining Israelite or follow Paul’s command and “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus?” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)