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Grumble Grumble

Grumble Grumble

“That’s not fair.” 

“But I should get to go.” 

“How come she gets to do that but I don’t?”

I hear statements like these from my kids frequently. I often get to play referee between two siblings both demanding that their way or desire is better. Or sometimes the complaint is directed at me and what I am, or am not, letting them do. It can be exhausting.

But when I think about it, these statements are not just ones I hear from my children. I hear them from adults around me. I hear it in movies, from celebrities, and even sometimes from believers I look up to.

And then, when I look deeper, I realize that I, too, am guilty of complaining. Maybe not always out loud, but definitely in my heart and mind. I also still have some growing up to do in the area of grumbling.  

 

Learning from the Past

In a women’s Bible study I studied salvation stories from the Old Testament. It was so good! The story that stood out to me the most is the serpent on the pole from Numbers 21. Are you familiar with this one? It’s not a typical Old Testament story that we learned in Sunday School, but it holds a very important lesson for us today.

The Israelites are in their last years of wilderness wandering before entering the Promised Land. They often grumbled about God and Moses through these 40 years. But amazingly, God always answered and provided for their needs. He gave them water from a rock and provided manna and quail. He led them through the desert. 

But once again, the people are unhappy. They are hot. They are tired. They are impatient. They are thirsty and probably want more to eat than manna. Instead of crying out to God and asking him to provide, what do they do? They grumble and complain. 

The Israelites accuse God and Moses of leading them to the desert to die. They also complain about the food that’s provided. As a parent, I know it does not feel good when my kids complain about the food I’ve made for them. 

God has been so patient with his people who frequently grumbled about his plans. This time, however, he sends poisonous snakes among the people and many die. Whoa! 

Why did he do this? Why did it have to be snakes? There are many amazing theological possibilities for this specific question of “why snakes” and I’d encourage you to dig into it if you’re curious…but I want to consider what could have been a better response for the Israelites.

 

An Alternative to Grumbling

Were the Israelites wrong to be grumpy and impatient? I think I would have felt very similar if I’d been living in tents as a nomad in the wilderness for 40 years eating the same thing every day. The emotions they were feeling were not sin. They sinned by choosing to grumble. So what could have been a better way for them to respond?

When we are sad, impatient, frustrated with circumstances, lonely, or scared, the Bible teaches us that we can go to the Lord with lament. We do not need to grumble or complain, we can take our worries and cares to the One who cares the most and lay it all out before him.

What is the difference between lamenting and grumbling? That is the question I’ve been wrestling with since studying this story from Numbers 21. 

Grumbling is talking to others about your disappointment with God. Lament is talking with God about your disappointment. 

Grumbling goes to others. Lament goes to God.

Grumbling is talking about God. Lament is talking to God.

So many times in the psalms we read the words “How long, Oh Lord?” The authors are crying out to God for relief. For help and rescue from whatever circumstances they were in. If we take our sadness and impatience to the Lord and cry out to him, we are inviting him into the situation. We are opening our hearts to him to work in us. We are crying out to the only One who can help us and change us. 

 

Not Always the Answer We Want

Lamenting is not a magical prayer that makes God give us what we want. The Israelites ended up confessing their sin in Numbers 21, and pleaded for the snakes to be taken away. But God did not take the snakes away. Instead he provided a way for the people to be healed if they chose to look up at a brass snake mounted on a pole. God did not answer their prayers like they asked, but he did give them a way out. A way to be saved.

When we spend time in lament, we are inviting God in and crying out to him for help. We are choosing to look to Jesus, who was mounted up on a cross and died for us. He knows pain and sorrow. He wants to walk alongside us in our grief and disappointment. When we look up to him, he offers us rescue. It might not be in the way we expect, but he is faithful to be with us in whatever comes.

 

Praising God Even in Times of Lament 

At the end of Lamentations 3, after many verses of lament and crying out to God, the author says Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! I say, “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in him.”

