“From Mount Hor the children of Israel set out on the Red Sea road, to bypass the land of Edom. But with their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, “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!” (Numbers 21:4-5)
If there is one thing our country is good at, it is complaining. We are a nation born of protest, from the Boston Tea Party forward. It is a national flaw, but it was also in Israel at the time of Moses. The Jews had seen the hand of God in the 10 plagues that had finally set them free from their slavery in Egypt. Why did God set them free? The most important reason was that Pharaoh would not allow them to keep the Sabbath. The Sabbath was ordained by God to allow the Jews to fulfill the Third Commandment, Remember to keep Holy the Sabbath.” Keeping the Sabbath meant allowing the Jews to go off and worship God.
Today, Sabbath to us means Mass on Saturday or Sunday. However, this has become a lax thing in many people’s lives. We no longer have the “Blue Laws” in the United States. As a result of people not going to church, people also become lax in prayer. When we become lax in prayer, we take our eyes off of God and start looking at the circumstances.
That is what happened to the Jews on the way to the Promised Land. Physically, one could walk from Egypt to Cana, the Promised Land, in about 10 days. However, it took the Jews 40 years. Why? Because of what we read in this passage from Numbers. They complained that they had no food. They complained that they had no water. They complained about the environment. They attacked Moses who was the representative of God, thereby attacking God.
God became angry and sent seraph serpents that would bite them and they would die. Today, we still use
the expression, “I was snake-bit.” Fortunately we have a “life-lesson” here from what the Jews experienced. They repented of their sin and went to Moses, saying, “We have sinned in complaining against the Lord and you…”
Today, we look at complaining as a constitutional guarantee of free speech. When we complain against the authorities in our lives, we complain against the authority in our life — God.
I frequently hear people say, “I know I should be grateful that I have a job, but my boss is a jerk.” Or, “I don’t like the way my coworkers treat me.” We do not have the spiritual integrity the Jews had in that we have no sense that complaining against our superiors and our circumstances is complaining against God. Because we can not come and say we have sinned against God and against our employers or coworkers, we cannot petition God to forgive us and heal us. God uses circumstances to bring about his will in our lives to teach us obedience and trust.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, they realize the importance of letting go of anger and resentment. Here is what they teach:
[A]acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.
Until I could accept the circumstances of my life, I could not find peace of mind; unless I accept life completely, on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes (Emphasis added, Adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous, Big Book p. 449)
One person who certainly could complain about the circumstances of is life was St. Paul. He worked extraordinarily hard to bring the Gospel to many different countries. He certainly should have been given honor, respect, and support in his efforts. Instead, he was beaten, almost drowned in a shipwreck, and was brought before the Roman authorities as a rabble rouser. Here is what he had to say in his letter to the Philippians: I rejoice greatly in the Lord that now at last you revived your concern for me. You were, of course, concerned about me but lacked an opportunity. Not that I say this because of need, for I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress” (Philippians 4:10-14). Now, there is attitude!
What are your circumstances today? Are you employed? Underemployed? or unemployed? Take a moment to get a pencil and paper and write down five things you are truly grateful to God for having given you. Here is a simple prayer I started praying over 35 years ago. It has changed my life, not my circumstances:
THANK YOU PRAYER
For all that you have given to me, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For all that you have withdrawn, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For all that you have permitted, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For all that you have forgiven me, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For all that you have prepared for me, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For all that you have prepared me for, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For the death that you have chosen for me, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For all my strengths, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For all my weaknesses, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For the place you have prepared in heaven for me, THANK YOU, JESUS.
For having created me to serve you for all eternity, THANK YOU, JESUS.
You are now on your journey to the Promised Land.