But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”
Exodus 17:3 (NRSVCE)
It’s been so much fun over the past six months to watch our grandson, Milo, as he’s made so many developmental leaps. He’s carrying on actual conversations. He’s making discoveries and connections. His vocabulary is growing exponentially. He’s learning all about dinosaurs (and will be happy to share). He’ll even demonstrate a T-Rex roar if you ask.
Of course, with this stage of development also comes the natural human penchant for whining. The repeated wailing at loud decibel levels. Emotions run amok and bereft of any governor of logic or reason. The passionate translation of momentary light affliction into problems of heinous and lethal proportions.
One of my observations along life’s journey is that humans have a penchant for whining at every stage of life, it just looks different in adults than it does in childhood. It transforms from emotional tantrums in children to adults wallowing in grumbling, complaining, and lament. Please don’t read what I’m not writing. I’m not making an editorial comment about current events.
In today’s chapter, the Hebrew nation (remember 1-2 million people and livestock) is camping in the wilderness. There is a lack of readily available water. So they grumble and complain to Moses to the point that Moses is afraid they’re going to stone him to death. What I noticed in this was the pattern that has been emerging:
They grumbled when Moses’ first meeting with Pharaoh resulted in more work and persecution. God miraculously sent the plagues and delivered them from slavery.
They grumbled when they were caught between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea. God miraculously parted the Red Sea, swallowed up their oppressors, and delivered them from their enemies.
They grumbled when they feared there wasn’t enough food for everyone as they entered the wilderness. God miraculously sent quail and manna to provide daily sustenance and delivered them from hunger.
Today they grumble because there isn’t enough water…
I see the pattern.
One of the most difficult spiritual lessons I’ve learned along my journey is that spiritual maturity requires that we respond to difficult circumstances with gratitude, praise, and trust:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! (John 16:33)
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings… (Rom 5:3)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds… (James 1:2)
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials… (1 Peter 1:6)
…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:18)
Earlier in this chapter-a-day journey through Exodus, I was reminded that this entire Exodus epic was about God wanting the Hebrew people to know Him. He heard their cries. He was acting to deliver them. He wanted a relationship with them.
In my own spiritual journey, I’ve learned that my knowledge of God doesn’t increase when things are easy, when everything is going my way, and when I am sitting pretty in life. Paul said in his letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome that in the end there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love.
Faith is only developed when trusting and believing is a necessity because circumstances are uncertain. Like when you’re stuck between a sea and your enemies.
Hope is only developed when the outcome is uncertain. Like when there’s not enough water.
Love is developed when there is an exchange between two parties in which protection, trust, hope, and perseverance through difficulty are experienced.
The evidence of the Hebrews’ repeated whining suggests that there is little spiritual or relational development happening on their end. Get ready. This pattern is going to continue.
In the quiet this morning, I’m left contemplating my own spiritual journey and spiritual development. Do I grumble perpetually, or have I learned to trust? Do I whine about my circumstances, or have I learned to have faith that God has something for me to learn in them? Am I mired in gloom and pessimism thinking that God is going to pull the rug out from underneath me, or am I hope-full that God is leading me to good places on this journey and there is a Promised Land ahead?
I’d like to say that I’m perfectly exemplifying the latter of these, but I confess I’m not. I have made progress, though, if I think back to where I was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. That’s called development. Hopefully, I have grown out of the spiritual child stage and am gaining some maturity. I’m reminded this morning that this is a journey. A journey is about progress, not perfection.
And so, I’m lacing them up at the beginning of this another day. Time to press on into faith, hope, and love.
May the God of Love bless you where ever you find yourself on life’s road today.