Earlier this morning I read an email from a missionary in Colombia who is just doing a fantastic job. There are some men who are showing a desire to give their lives to the ministry. The missionary is thrilled, because he went there to be a disciple maker, to have a ministry that would multiply. I wish we could start a time lapse video over the next 100 years that would follow what is happening in that city.
We plow in hope. We do not know all that God has in store for that ministry and for this first generation of disciples who will help advance the ministry. One thing we do know is that the heart of the leader will come out into the lives of the men he is training. It is said of Timothy that he knew Paul’s doctrine and manner of life (1 Timothy 3:10). When we mentor/train future leaders we give our all. We dump our hearts out on a daily basis. This is one of the many reasons guarding our hearts is so vitally important to our roles as “leaders of leaders”.
One of the greatest qualities a leader can have is a grateful heart. It helps draw students to you because they see you love the work in which God has called you. It helps the leader maintain a proper perspective because it reminds the leader the people he is leading have been sent by God. It helps in the discipleship relationship by letting the disciples know that are loved and cherished, not tolerated and there only to receive delegated tasks.
The story of the wilderness wandering was given to us to help remind us of some tendencies we have on our journeys and of the unchangeable attributes of our God (1 Corinthians 10). In Numbers 10 we learn of some reasons that complaining is such a big deal. It comes just a few days after God had provided provision from Heaven through manna. In retrospect they will look back and know that God provided for them at every turn (and turn and turn and turn etc.) along the way (Neh. 9.18-21).
We see that complaining is no small matter. Fire falls from heaven (Numbers 11:1). I don’t know about you but if I see fire from heaven my first thoughts are (1) what did I just do (2) if I live through this I won’t do that again. If you read the entirety of the Bible you would see on many occasions that complaining is no small matter on many occasions, but can it be any more clear then when fire rains down from Heaven as result of it? God is always in pursuit of our hearts and nothing causes greater division in our loyalties towards him than complaining.
Here are four ways we can see in this portion of Scripture that helps explain why “complaining is no small matter.”
1. When we complain we are denying that our God is a good provider (Numbers 11:1-3). Almost every married man has experienced the moment of anger or hurt we feel when looking upon our finances that our wives question us about our financial future. What we perceive as a lack of trust from them strikes right to our hearts and brings diverse reactions. We do not like to be questioned as a capable, competent family provider.
Our actions alway show our theology. The complaining found in this portion of Scripture reveals an attitude that has developed. It is a matter of the heart that must be addressed before they can move on. They were not complaining to the Lord, they’re complaining about the Lord to one another. It’s interesting that in the Pentateuch worshiping God is often called, crying out to God. In this passage it’s never said that they do that. It says that they cry out to Moses. Complaining or grumbling was evidence of the unbelief that would keep them out of the promise land (Numbers 20:12).
2. Complaining almost always becomes orchestrated (Numbers 11: 4-6). This can become exponentially bad to the disciple-maker. Spurgeon said, “The gift of grumbling is largely dispensed among those who have no other talents.” We often get provoked or inspired by stories dealing with hardships with a good attitude. The same happens in reverse. Keep in mind…only 3 days into journey! They have been in captivity for 400 years! One of my pastors biggest pieces of advice to our missionaries with kids is that if they don’t enjoy the journey neither will your kids and they will want to leave it as soon as possible. It started with the mixed multitude (us gentile folk smart enough to follow along) and spread to the children of Israel.
The conversation goes to complaining shortly after we stop worshipping. We do not ever remain silent very long. Can you picture them on the day they receive the manna praising the Lord? Then after their first day of traveling they begin to become less communicative about their praise. Then they walk in silence. Maybe some cynicism comes in the form of jokes. Then they are complaining. They are not only complaining about what God has not provided for them (cucumbers, leeks, melons etc) but they are complaining about the provision of God (manna).
3. We undervalue God’s provision in our lives (Numbers 11:6-9). They will go as far as to say God has provided nothing “besides this manna”. Think upon how amazing this substance called manna truly is! It was undeniably provided from God. It met all their nutritional needs. It tasted like honey. How could they make so little out of so much? You and I both know, because we have been there before as well. God was pouring his blessings on us and we wanted it in a different manner. Much like Elijah after calling down from heaven wanted to end his life after he realized there would not be national revival among his people and he received criticism from Jezebel (I Kings 19:4).
George MacDonald says it this way, “The slaves of sin rarely grumble at that slavery; it is slavery to God they grumble at.” They had forgotten how much they dreamed of being out of Egypt. They had forgotten their longing to be walking towards Canaan. They had forgotten how much harder they worked for their food, instead of just picking it up off the ground. Many times in ministry we get to the place we had always dreamed about being (pastorate, teaching a class, having some one to disciple, or the mission field) and we cannot enjoy it because our pride creates an insatiable desire for more.
They said they “ate freely” in Egypt (11:5). Can you believe this? It only cost them the lives of their baby boys, who were thrown into the Nile by Pharaoh’s servants; – the lives of their husbands & brothers, who collapsed under the whips of the taskmaster’s! A lack of gratitude will cause us to rewrite history and as a result can cause harmful reactions that will affect our futures.
4. Through complaining we have a tendency to cause ourselves and others to over estimate our abilities and misunderstand our responsibilities (Numbers 11:10-14) Let me explain. Fire came from Heaven until Moses asked for it to stop. But…amazingly, it didn’t make enough of an impact to stop the complaining! The Lord then tended to His weary servant before addressing the ingratitude of the people (Numbers 11:16).
Moses tells God there is no way possible for him to feed so many people with so little resources. This was a fear that we did not see from Moses until the people complained. The complaining of the people caused Moses to take upon a burden that did not belong to him. Many times as a leader we try to fill job descriptions which we were never made to do. Whenever those of us in leadership complain of the load of caring for the people of God, we have forgotten whose people they are, and whose real job it is to carry them. When we hear people complain about an issue in which we are involved we often react by thinking we can resolve the problem – without consideration that it was never our burden to bear!
At first Moses couldn’t fathom how God could supply meat to everyone in the middle of the desert. A table in the wilderness of this magnitude (Numbers 11:21-23)? God then reminds him that these people belong to Him. Many times in listening to complaints or creating the complaints ourselves, we begin to think we must tackle problems that God never intended for us to handle. Moses, it isn’t your job to go fishing to find enough food for 2 million people. Pastor, Missionary, Teacher, leader maybe as a result of complaints you find yourself trying to satisfy the unreasonable demands of those you are called to serve.
If you want a city filled with irritated, ungrateful, pragmatic church leaders then you must plant one person like this and have him teach the rest to be like this. Obviously none of us what to be involved in that enterprise. Teaching on gratitude is much easier than living it out. Our mouth is the weakest gate for our heart. What is in our heart is going to come out in our words (Matthew 12:35). If you have found yourself complaining, know this is evidence of a heart that lacks gratitude. Do not taint the wells. Repent and ask God to correct this issue of the heart before it multiplies!