Today in our study I would like to share with you a way which will absolutely guarantee that you can turn your life into a total and complete disaster. To illustrate how we can live disastrously, like a prairie chicken instead of an eagle, we will focus on a series of events from the lives of the people of Israel in Numbers 10-12.
How Do We Turn Our Lives Into a Disaster?
Here we will discover ways that guarantee we can turn our lives into a total disaster, and hopefully at the same time encourage us not to go that way.
Before I teach you how to be a disaster, let’s review what we have seen.
The children of Israel, as we already stated, had come out of Egypt where they had been for some 400 years. (This was a very exciting time for Israel.) Since passing through the Red Sea, they had spent almost 13 months at Mount Sinai. Numbers 10-11 begin with the breaking of the camp at Sinai in the wilderness.
In our last study in Numbers 13-14, we saw how the children of Israel made a huge mistake by refusing to go into the land the Lord had promised to them. Their rebellion was sparked because they sent in 12 spies to scout out the land and 10 of the 12 returned with a very negative report. Essentially, the 10 negative reports exaggerated the conditions of the land and the size of the people, and caused the Israelites to be fearful and to be like prairie chickens.
There was a bright spot in the story, however—the two spies who brought back the good report and urged their fellow Jews to go into the Promised Land. Joshua and Caleb were our "good report" heroes, our eagles, but sadly were outvoted. Those of you who have had a chance to read this book have found some portions of it to be boring, and others to be even more boring, even discouraging, or maddening. There are a few great moments in the book, but the rest can be pretty dreary.
When we read this history, it is very easy to say, "What in the world does this have to do with me? What does this dusty old history have to do with my life?" The Scripture answers these questions for us when it essentially says the lives of the people of Israel are examples for us: negative examples.
- 1 Cor. 10:6—"Now these things occurred as examples [or types] to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did."
- 1 Cor. 10:11—"These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come."
- 1 Cor. 10:12—"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!"
So what in the world does this have to do with us? If we want to be careful that we don’t fall or fail spiritually, then studying these examples can be warnings or preventative medicine for us. Reflecting on Israel’s history can also enlighten us as to how God works in the lives of all people. Studying this history instructs about what we are to do and not do!
The Context of the Book of Numbers
With that encouragement and review in mind, let’s look at the context of Numbers 13-14. Last time as we studied chapters 13 and 14 of Numbers, I kept asking myself a number of questions. For example, if these are examples for us, why did the people of Israel make such a blunder and not enter into the land? What can we learn from this? Why were they so negative? Why did they choose to live on such an inferior plain? Maybe most importantly, how did they get to the point that they had so little faith?
These questions are answered as we look at the chapters preceding Numbers 13-14, in which Israel was following a pattern of behavior that had been honed by their previous experiences. Look back with me at chapters 10-12 of Numbers.
The Three Stages of God’s Working in Our Lives
If we look at the sequence of events in Israel’s history from Egypt to the Promised Land, we can discern that God works with all His people in three stages: the Call, the Communion and the Conquest.
For Israel, it was a call out of Egypt through the miraculous events of the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. (See message entitled, "Between Compromise and Catastrophe.") For us, this call is accomplished through the miraculous victory of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are called out of our Egypt, our sin, through the waters of baptism; and that call is immediately followed by an intense time of communication.
Interestingly, God did not let His people go from Egypt into the Promised Land in simply a matter of a few weeks, which was very possible. He set them in Sinai. Why? Was God lost? Did He not know how to get there? Had He forgotten? Or was there perhaps a purpose for this route on which He was taking them?
I think we can conclude that there was a purpose: communion. The children of Israel might have been going where God wanted them to go, but God was most concerned that His people became the kind of people He wanted them to be, so when they got to the third stage they will be ready. The destination was not the key factor in this second stage of communion.
We consistently see this second stage in our lives as well. God will take us out of sin and set us at a place of communication, of communion, where we will be taught and prepared. He desires to bring us to a place of spiritual growth or maturity, so we will be prepared for the ultimate plan He has for our lives.
That ultimate plan finds it full expression in the last phase.
The conquest stage is easy to see in the lives of the people of Israel. God’s plan meant that they would enter into the Promised Land after a massive amount of communication was completed. In the conquest phase, God wanted Israel and us to enter into a victorious level, to live life on a new plane, to inherit the possessions, places and privileges we’ve never experienced before; to live life truly controlled by the Spirit.
It is between the second and third phases that we find Israel in Numbers 11—getting ready to enter into conquest. Think about what God had shown them in Exodus:
- His power through the plagues;
- His majesty through the parting of the Red Sea;
- His provision through the water and through the manna;
- the Law;
- a display of His power on top of Mt. Sinai;
- the tabernacle;
- the priesthood.
