Word of Encouragement (07/27/2022)
And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Ex. 16:2-3)
Here is another example of how not to pray. I think the reason is obvious. But I’d like to point out something surprising: God does not rebuke them or punish them; while He duly notes that they were grumbling against Him (Ex. 16:12), He provides them with manna and quail. Here is one thing we learn from this: just because we get what we want doesn’t mean that we prayed the right way. At one extreme, we know that God gives people what they want as their punishment: “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions...” (Rom. 1:26, NASB). Hell is the ultimate expression of this, isn’t it? Since sinners don’t want any fellowship with God, He casts them away from His presence into hell, where they are totally deprived of God’s goodness.
Also, God gives what people need out of His grace, not because they deserve it. This is true not only of believers but also of unbelievers (God’s common grace for all). As God gives what we didn’t ask, God can give even when we asked without much sincerity and with a wrong attitude (as was the case with the Israelites on this occasion)! So, even though God granted them manna and quails, we can still see how wrong it was for them to pray in this way (if we can call it that!). If fact, they did not even ask God for food; they lamented about what they lacked and, in the process, accused God of bringing them out of Egypt only to kill them in the wilderness!
But before we cast the stone of judgment at them, we should be honest enough to admit that we entertain similar thoughts at times. Maybe you regret making a particular decision in the past and you are angry at God for not stopping you. It may even be about your marriage: as you suffer through a marital problem, you may be blaming God for your unhappiness. Some are tempted to abandon Christianity altogether because they think their lives got harder. (This was the temptation some Jewish Christians faced when they encountered persecution for their newfound faith and it was the reason the Book of Hebrews was written.)
These thoughts demonstrate the blinding and embittering power of sin. How they remembered their lives were in Egypt was tragically selective. They remembered how they used to eat meat and bread in Egypt well enough, but they forgot how difficult their lives were as slaves. (Didn’t God send Moses to deliver them precisely because “Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God” and “God remembered their groaning...” [Ex. 2:23-24]?) This is an easy trap to fall into. We romanticize our past because it is in the past, including the pain. The present seems so much worse because we are feeling the pain. We also overestimate what “the other choice” might have done for us. Because of the hardship we are going through, we automatically think that the other choice would have made everything better. That may very well be true but the opposite may be true as well: the other choice could have made things so much worse and God might have protected us from further pain by allowing us to make the choice we did. (Of course, the good God is always working in us is for our eternal benefit, which often accompanies trials in this life.)
The Bible does not forbid us from voicing even the sinful or unhealthy thoughts we have about our life or God. God already knows them all; we should be honest before God. But we must also question what our motivation is. We can, and we should feel free to, bring up an issue in any relationship. But it is one thing to do it to improve the relationship, but it is another to do it just to lash out in anger or to justify ourselves for ending the relationship. The same applies to our relationship with God.
I hope you are not bitter against God for anything. If you are, I hope you don’t allow yourself to be in that dangerous place where you begin to care less and less about God. It is foolish to take the Fountain of living water for granted to the point that the broken cisterns of the world seem more desirable and fulfilling to you. Cry out to God to change your heart and open your eyes to see the spiritual reality. And if you are feeling grateful to God, express it in words and deeds to the Lord. Memorialize it in your journal. Give a special offering of thanksgiving to God or donate to a charity. Express your gratitude to those around you. Engage in random acts of kindness to your family members, fellow saints, or even strangers.