Here’s one thing I learned in Africa: don’t become too attached to your plans, since they may change at any moment. When getting to school or work depends upon finding water for your family, leaving without breakfast, using unreliable, malfunctioning public transportation and walking in the rain, it’s not unusual to be late. It takes diligence, enormous energy, and the right motivation to get to your destination on time. Here in America, we are held to a standard by our doctors or lawyers who charge late fees if we don’t show up for our appointments on time or have to reschedule after struggling with traffic for up to two hours if there is a jam. So there are times when our plans don’t work out as we expect, but in America, many people believe they have a right to get their way even when circumstances are beyond anyone’s control. This week I was in a physician’s waiting room when a couple exploded in anger because the husband couldn’t be treated as expected. No one was in control of the man’s sugar level, and the doctor wanted to protect him from a possible complication of going forward with a procedure. Rather than accept the situation, and appreciate the doctor’s concern, they thought the physician was unreasonable. I don’t know what it took for them to get to the office, but I do know that their intense reaction to their circumstance caused the staff and the patients do lose our peace for a few minutes. It just so happens that I had been working on my outline for this post when the disruption occurred. So by the grace of God and his Spirit in me, rather than worry, I was grateful to be the next to be seen by the doctor, whom I know to be a gentle, loving Christian. We had a lovely conversation about how God might use the man’s experience to help him watch his blood sugar more closely and how doctors are not magicians. Jesus was the One whom he needed to help him with his fears and anger. We were calmed and grateful for God’s plans, rather than man’s. On the way home, I prayed that the couple would later be convicted and thank God for his protection.
In the Book of Numbers, we find a similar episode, when the leaders of Israel questioned Moses’s and Aaron’s leadership, grumbling after the Lord put to death Korah and his family. So God provided a supernatural proof of his choice of Aaron as their High Priest, to convince the people to stop complaining and opposing His leaders. He instructed Moses to have all the family heads supply a staff to be put into the holiest place, saying that one would bud, proving that he was God’s chosen priest. “On the next day, Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds.” (Numbers 17:8) Did the people of Israel quiet down and accept God’s will for their leadership? Oh no, they focused only on the restriction that God placed on them after Aaron’s staff was stored in the tabernacle. “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.’ Thus did Moses; as the Lord commanded him, so he did. And the people of Israel said to Moses, ‘Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord, shall die. Are we all to perish?’” (Numbers 17:10-13)
The idea that we will stop complaining if we get our way is a product of our corrupted thinking and the sin in our hearts. And yet, we grumble and complain when our plans are disrupted, or someone won’t give us something we have “a right” to receive.* But if we genuinely believe that God is sovereign, good, and trustworthy, which he is, then we would be grateful for every time that he restrains us, prevents us from dangers, or redirects our plans. Twice this week, my plans changed on the day they were scheduled. Both times I saw how the Lord redirected me to do something different, that proved to be hard at first, but a real benefit and blessing afterward. Why didn’t the Israelites get it? Well, for one thing, they didn’t have the Holy Spirit living in them as we Christians do, to help us yield to God’s ways and timing. They also didn’t have the sacrificial atonement of Christ to look back on, to see how His greatest suffering provided the incredible gift of salvation. Having our plans not work out is microscopically inconvenient compared to the immense suffering of our Savior, who prayed “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42) Oh, would we pray this when such small disruptions come our way!
God used a miracle when he caused Aaron’s dead staff to produce blossoms, leaves, and buds all at the same time, overnight, from dead wood, at a time when almond trees don’t bloom. The fullness of God’s miracles reminds us of the abundance of his grace. We don’t need a miracle to find peace amid change since we already have Christ, who is the object of the miracle—bringing what is dead to new life through his incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. The Israelites could have had great peace, having the matter resolved, by looking to the Lord’s sovereign protection, but they focused instead on their fears. Instead of delighting in the magnificence of Aaron’s beautiful blossoming staff, they were stuck in their obduracy. They might have celebrated God’s grace to provide proof of his presence with them, which would be the opposite of their grumbling and opposition. They were like the Pharisees, described in Luke 15:2, “And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” Wouldn’t it have been better to be like Zacchaeus, who was thrilled to receive Jesus at his home? (See Luke 19:4-7) God’s restraint of the Israelites from approaching his tabernacle reminds us that no one can approach God unless Jesus draws them to himself, and that will always be through death to ourselves, to live for, with, and through him. (See Numbers 1:51 and John 6:44.)
When do you grumble and complain? Keep in mind that grieving, sadness, and regret are not at issue here, but opposing the will of God as he works in our circumstances is the focus. When we doubt God to work for our good and the good of others, we lose our peace and therefore, our joy. But “The hope of the righteous brings joy…” (Proverbs 10:28a) Do you trust God to know what is best? Will you look to Christ and the Holy Spirit to help you accept things beyond your control, supplying the peace you want?
*If you are plagued by your inability to flex when you can’t get your way, you may want to read, “Have We No Rights?” by Mabel Williamson. Although the book is described as one for missionaries, it is appropriate for all Christians. A free download is available at https://manybooks.net/titles/williamsonm2452824528-8.htmlJune 6, 2019