Sunday, June 3, 2012

How to Love Someone Who Complains

Have you ever had a friend or relative who complained about everything big and small from the weather to the price of pasta to the depth of potholes in the highway?  Every time you get together, you know the conversation will be one-sided as you listen to her grumbling.

Chronic complaining probably put a strain on your relationship to the point where you began screening her phone calls, avoiding places you knew she frequented regularly.  Or maybe you even went so far as to duck in a store when you caught a glimpse of her face, pretending you didn't see her.

If there were no blood tie holding you two together, you probably parted ways.  And yet, such a one-sided relationship is what I see between Moses and God's chosen people.

Moses must have loved the Israelites. 

The Israelites, though, didn't deserve Moses' love.  Almost every conversation recorded in Scripture between Moses and the people involves them grumbling at him and about him.  Sometimes, they blamed God for their trials, but more often, they directed their anger and blame at Moses' feet, demanding he fix the problem he had created.

This angry grumbling began as soon as they reached the Red Sea, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?" (Ex. 14:11, my italics).

Moses did not flinch at this grumbling born out of fear.  Instead, he encouraged the people to watch God work.  Then, although Scripture doesn't record such a prayer, Moses must have prayed because the next verse reads, "Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on" (Ex. 14:15).  

Evidently, Moses prayed to the Lord on the Israelites' behalf, an action that began a pattern of the people grumbling and Moses praying, going to the Lord on their behalf.

Later, when there was no water, the Israelites again "grumbled against Moses" (Ex. 15:24).  And again, "Moses cried out to the Lord" on their behalf (v. 25).

When the people tired of walking in the wilderness as well as tired of eating quail and manna, "they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!'" (Num 21:5).

In response, God sent poisonous snakes in their midst until the people repented.  And again, "Moses prayed for the people" (Num. 21:7).

Yes, there was that time when Moses lost his temper with the whole lot of them, an outburst that cost him the privilege of his feet touching the land of milk and honey.  There was the time when he chunked two God-engraved tablets at the foot of the mountain as his "anger burned" at their inconstancy (Ex. 32:19).  There were plenty of times when speaking to the Lord that he referred to the Israelites as "your people."  

And yet, Moses constantly interceded for them.

Perhaps the greatest tests of Moses' love for this people came as they danced 'round a golden calf and as they refused to enter Canaan.  With the former, God said, "Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation” (Ex. 32:10).

And when they feared Canaan's inhabitants more than Him, God said, " I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they" (Num. 14:12).

In both these instances, God expressed a desire to wipe out all His people and start over again with Moses.  Imagine!  One word and he could be free from these grumblers as well as have an eternal nation that would trace its roots all back to him!  What honor!

And yet, in both cases, Moses said no, begged God to guard His glory among the nations, to be true to His promises to Abraham, to be true to His character.  He asked, "'In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.' The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked." (Num. 14:19-20).

At the very end of his life, his prayer to the Lord was still for God's people: "May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community  to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd." (Num. 27:16-17).

How could Moses love these ungrateful people so very much such that they were the last thing on his mind as he prepared to die?  I believe the answer lies in Moses' prayer life.

He prayed for these people.  He interceded for them constantly, meeting with the Lord on their behalf, petitioning for their very lives at times. 

As far as I can tell, Moses' praying for this people didn't change them, didn't stop them from grumbling against him. Yet, I strongly believe his constant intercessory prayer life, face to face with God almighty, changed Moses' heart for this people.

Matthew 5:44 states, "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven."

Consider this verse in light of Moses' prayer life: when we pray for an enemy, a grumbler, a complainer--it may not change that person in the slightest.  And yet, praying for that person will change us, making us more merciful, more compassionate...more like the God we serve.

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