“Do everything without complaining and arguing, 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” Philippians 2:14-15 (NLT).
Complaining is not something I tolerate easily – especially, when my kids do it. But, who are we kidding? As much as I would like to think of myself as not a complainer, I often find myself doing it. It’s funny that the little things are usually what cause me to complain.
For example, one place I shop frequently at is Target. It is where I do the majority of our grocery shopping. I am a red card holder, which is basically a debit card tied to your bank account and every time you use it, you save an additional 5% on your purchase. Well, considering I am there almost every week, the savings add up. However, when I pay with my red card at checkout, it can take what feels like forever for my transaction to go through. There are multiple screens with multiple options requesting additional information before I can finally hit OK and take my card out of the credit card machine. During this process, there is typically a cashier with their arms folded and foot tapping and customers behind me with their eyes rolling and exasperated sighs waiting for me to just checkout and leave. This whole scenario really puts me in a mood. I always end up getting back to my car and complaining out loud at the ignorance of people and why they just can’t be patient and deal with my right to use my red card, which is then typically followed by my own sighing and eye rolling.
The unfortunate part is my son is sitting in the back seat, taking this whole scenario in. He sees the reactions of the people we encounter in our day-to-day errands. But, he also sees the reactions of his mother to those day-to-day encounters and, honestly, I am not very proud of that fact. Minor inconveniences happen every day, all the time. It is ultimately up to me to decide how I react to them. It might seem like a minor thing, but sometimes the minor things end up affecting the big picture.
This week, my Bible Study time was on Chapters 16 through 20 of the Book of Numbers. Throughout these chapters, it becomes quite clear how complaining can detract our focus from God and lead us to negative consequences.
There were members from the Kohathite clans that accused Moses and Aaron of acting greater than the rest of the Lord’s people. They complained of being taken out of Egypt, because they had more food there and they also accused Moses and Aaron of trying to fool them (see Numbers 16: 1-14). As a result of their heavy hearts toward God and their disrespect toward His servants, they were put to death, “The earth opened its mouth and swallowed the men, along with their households and all their followers who were standing with them, and everything they owned” Numbers 16:32 (NLT). In this Chapter, it is evident that the people’s decision to not follow the Lord comes with heavy consequences.
In the very next chapter, God says to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to bring you twelve wooden staffs, one from each leader of Israel’s ancestral tribes, and inscribe each leader’s name on his staff” Numbers 17:2 (NLT). The Lord then instructs Moses that the staffs are to be placed in the Tabernacle in front of the Ark containing the tablets of the Covenant and that buds would sprout on the staff, indicating the man God chose as his high priest. Then, God says, “I will finally put an end to the people’s murmuring and complaining against you” Numbers 17:5b (NLT). The next day, Moses found that Aaron’s staff had “sprouted, budded, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds!” see Numbers 17:8 (NLT). The Lord instructed Moses to place the staff “permanently before the Ark of the Covenant to serve as a warning to rebels. This should put an end to their complaints against me and prevent any further deaths” (see Numbers 17:10-11). But, the people still complain, refusing to trust in God’s plan. They let fear overwhelm their thoughts, instead of trusting in God’s plan to deliver them to the Promised Land.
Perhaps the most upsetting event that occurs is in Chapter 20, where Moses lets his own lack of trust get the better of him. Here, we see Moses let his pride get in the way of letting God take the lead. When the people begin complaining yet again – this time about their lack of water – the Lord instructs Moses to take his staff and assemble the community. He then tells Moses to “speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock” see Numbers 20:8 (NLT). Moses assembles the people as God instructs, then he says to them “Must we bring you water from this rock? Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out” see Numbers 20:10-11 (NLT). We can’t miss how Moses disobeys God in his actions. First, he asks the people if “we” must bring water from the rock. This implies that Moses himself has a part in delivering the water, when in fact, it is God that does. Also, instead of speaking to the rock, Moses raises his hand and strikes it twice with his staff. Picture, for a moment, Moses standing there grandly – arm raised, striking the rock. It does seem Moses’ intent is to take the credit for providing the water to the people. God sees Moses’ betrayal of Him and responds in a very powerful way. He says to Moses, “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!” see Numbers 20:12 (NLT).
How sad that Moses is not allowed to fulfill his calling to lead the people into the Promised Land! While it may seem harsh, Moses was the leader God had originally chosen and as such, was His role model. In trying to take credit for God’s work and displaying his own agenda rather than following God, Moses deliberately strayed from his assignment.
When we stray from doing what is right or trusting in God’s way, we are faced with negative consequences. That can lead to very small or very large consequences. Maybe my little rant in my car after an annoying checkout experience at Target seems minor, but it sends my son a message that it’s okay to rant and complain when people disappoint us or things don’t go our way. Do I want to send that message to my son? Or do I want him to use grace in forgiving the people around him for when they disappoint or don’t deliver?
From now on, when I catch myself wanting to complain out loud at someone that has annoyed me or offended me – I need to stop and think. Is this the way God wants me to react? Or perhaps I would serve him better by displaying the grace He so generously displays to me every day.
Dear Lord, I am humbled by your Word this past week. So many times I let the negative attitudes of people around me influence my own behavior. Forgive me for the times when I do and help me to grow and learn from Moses’ example. Help me to recognize when I need to display grace to others and also how to be a good example to my children. I ask this in the name of Your Son, Jesus. Amen.