What if the Israelites had chosen to lament instead of grumble? They could have said “How long, oh Lord, will we wander in this wilderness? How long, oh Lord, will we have only manna to eat? Lord deliver us to the promised land you promised to us. You are faithful, God Almighty, and you will be faithful to your promises.” Even when we are in despair, and crying out to God, we can end our laments by claiming the faithfulness of God. 

1 Corinthians 10 encourages us to learn from the sin of the grumbling Israelites. It says, Let us not test Christ as some of them did and were destroyed by snakes. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer. These things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.

Let’s be a people who learn from the Israelites and not grumble and test Christ. Let’s take our grief to the Lord in prayers of lament and with open hands. He is faithful and hears our prayers. He is worthy of our trust. He is worthy of it all.

Morning Walks with MeiMei

Morning Walks with MeiMei

We got a puppy! Finally after 12 years of marriage, 3 children, 5 moves, and lots of rigorous discussion and negotiation, we got our first family pet. We went all in and decided to do the puppy thing. Telling our kids the news that we were getting a puppy was a precious moment we will never forget. Then came the fun of dreaming up names, deciding which pup we wanted from the litter, and finally planning the trip to go pick her up.

We chose the name MeiMei (which is Mandarin for “little sister”) and were quite smitten with her from the beginning. But, for those of you who have experienced puppy life, you know that it’s no joke! The house training, nibbling everything, and crying at night was exhausting! But even with the sacrifice of time, money, and sleep, we still have had so many joy-filled moments with this new little pup we brought into our family.

 

New Beginnings

We had four months to wait from when we decided to get a puppy to when we actually brought her home. During that time we all had something different we were looking forward to about having a dog. For my son, it was having someone to always play with in the backyard. For my girls, it was looking forward to the cuddles. For my husband, it was the companionship and being greeted at the door when arriving home. For me, I was looking forward to taking walks with my dog.

Not only were we preparing for a new stage of life with a pet, but we were also about to enter a new stage of family life. This fall my youngest started kindergarten, so we now officially have all school-aged children. It is bittersweet and I’m still adjusting to the new rhythm. But, a huge blessing that has come with getting a puppy, and with kids being in school, has been my morning walks with MeiMei.

I knew I was excited about starting the routine of going on morning walks, but I did not know how big an impact it would have on each day and the week as a whole. It has become a time of refreshment for my soul. A quiet way to start the day. I am so grateful for that time…for my morning walks with MeiMei.

 

Gratitude in the Little Things

I know not all of us have the luxury of starting off the day with a lovely walk with a really cute puppy. But I do believe that each of us has little things in our day that can lead us to hearts of gratitude. As we choose to notice these little things and allow our hearts to be filled with gratitude, our joy increases! When our joy increases, we have more capacity to love well, have more patience, are in a better place mentally, and many other positive side effects.

The Bible is full of verses about thankfulness, and we know it is important to be grateful, but it is easy to get bogged down in the day to day mundane moments. What if we actually let some of these verses guide us to have hearts of gratitude throughout the day?

Ephesians 5:20giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….
When you are enjoying that cup of coffee, that is a good gift from the Lord! Enjoy it and thank him for it.

Psalm 118:24 This is the day the Lord has made; let’s rejoice and be glad in it.
When you walk to your car and feel a refreshing breeze, give praise to God! He has made this beautiful day.

Psalm 95:2 Let’s enter his presence with thanksgiving; let’s shout triumphantly to him in song.
When a song plays on the radio that stirs your soul, give him praise.

1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
When the babies are finally asleep and you can breathe, or shower, or eat, praise the Lord for giving you your babies, but also praise him for the gift of quiet.

 

The Choice of Gratitude

Gratitude is a choice, and we can ask our Heavenly Father for help in noticing opportunities to experience gratitude throughout our day. A good starting point is to pray for help from the Holy Spirit! Then notice the little things…the good lunch you had…the changing colors of the leaves…the sound of the birds singing…your pet’s comfort and company.

