Difficult journeys sometimes bring out the worst in us. No one wants to be in the middle of taxing travel with no end in clear sight. At such times and in such places, our patience often crumbles into complaint. The children of Israel have reached just such a time and place in their journey. God has already delivered them from great harm; but now in this new part of the journey, they lose the sense of God’s presence and guidance. When our anxieties meet our exhaustion, we often cannot see the God who has always been with us, upholding us on the journey. Like the children of Israel, we give in to complaint.
Complaining can distort our reality, blinding us to the truth. The children of Israel tell themselves that God has abandoned them to die in the wilderness. But in fact, God is with them, leading and guiding them. God wants them to have faith in the divine guidance of their lives. They say they will die of thirst and starvation when, in fact, God daily supplies them with food and water. Their complaining clouds the facts of their blessings and leads them to see God’s gifts to them as a curse.
It is understandable that in harsh times we are tempted to complain. Yet when I complain, I declare that I no longer believe that God loves and cares for me. My complaint denies my experience and history with God. When we complain, we open ourselves to poisons that can harm us. Yet even when we allow our unbelief and complaining to poison us, God provides a way to deliver and heal. We, like the children of Israel, can confess our sin to God and confront the serpents of our complaint. Then we can look to the serpent of salvation and live.
Gracious God, keep me from the poison of complaint, and show me your merciful presence in my life today. Amen.
Sometimes we get ourselves into trouble by our words and actions. It’s okay to admit it. It happens to all of us. The Israelites experienced this when their constant grumbling provoked God’s wrath in Numbers 21. Yet even in this story, God provides the means of salvation. The psalmist echoes the refrain that when we put ourselves in bad positions, we may cry out to the Lord for deliverance. We read in Ephesians that all of us were living in disobedience to God, but God has done all the work of reconciliation by grace given through Christ Jesus. John ties all this together, gesturing to the story in Numbers 21 to teach us that Christ is the means of restoration and salvation for all who believe in him.
• Read Numbers 21:4-9. When has your complaining distorted your sense of reality? How do you maintain a sense of God’s presence?
• Read Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22. Consider implementing a practice of rising from sleep to give God thanks and to call to mind the many ways God works in your life.
• Read Ephesians 2:1-10. Does your sense of God’s salvation engender a sense of grace within you and a desire to do good? Why or why not?
• Read John 3:14-21. Do you consider yourself a creature of light or darkness? Why?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
View a growing list of resources for the spiritual work of overcoming racism.