They had seen God move in fantastic ways in their lives, and you would think at this point they would be so confident of God’s glory and power that their lips would be filled with praise, thanksgiving and strong faith. Yet right here, at the beginning of chapter 11, we have these tragic words:
11:1—"Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord. And when He heard them His anger was aroused."
What were their complaints?
What hardships were they complaining about? It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to reconstruct their possible complaints.
- conditions at Sinai. They were experiencing the inhospitable conditions of the desert; it was dry, hot, no shade and no water.
- command to break camp. They had been at this place for a number of months, and now they had to pack everything up and get on the road again.
- close proximity to each other. Here were three million people all camped together. This was quite a crowd and probably little privacy!
Those may have been their complaints, but they could have taken another approach. They could have gotten up in the morning with:
A positive attitude; a thankful spirit
- They could have praised God for the cloud by day and the fire by night.
- They could have praised God for the order of the camp. This camp was arranged in a fantastic way; it was very orderly. Even the latrine system must have been amazing.
- They could have praised God for the Exodus, that they were now out of Egypt.
- They could have praised God for the destination of their journey. Now they could see they were going to go into the Promised Land. That which they had prepared for and had been promised to them, was now a short journey away!
The poor response and attitude
What an opportunity Israel had! They could have been filled with praise at this moment, yet the Israelites began to look around at all that was wrong instead of all that was right, and displayed a poor response/attitude. This is the first mention, the first inkling, of how we can turn our life into a disaster: a hard lesson that God has always wanted His people to see—Life is as we see it...as we perceive it.
For example, as believers, we can take the most difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves or are facing, and in Christ turn those circumstances into triumph, into praise. Or as believers, we can take the best possible circumstances and, with a spirit of complaining, turn our life into a disaster.
Someone has said, "What one approves another scorns and thus his nature each discloses. You find the rosebush full of thorns, I find the thornbush full of roses." It’s a matter of perspective... of what we are looking for. You see, our complaining is no small matter. There are some very negative consequences that follow.
I don’t care what our excuses are for being faithless and negative. We could say, "Listen, you don’t know what I’m going through. Things are tough. I’ve got every reason to complain." It may be true that you and I have plenty of trouble, but we should also understand that if we are committed followers of Jesus Christ and have experienced His love and grace, God takes our complaining very seriously.
In fact, as we read in Numbers 11:1 we find, "Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he (God) heard them his anger was aroused. "
God taked our complaining so seriously because all our complaining is ultimately against Him—Numbers 11:1; Exodus 16:8. I’m sure when we complain we don’t put it all together as complaining to God, but we need to understand that all of our complaining is against God and He reacts to those complaints.
The pattern of positive praise we see in Acts
Of course, the picture we see here in Numbers is just the opposite of the pattern of positive praise we see in the book of Acts. When the believers in Acts had difficult moments and had to sell their goods to take care of the poor and needy, what was their attitude? Did they complain about the hardships? No.
For example, as you read Acts 2:46-47 there is this phrase: "They broke bread in their homes and they ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God." I’m sure the food they were eating was no different than what they had as non-Christians. They had no special, spiritual food that warmed their stomachs and make them happy—no "happy" food.
They had the same food, but their perspective had changed. Jesus Christ had come into their lives and totally changed how they looked at their lives. In fact, we might say that in the book of Acts it was a trained reflex; when difficulties began, praise was also initiated. When Paul and Silas were in jail and in stocks at midnight, were they singing, "Oh lonesome me?"— Acts 16:25-26. No, they were having a praise concert, singing praises to God.
The pattern of contentment in our lives
As we look at the narratives in Acts and Numbers, how do our lives compare? What emerges as the pattern?
- Is your life full of complaints because you have established a pattern of focusing only on the negatives?
- Or is your life filled with praise and contentment because you have learned to see with eyes of faith?
- In other words, what is the focus of your attention as you look at your life?
I can promise you, if a spirit of complaint is unchecked, you will progress into deeper states of complaining, and maybe even bitterness or depression.
So let’s be even more specific and take a test:
- Let’s ask ourselves how we feel about our employment. When we think about our work, are our thoughts filled with complaints, or are we content?
- How about our family, mate, friends, roommate, church, school, the economy, the government, our finances; are we positive or negative?
- How about the aftermath of 9/11/01; are we distressed and not doing what we should do because of fear?
