I have always been very drawn to the passages of scripture telling all about God's people and their time of wandering in the desert. I've read this particular story in the Bible far more times than I could ever even try to remember and yet I continually find myself reading the same passages over and over, gleaning new insight from the Lord for my own life in all of its various seasons. I'd like to say that I am drawn to these particular stories because the actions of God's people (their fear, disobedience, and lack of trust) are so foreign to me that I am having to REALLY study the word in order to understand these people and where they are coming from in all of their wandering and whining! Or I secretly wish I could AT LEAST say that I am drawn to this part of the Bible so often because I have the innate ability to learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before me LONG ago and so, by the mere reading of their accounts, I will 100% avoid the same pitfalls they fell prey to. However, in all of the humility I can muster I have to be transparent with myself in knowing that I am drawn to this portion of scripture so incredibly often because I am in fact EXACTLY like them! As I read through the book of Numbers, once again being reminded of their lack of faith, lack of contentment, and INCESSANT whining, I like to think I am better than they are. I want to shout "Pull yourselves together people!!" But I can't because I know that in reality, I am staring straight at a clear, painful, and bold reflection into my own heart and life.
Before we go any further let's take a quick look back at part of the story of the Israelites as they are wandering through the desert. Remember, this is all taking place AFTER the Lord has delivered them from the hand of Pharoah. This is AFTER seeing God's mighty hand bring the frogs, the gnats, the locusts, the boils, the darkness, and ultimately their deliverance! Now, let's pick up in Numbers Chapter 11, verses 1 - 15.
"1 Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the Lord heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp. 2 Then the people cried out to Moses, and when Moses prayed to the Lord, the fire was quenched. 3 So he called the name of the place Taberah because the fire of the Lord had burned among them. 4 Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat? 5 We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!” 7 Now the manna was like coriander seed and its color like the color of bdellium. 8 The people went about and gathered it, ground it on millstones or beat it in the mortar, cooked it in pans, and made cakes of it; and its taste was like the taste of pastry prepared with oil. 9 And when the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna fell on it. 10 Then Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, everyone at the door of his tent; and the anger of the Lord was greatly aroused; Moses also was displeased. 11 So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have You afflicted Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I beget them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a guardian carries a nursing child,’ to the land which You swore to their fathers? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all these people? For they weep all over me, saying, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14 I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now—if I have found favor in Your sight—and do not let me see my wretchedness!”'
Can we just pause for a moment and take in ALL that we just read in those 15 short verses? Talk about a rollercoaster of emotions! Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not a super emotional person. So when I envision this scene in my head it is very much what it would look like if grown men and women were to throw themselves into an absolute tantrum in the same way our toddlers do when we don't let them eat dirt, touch the hot stove, or go to the store naked! We look down at them like they are absolutely REDICULOUS while in their minds they are convinced their idea is pure genius and they truly cannot fathom why you would deny their request. Do you see now why I wish I could pretend I have ZERO similarities with this selfish and self-centered people? But can you also see why I can't hide from the fact that I am them and they are me?
If you would, close your eyes and think for a moment. Well, don't close them YET! I haven't told you what to think about! Side note - Let's a take a moment to appreciate all of you Enneagram 6's out there who just sat for several minutes, eyes closed, thinking about...well you're not sure what because you hadn't yet been told WHAT to think about but you were told to close your eyes and think and so BAM you did it! In case you are wondering I am NOT a 6 and would have just kept on reading with the rest of you because...well...tell me I HAVE to do something and there's a REALLY good chance I'm gonna dig my heels in and do the exact opposite. Where my people at?!?! Ok. Sorry. Let's get back on track...
I want us all to take a moment and think about the many times the Lord has been faithful to us. That time He provided those extra groceries at just the right time through a caring neighbor. The time He brought unexplainable peace in the midst of one of life's greatest storms. And let us not forget the time He brought love, and grace, forgiveness, and redemption into our hearts and lives even though we didn't, (and would never be able to I might add) deserve it. Now. Think about the in-between times when you struggled. Questioned. Worried. Doubted. The valley moments in between the victories and the mountain tops. Are you starting to see it? Are you starting to see our very real and painful resemblance to this group of people who get such a bad wrap for their lack of thankfulness for all the Lord had done and their lack of faith that, though He had done it before, time and time again, He would IN FACT be faithful to do it again?
