When the work that God calls us to is hard, do we complain or do we count it a blessing to be partners with God?
I realize that many of you have not been with us on our journey through the mission of God that we started at the end of last summer. It is great to have you with us, and though you might choose to binge watch the last 8-9 months of messages online, I figure it is best for us to have a quick overview today.
We started with this premise:
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. // Psalm 24:1 NLT
Where we left off in the story was with the Israelites in the Sinai wilderness having received the 10 commandments.
In the book of Leviticus, God outlines all the laws that the people and priests need to focus on keeping so God can remain among them
Numbers took place just a year and one month after the Exodus from Egypt. Just one month had passed since the completion of the tabernacle (Exod. 40:17).
Numbers is a book about the organization of the nation by rank and camp. It begins with a census of all males who are able to fight. It then goes on the how they will set up camp – tabernacle in the middle, Moses, Aaron and the Levites around that, and the rest of the nations around them.
Each of the tribes was given a responsibility, and the people seemed OK with it. At first.
THEN, they have to start LIVING IT. Pretty soon we see that there is trouble in the wilderness.
Chapter 10 began the next phase for the nation Israel. They left Egypt, the received the commandments from God through Moses, they stayed in the Sinai wilderness while they built the tabernacle and all the parts of it, established an army, setup the way they would camp, divided up the duties by clan.
There was a lot of planning and work that took place!
BUT they were not in the place God promised them yet. All of this was to prepare them for the next phase -> entering the promised land. That meant that they needed to MOVE.
Numbers 10:11–13 || 11 During the second year, in the second month on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud was lifted up above the tabernacle of the testimony. 12 The Israelites traveled on from the Wilderness of Sinai, moving from one place to the next until the cloud stopped in the Wilderness of Paran. 13 They set out for the first time according to the Lord’s command through Moses. [CSB]
So, now that they have instructions, and God’s presence with them, and an army, they are ready to move forward to take possession of the land God promised them.
So, they set out.
They set out with God directing them, Moses leading them, and a promise of better things to come.
Numbers 10:33–34 || 33 They set out from the mountain of the Lord on a three-day journey with the ark of the Lord’s covenant traveling ahead of them for those three days to seek a resting place for them. 34 Meanwhile, the cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp. [CSB]
I have found that many projects I get in to, many commitments I make seem OK at the time. I am an optimist by nature and generally see how things can work out great. I am not always a realist – and sometimes my ambition leads to being overwhelmed.
The excitement of NEW will eventually wear off, and the problems will begin. This is what is referred to as “the honeymoon is over”.
We experience this at a new job, a new baby, a new diet or exercise routine. For some, there is no problem. For others it gets old real fast.
It took of all 3 days for travel to get old, for it to put the faith and perseverance of the people to the test. By the end of 3 days, we read this:
Numbers 11:1–3 || 1 Soon the people began to complain about their hardship, and the Lord heard everything they said. Then the Lord’s anger blazed against them, and he sent a fire to rage among them, and he destroyed some of the people in the outskirts of the camp. 2 Then the people screamed to Moses for help, and when he prayed to the Lord, the fire stopped. 3 After that, the area was known as Taberah (which means “the place of burning”), because fire from the Lord had burned among them there. [NLT]
To complain is to “express dissatisfaction or annoyance about something.” The same word can me to quarrel. They were quarreling with God.
This complaining is a stark contrast to the first 10 chapters of this book. Up to this point it has been “all God commanded the people did”. We saw willing acceptance of all the things God was asking. Now we see willful rebellion directed to God. Wow.
I want us to notice a few things about the complaining.
First, it was openly, before the “ears of Yahweh”.
I think back to when I was a kid – there were many times I was not happy about the things my parents made me do. Sometimes I would kinda grumble and go do it. But, a few times I was vocal about it and complained and spoke back to my parents. What do you think happened? Yeah, it did not go well for me.
This was not some under the breath grumbling, this was very vocal, meant to be heard by God.
Second, it was about their hardship – their traveling, setting up, tearing down, collecting food for each day, not having a permanent place to call home, etc.
So let’s go back to some context.
Just prior to starting out on this journey, the people celebrated the Passover. This was 1 year after they have been freed from 400 years of bondage. They were slaves who did hard labor!
Now, after 3 days wandering in the wilderness, they are complaining that God’s work is too hard.
Apparently they had gotten comfortable in one place. They did not have to move while they were building the tabernacle and establishing the priesthood. They did not have to move while Moses was on the mountain getting the laws from God. Now, they had to take action and it was hard.
Complacency breeds complaining.
God was angry with them. We will see that the Israelites manage to provoke God’s anger many times.
Have you thought about why God might be mad?
And now, when I tell you to march, you complain that I have placed too big of a burden on you?
They complained directly to the ear of God – wanting him to hear them. They lacked reverence and fear.
God heard their complaint and instead of wiping them all out (which he had the right to do) he zaps the outskirts of the camp with lightning. Basically, he starts the farthest away from the Tabernacle and cooks people with lightning.
This is a pattern that we see repeated over and over. It really shows the heart of Moses more than anything else.
They complained about how hard it was to follow God and obey Him.
To be obedient to God takes work. It takes sacrifice. It requires that we align our life path with God’s path. It means doing the hard things to make sure that God is on display!
While it is easy to pick on the Israelites about their complaining that things are too hard, we must also look at our own situation. As the church, we are the special people of God. We have been called out to represent God to the nations around us. We have been given instruction on how to love God and others so we can be a light to the world.
As long as we are sitting on Sunday, soaking it all in, it sounds wonderful. And you will hear “amen” and “we will”. It is not until we are pushed into action by God that we find we want to complain. Everything sounds easier in the classroom than in the real world.
We cannot reflect God if we are unwilling to follow God.
Living for God takes work. Though we may have started our journey with Jesus on a high note, promising to do all that God wants of us, we can very easily become discouraged by the hardships of the Christian life.
When we first gave our lives to Jesus we were excited about being with the church, reading the Bible, talking to God and we want to tell everyone. Then… the honeymoon was over.
It’s too much! It’s such a burden! “God, do you know what you are asking?”
When we complain about the hard times or the hard work that God has for us, a few things are happening in our heart:
Hebrews 12:1–4 || 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. 4 After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. [NLT]
Philippians 2:12–15 || 12 Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. 14 Do everything without complaining and arguing, 15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. [NLT]
Did you see what was sandwiched in the middle of those verses?
When you start to feel like following God is a burden, an overwhelming task, ask yourself, “What am I believing about God?”
Do you believe he provides for you?
Do you believe he knows when it best for you?
Do you believe God is ultimately in control?
Do you believe he truly loves you?
If are complaining, ask which of those things you are not believing and then PRAY!
God wants us to join Him on his mission of restoration. That means we need to be willing to follow him. It will be uncomfortable, it is work! It means realigning our lives with God’s work.
You and I get to join God in his awesome work, and if we focus on the challenges of that we will miss out on the joys of it. Life is about God, and we are blessed to be able to have him as our Savior, protector and lord (boss). Trust God. Follow his lead. Be light to the world around you by loving God and others even though it is hard work.