What is the focus of our attention? Is it negative or positive? Are we fearful or faith-filled? I really believe if we want to mature in Christ, we have to learn the secret of contentment. I’m not talking about being content with sin, weakness, abuse, terrorism, or Satan’s victory. When it comes to the vast majority of things that take place in our lives, however, contentment should be our goal, whether we live in plenty or in want. That’s in fact what Paul said:
Philippians 4:11—"I have learned to be content..." and later he goes on to say, "I have learned the secret of being content in all circumstances whether in plenty or in want."
I Timothy 6:6-10—"Godliness plus contentment is great gain."
Do you want to get ahead in life? Do you want to know what is really important in life? Here it is:
That is the formula, no matter the circumstances of our life. Godliness plus contentment equals great gain. (See also Hebrews 13:5.)
Now with the potential for contentment or complaint in mind, let’s look back at Numbers 11, and see what happens with Israel. Here we see:
The conclusion of this general spirit of complaining
11:lb-3—"...when he (God) heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the Lord burned among them andconsumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2] When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. 3] So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the Lord had burned among them."
Did you hear the name? The place of murmuring is called "Taberah" or "burning." The fire comes down from God and begins to burn the perimeter of the camp. It was obviously a warning. Now I think that if we were complaining and then looked out our windows and saw fire from God coming towards our house, most of us would stop our negativity. It should get our attention, but apparently not always. This incident illustrates a powerful lesson:
Complaining always makes matters worse.
Complaining always burns things up and blinds our judgment. We’ll see a greater illustration of that as we move on.
If complaining is the first step in making life a disaster, praise is the first step in turning life around for good. We have a choice; we can turn our lives into a total disaster, or we can take the difficult circumstances of our lives and turn them into praise. Turning our circumstances into praise is so important, because it will prepare us to enter into that place of conquest God has for us.
How tragic it was that right before the conquest came, Israel missed it. How often we, too, miss our opportunities because we don’t continue to move forward and trust God, praising Him in difficult circumstances. I’ve discovered over and over that just before that final entrance into victory, God tests His people.
For example, as a nation our security is being tested, and that test will go on for some time. As a result, we will discover what we are made of; what our values are; whether we will let fear destroy us.
As a church, our future ministry is going to be tested. In our Legacy campaign (giving for our new facility), for example, we have a huge challenge before us. We are being tested in our weekly offerings. Are we going to be faithless because of a downturn in the economy? Are we going to stop giving because we are frightened or have other priorities? Churches and nonprofit organizations all over the country are struggling because a lot of funds are going to other concerns/needs in our nation, e.g., New York.
This last week I was visiting my son’s church where he is on staff, and the pastor shared that they were $120,000 behind in their yearly budget. This is a congregation almost twice our size, and he said this is the first time in his 20+ years he has seen this kind of financial challenge. We are facing a financial challenge that needs to be met before the end of the year as well.
I want to be honest, I’ve already heard that some people feel we aren’t going to make it. There is the potential we will have to cut programs, and maybe lay off some staff.
I don’t believe it. We can make it. We can give to meet the needs of this church, and no terrorist attack or unstable economy needs to keep us from moving forward.
We face great challenges and tests here at Hillcrest Chapel, but you should understand, we also believe that by March 2003 we have the potential of seeing God accomplish many wonderful things.
Here is our Promised Land, if we all act in faith and not give way to fear. By March 2003 our prayer is that:
- We will have our building built and have approximately three months of operation.
- We will be ministering to anywhere from 250-1,000 new people, many of which we are praying are new converts.
- We will have a huge increase in small groups, ministry opportunities, influence and visibility in our community.
- We will add substantially more givers and increase our budget.
- All the while we will be maintaining our missions emphasis and current and expanded programs.
Right now our staff is planning for and praying about what the church will look like at the end of 2002 and the first few months of 2003. In my 24 years here at Hillcrest, this will be the biggest challenge we have faced. We are working hard to make sure that what we love about our church is preserved, strengthened and matured. We want to plan for the training and maturity of new converts, as well as regular attenders. We want to see our programs from infancy to college strengthened and fully funded.
But I want you to understand, the staff can’t pull this off. We are going to need everyone in this church to make this entrance into the new phase of our church life. Should we expect opposition, struggles, complaints, mistakes, challenges? Of course. The enemy doesn’t want us to grow and mature. Will it be an impossible task? No, but it will test the fibre and faith of this congregation.
I believe we are equal to the task before us, and as a congregation will show enormous strength, wisdom and faith as we move forward. Are you ready? Yes, I believe in you. I believe we are going to be like Caleb and Joshua and not the 10 complaining and fearful spies. We have some pretty big giants before us; but my encouragement is, let’s soar!
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