Ouch. Sometimes the reality of who we are is painful to see. Not the ME that others see. That's the ME I have learned to love. That's the ME that is always laughing, always enjoying life, always declaring the goodness and faithfulness of God. I'm talking about the ME that only God sees. The ME that should 100% disqualify me from being loved by God let alone being USED by Him! Are you with me? That's the ME I see in God's people as they wander through the desert. The ME that has to wrestle through the whining to a place of contentment. The ME that has to stand on the promises of God's word because my humanness is crying on the inside "NO FAIR!" "REMEMBER WHEN....?" or "YOU'RE NOT DOING ENOUGH!" The ME that is stubborn and headstrong and is constantly on a journey of surrender because I'm REALLY good at packing up my tent and forging my own way through the desert, forgetting in the moment that His ways are ALWAYS higher, better, greater than my ways. And though this is a ME I would rather shy away from rather than taking a spiritual microscope to, it is in these moments of painful introspection that my faith is deepened, that my contentment is found, that my will is surrendered and my feet are once again standing firm on the solid ground of His promises.
At this point, you might be saying to yourself - "Ok Rae. That's all great. But how is this helpful or encouraging and what does any of it have to do at all with "being extra". Well, without further ado, here are 3 incredible lessons I continue to learn from these ill content, whiney, desert wanderers.
First, I AM NORMAL!!! When I question, or doubt, or worry, or fear, I don't need to think that there is something wrong with me. It simply means I AM HUMAN! I am flawed! And I am in a constant battle of learning to trust, learning to surrender, and learning to hold my whining tongue because every single time, God's got this!!
Second, GOD IS GOOD!!! I mean come on! There has to be someone else out there that finds a level of comfort in knowing that if God can love the Israelites through their desert wanderings than He can absolutely love us through our own!! He's a God that can look at us in our worst and still desire nothing more than to give us His absolute BEST. Y'all. THAT is a GOD GOOD!!
Third, I truly do continue to learn from the Israelites to STOP BEING SO EXTRA!! What do I mean? Well, when I struggle, when I stumble, when I am contending for my faith in God's goodness, faithfulness, and provision, I shouldn't throw up your hands and say "Well, I guess I only THOUGHT I was a Christian but this lack of faith of mine is proving otherwise." Hear me and hear me well...that is a lie from the enemy coming in to steal, kill, destroy all that the Lord has done in you and through you. Think of it this way - You are driving down the highway of life, happily singing along to the radio and chatting it up with family and friends, on your way to an amazing weekend away when BAM. You hit a pothole and your tire goes flat. So what do you do? Do you turn around and go back home? No! The car isn't broken down! There is just a part that needs some attention. A slight repair that needs to be made. You simply pull over, change the tire, and get back on your merry way still excited for the weekend of adventure to come! Just like a pothole in the road does not mean the end of a journey, God's faithfulness doesn't end when our flesh struggles to see it in the moment and just like a flat tire doesn't deem the car totally useless, our needs for repair and refocus at the feet of Jesus do not mean we are no longer His children and can no longer be used for His kingdom and glory.
Can we just find some peace in comfort in know that God created us. He knows us. And He loves us. Flaws and all! So the next time you find yourself struggling - don't throw up your hands in defeat, throw them up in surrender to Him. The next time you start to think "If only I could go back to my old life" - don't take that as a sign that the work you THOUGHT the Lord had done in you was all hype and emotion, take it is a holy spirit nudge to get back on your knees and contend for the life, calling, and ministry that the Lord has blessed you with. And the next time you start to think "woe is me! I'm just gonna sit here in the desert sand and throw myself a little tantrum - stop crying out "it's not fair" from the door of your "tent". Instead, step outside of yourself and remember that this life is not about God blessing YOU (though He does so lavishly!). It is about honoring HIM by serving THEM, those you encounter each and every day.
Can you imagine how differently that season in the desert would have looked if the Israelites had taken their focus off of demanding that Moses (and ultimately God) meet their own needs and instead spent that time helping meet the needs of others? Wow! I have a feeling we would be reading a VERY different story. However, their story is written. There is nothing that can be added and taken away. But I have good news for you fellow desert wanderer! OUR STORY IS STILL BEING WRITTEN! We can still make that shift to contend daily for contentment and faith. We can still stop our whining and start worshipping and honoring Him in every season and in every situation. Though we will have seasons of wandering in the deserts, moments of ill content, whining, and despair, and we will definitely hit some MASSIVE potholes on this journey of life, we can still make the choice to contend for the life the Lord has promised, to surrender our flawed desires to His perfect will, and to choose to fix the "tire" rather than throwing up our hands and scrapping the "car" altogether!
So...who's with me? Who's ready to shift our focus off of the desert and onto the promised land that the Lord has for us? Who's ready to contend, not just for your own salvation but for the salvation of those around you? People of God...Let's Go!