Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Will You Complain or Praise?

The Israelites complained against God and Moses in the first reading today. They said in Numbers 21:5, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!”

Let’s recall what happened before the Israelites got to this point.

First, they were slaves in Egypt. Then, God delivered them from slavery through His servant Moses. God performed miracles through Moses to convince the pharaoh to let them go. (Exodus 7-12) Second, when the Israelites marched out of Egypt and pharaoh decided to pursue them with his soldiers, God saved the Israelites again through Moses by parting the Red Sea so they can cross and walk on dry land while fleeing the Egyptians. (Exodus 14) Third, when they were in the desert of Shur and they complained about the bitter water, Moses prayed to God and God transformed the bitter water so it would be fit to drink. Fourth, when the Israelites were at the desert of Sin and they complained again to Moses and Aaron, God chose to be gracious to them and provided for them food to eat. They said, “We wish that the Lord had killed us in Egypt. There we could at least sit down and eat meat and as much other food as we wanted. But you have brought us out into this desert to starve us all to death.” (Exodus 16:3) Even though they complained against God and His servants Moses and Aaron, the Lord still gave them manna and quails everyday for forty years until they reached the land of Canaan.

Do you think that the Israelites stopped complaining after all these miracles and provisions from God? NO. When they camped at Rephidim and they discovered there was no water for them to drink, they complained again to Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? To kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3) When Moses was at Mount Sinai talking to God, the Israelites felt that he was taking too long, so they asked Aaron to make them a gold bull-calf that they can worship as God. They even said that it was the god who led them out of Egypt! (Exodus 32) When twelve spies were sent to explore the land of Canaan or the Promised Land and ten of the spies spread fear to the Israelites, the Israelites complained again. They were so afraid that in their distress they complained to Moses and Aaron again. “It would have been better to die in Egypt or even here in the wilderness! Why is the Lord taking us to that land? We will be killed in battle, and our wives and children will be captured. Wouldn’t it be better to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:2-3) What's more, they said to one another, “Let’s choose a leader and go back to Egypt!” (Numbers 14:4)

So you see now that even after God has performed miracle after miracle to the Israelites and answered their many prayers, they kept on complaining to God whenever they encountered a challenge or problem and whenever following God through their leader Moses became inconvenient for them. Whenever they faced challenges or inconveniences, they easily forgot the blessings and miracles God gave them.

God already spoke His punishment to them after they have complained to Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb after the spies to Canaan came back. God told them that those who rejected Him by complaining and rejecting the leaders He has chosen will not enter the Promised Land. (Numbers 14) Do you think the people learned their lesson?

The first reading today will tell you.

Just before they got to Mount Hor, God enabled the Israelites to win over the Canaanite king of Arad in the southern part of Canaan. And yet, here they go again complaining against God and Moses.

Why do you think did they keep on complaining when God had been faithful in helping them? Could it be that they did not trust God or their leader whom God has chosen to lead them? Could it be that their faith was not big and deep enough to endure their inconveniences and problems? Why were they quick to forget God’s miracles and blessings to them? Could it be that they did not meditate and ponder these things in their hearts? Could it be that they did not they much time to celebrate and praise God for these things? Could it be that they did not talk about these miracles and blessings often in their assemblies? Could it be that they had different expectations on how God would deliver them from the Egyptians and bring them to the Promised Land?

What can we learn from the Israelites? What should we do so that we do not commit the same mistakes that they committed?

First, we need to spend ample time praising and thanking God for the blessings and miracles we received from Him. But we should not only do this whenever good things come our way. We should do this regularly and even when we face problems and challenges. When we do this, we will be focusing more on our blessings and the miracles God gave us instead of our problems. One mistake that the Israelites made was that after a miracle was performed for them by God, they chose to dwell on their inconveniences and problems instead of on the miracle that just happened. Since they focused on their inconveniences and problems, they got magnified. All of a sudden, they felt that their inconveniences and problems are so big and insolvable that they just want to go back being slaves.

Second, prayer and praise should be our first recourse instead of complaining. When we are faced with challenges, it is so tempting to complain first. But that will not help our situation. It will just magnify our problem. So, when faced with a problem, let’s kneel down before our God in prayer. Let’s choose to praise Him even when our circumstances do not support our decision to praise Him. Let us pray and praise God unceasingly, in good times and in bad. For though we have problems surrounding us, we still have a big reason to praise God. That one reason is that He is our God! When we remember who our God is and His qualities, our hearts will be filled with praise, thanksgiving, hope and peace. We would remember that our God is bigger than any of our problems and that He will provide for all our needs. We would remember that He loves us and that He doesn’t waste our tears. Our perception of our problems or challenges will change when we spend ample time in prayer. We will receive direction and wisdom from God when we spend time to listen to Him and ask Him what His will is. Let us focus our eyes on the cross and our Lord Jesus Christ and find strength and courage in Him. When we pray, we open ourselves to God’s graces. In prayer, we grow in faith and tap into God’s power.

Third, let us humble ourselves and trust not only God but also the leaders He has chosen to lead us. When the Israelites complained against Moses, they were actually complaining against God because Moses was just carrying out God’s instructions for His people. When they spoke angry words to Moses, they actually spoke angry words to God, for Moses was simply God’s spokesperson or representative to the Israelites.

So the next time you face inconveniences or challenges in following the Lord, will you complain or praise Him? Let us learn from the experience of the Israelites.

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