Another option is to start a gratitude journal. Take time at the end of the day to write down some little things that you were grateful for that day. For example: the traffic wasn’t too bad…got time with a friend…finished a good book.

The list of reasons to experience gratitude is endless and God is worthy of praise for it all. I am praying for us, on my morning walks with MeiMei, to notice the little things, to give God the praise for it, and allow him the space to grow our hearts of gratitude.

Afflicted, But Not Crushed

Afflicted, But Not Crushed

I am weak and weary. In the last two months, we almost had a house fire, sickness, grief on both sides of extended family, weird medical issues, multiple unexpected bills, no AC during the May heatwave…I think that’s the complete list! The last two months have been rough. Well, the last 13 months have been rough. Okay, actually the last two years and three months have been rough.

I know I’m not alone in feeling that it’s been a tough season. This is a theme for many of us. Since COVID turned the world upside down, anything else on top of that feels heavier. Then there’s the awful turmoil in the world, the shootings, the accidents, and the unending heartaches that remind us that our world is broken.

We will have troubles in this world, and Jesus himself reminds us of that truth in John 16:33. As followers of Christ we are not promised protection from loss, death, or crushed dreams. We will feel sadness and grief. We will feel the weight of the unknowns. We look forward to heaven when everything sad will come untrue and pray with great desire “Come, Lord Jesus.”

But what about today when the weight of it all is so very heavy?

2 Corinthians 4:7-10 offers beautiful hope for us when we feel like we have nothing left. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

There are many pieces of good news here! Let’s break it down:

1) The treasure is Jesus and his power, not me or my abilities. Imagine a clay jar with a little candle inside. Put the lid on, and that light is dimmed. Now imagine there is a crack in that clay jar. Even when you put the lid on, the light shines brightly through that crack. That is me … an imperfect, broken clay jar. It is his power that does anything good in me and through me, not because of anything I do. When I am at my weakest, his power shines through the broken vessel that I am.

2) We are afflicted, perplexed (oh my goodness, yes), persecuted, struck down … but NOT crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, or destroyed. Wow! I am so much more hopeful when I live in the tension that we will have hardships, but it won’t take all from us. What is our all? Well, that leads to another point in this little passage.

3) We carry with us the death of Jesus, SO THAT the life of Jesus may also be manifested in us! Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is our hope in life and death. Every day we can live as free sons and daughters because of what he did for us, and absolutely no one can take that away. And WE are doing this together! As a family of believers, we come alongside and cheer one another on to live for Christ. We support one another when life is joyous and when life is rough. We are the body of Christ and we carry these burdens together (Galatians 6:2).

How do we get rooted (and stay rooted) in Christ? First, we cling to Jesus. Read the Bible (ask a pastor or community group leader how to do this!) and pray daily. Second, say yes to being part of a community of believers. Do this by committing to going to church weekly and get into a Bible study or community group. No one is meant to follow Christ alone!

My last suggestion is one that I learned from my sweet Grandpa. Pray that the Lord would give you a verse or a song in your heart each day. Especially in moments when we are weak we need to repeat truths to ourselves. Pray back the Scripture to the Lord or sing the song to him. Proclaim it! Some excellent verses to start with are Psalm 62:5-6, 1 Corinthians 15:58, and Romans 8:28-29, and, of course, 2 Corinthians 4:7-10. Keep the verse close by writing it on an index card and keep it in your back pocket throughout the day. And some favorite hymns are “I Need Thee Every Hour,” “My Jesus, I Love Thee,” and “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.”

This world will try to take our joy and our hope, and it will if we are not rooted in Christ and allow him to be our only hope. So, my dear brothers and sisters, let’s give our weak and tired selves to the One who offers life, and allow his light to shine through. Without him we will be crushed. With him, we have hope!