A moment of Complaining

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Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever. Psalm 107:1

From Mount Hor the Israelites set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. Numbers 21:4-9

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:1-10

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” John 3:14-21

There are times when it is difficult to see God’s mercy in our lives and the world. Life can be relentless in its struggles. March 28th will mark a whole year since Montana’s stay home directive was put in place. As the year unfolded and the guidelines shifted and lifted, we have struggled to make sense of many things. The past 12 months have genuinely been–a wilderness time. This is the 4th Sunday in Lent, and today’s OT reading offers us an opportunity to reflect on the perspective of God’s people in the wilderness as well as our perspectives in this wilderness of our time.

There is an authenticity to the readings in the Old Testament. They are raw and honest about the messiness of humanity. We witness in today’s reading people who are frustrated, hungry, and unhappy. And I can’t help but recall reading in Exodus Chapters 15,16, and 17, another time when the Israelites were complaining about the water, the food, and Moses’s leadership. In Exodus, Moses spoke to God on behalf of his people, and they received water, food, and a place to rest.

Now, here again in today’s scripture, they are complaining. However, this time the Israelites are not only complaining about Moses; they complain about God and his provision for them. They are shortsighted as they focus on the wilderness’s difficulties and fail to recall how bad the situation was in Egypt that God delivered them from.

The ability to see God’s mercy, as he responds to the complaining by sending a poisonous serpent, is challenging. But as we read on, we see God’s desire was for his people to recognize their poor behavior and ask appropriately for help. Moses prays for his people, and God, in His mercy, offers a way out.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.

Do we recognize God’s mercy in our lives, or are we complaining about the circumstances in which we find ourselves?
The truth is, life is hard, and there are many justifiable reasons to complain.
I have been known to complain. When I complain to God, it sounds like this…” Really, God, this is what today is going to look like? Really, This is too hard; I can’t.”
I think these scriptures may be telling us there is a right and a wrong way to complain.
Venting our frustrations and blaming is the wrong approach. It is a toxic approach and harms us as well as those around us.
It promotes complaint competition that can send a whole conversation spiraling.
Complaining changes our perception of the world, shifting our focus to disappointments and causing us to miss the blessings.
Complaining helps rewire the brain into negativity- bias where negative thoughts will come more quickly and easily than positive ones.
This bias promotes pessimism, and pessimism is known to be unhealthy both physically and mentally. Complaining also kills creativity and creates a victim mentality. When we see others as the reason for our troubles, we fail to look at our own actions and behaviors. It becomes more challenging to seek possible solutions.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.

It may not seem merciful that God sent the serpent, but it did get the Israelites attention. They shifted their focus and could see more clearly.

So what is the proper way to complain?

  1. We must be sure we are not the problem. The Israelites were so focused on being angry they did not see what they needed to change.
  2. Be specific about your need, not your disappointment. God delivered his people from Egypt. Of course, he will care for them in the wilderness. Though it may not look the way they thought it should.
  3. Be realistic. There is a big difference between need and want. What we desire is not always what we require.
  4. Be sure to ask the right person for help. Complaining to each other rarely does good. Moses knew the correct approach and, in love, would speak to God on their behalf.
  5. Speak your feelings. Feelings are real, but they are not the truth. Adding, “I feel” validates where you are without telling your brain things won’t or can’t change.

Life is hard. But when we shift our focus away from the things that are causing discomfort to the God whose mercy endures forever, our perception of everything changes. Instead of seeing only our difficulties, we see the way through them.

What we don’t want to miss is the message we hear in Chapter 2 of Ephesians,
“—By grace, you have been saved—.” “God, who is rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

Our faith in Jesus Christ brings us out of the darkness into the light. In the light of Christ, we can see clearly. Jesus also spent time in the wilderness. It is during this time of Lent that we reflect on his time of suffering. He, too, must have found it arduous to make sense of the situation he was in. “He was in anguish, and his sweat was like great drops of blood.” He prayed for God to take this responsibility from him, and yet in obedience to God’s will and for our sake, he did not waver.

We don’t want to miss John’s message to us in the Gospel.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Eternal life- what does this mean? Endless life, indestructible life, imperishable life, immutable life, undying life, everlasting life, boundless life, perpetual life, lasting or existing forever, without end or beginning. This is the life our God wants for us. Nothing that comes our way can change this gift that is offered. God has given us a way out of our suffering in the gift of Jesus Christ. His desire is that we trust and believe.
We may not have the ability to make sense of what has happened and is happening in our lives and our world. We do have a God who is rich in mercy is showing us the way through it.

So perhaps I should add to my conversation of “Really God?” this prayer.
“You, God, are eternal, and this moment is not. I will go where you lead me, but please, do lead me.”

It is for the gift of Jesus Christ, who leads the way that we should.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.

A moment of faith

I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.  
Lamentations 3:17-32 (NIV)

Often faith is the difference between a person who is fearful and miserable, and a person who is hopeful and joyful.

Without faith in ourselves, we struggle to accomplish things.  Without faith in others, we lack trust, and without faith in something bigger and more loving than ourselves, we fail to have hope for the future.

Faith brings confidence that, amid difficulties, we are being challenged, strengthened and upheld.  I love the verse that says it is good to bear the yoke when we are young.  So true!  We will all have difficulties at some point in our lives. But when we are young, we have energy and openness to growth.  If we know where to look, we have support from those who have “been there done that.”  It also gives me hope that our youth struggling, though painful to see, is building their character and strengthening them so that they will be able to carry on into the future.

I, like the author in Lamentations, remember the struggles of my youth and I also remember the reconciliation of those struggles.  In those moments there was growth, and I benefit from the faith and resolve that makes today’s difficulties seem lighter and less painful to move through. With confidence in the God who loves me, the people who sustain me, and the inner strength that guides me I am convinced of the impermanence of life’s difficulties.  I am confident in the goodness of the world.  And, I am most fulfilled in the joy of it all.

With faith, we believe in the positive outcome of all things.  With faith, we believe in the essential goodness of humankind, and with faith, we are confident in our potential for growth.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 (NIV)

HAVE FAITH