Monday, February 28, 2011

Complaint or Intercession?

Complaining, complaining, complaining. All that you do is complain.

Complaining is the act of refusing to accept your situation out loud. We often feel justified in our complaints. Complaining comforts us, energizes us, deflects personal responsibility, makes us feel important, appeals to our sense of justice, emboldens us, but for all these it leaves us empty. A complaint in and of itself is empty. It is like trying to cover up on a cold night with a blanket that does not exist except in your mind. You might say, complaining got me such and such, or complaining made that person change. Really? At what cost, and did the such and such, or change really satisfy you? Are you now less likely to complain in the future? Complaining is emptiness of emptiness. Don't get me wrong I like to complain with the best of them, however God seems to be trying to show me a different way!image

Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people contended with Moses, and said, "Give us water, that we may drink." And Moses said to them, "Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the Lord?" And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, "Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!" And the Lord said to Moses, "Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink." And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"
Exodus 17:1-7 (NKJV)

Really complaining about water! Again!

Notice two things about complaining. First, it is contentious, and second, it presumes (tempts) the graciousness of the person receiving the complaint.

"The customer is always right."

Anyone that has worked in retail has heard this expression to be sure. Yet if you have had the opportunity to work with a customer with a complaint knows that the Bible is right on these two truths. Contention is the name of the game. No matter how disarming the customer service is the person is contentious. It is like a great uneasiness overcomes the soul. Even when you are trying to side with customer. The customer also is presuming (tempting) the store staff to give them something in return for their complaint. This also creates more uneasiness. The level of uneasiness grows as the good nature of the store increases and as the customer's complaint becomes more outrageous.

I recall a time when a customer brought a pair of pants to me when I was working at Sears. I am not sure if it is still true, but at the time we had a no questions asked return policy. I was the unfortunate sales staff to get her in my line. She said these pants do not fit. I looked at the pants and they were faded and worn. I also did not recognize them. Now that is something, because we had a pretty good idea of what merchandise was sold in the men's department. Boy I do not miss folding those clothes. I asked for her receipt. She did not have one. I looked inside and found that the item number was in the pants. I punched the number into the register and nothing. I took a deep breath and said, "I don't believe that you got these here." You would have thought I had just asked her to give up her right arm or something based on her reaction next. My manager over heard the complainer and came over. I explained the situation to her. She looked at the pants and said confidently, "You did not get these here. We have not sold this brand." I asked for her right and now the manager asked for her left. She was tempting our graciousness. She continued to complain rigorously. My manger sent her to customer service upstairs. Now I may be a little vague on the details. It was about 20 years ago now, but I will not forget the feeling in my stomach at having to deal with such an unreasonable person. Yet...

Am I not much the same way when it comes to going to God? I wonder if God has the same feelings when we contend with Him. "Here comes BJ with a complaint. I sure wish he would realize the plans to Bless and Not Harm him!"

Forgive me Lord for presumptuous complaints. Next to presumptuous sin it must grieve Your heart greatly.

What then can we learn from the Israelites who yet again are complaining about something they have first hand experienced God's grace in? I believe that we can admit that we are not too far off. Far be it from me to complain about the very area that I have experienced some blessing or graciousness. Yet I still do. We all do. Also we can see that God has a plan. In spite of our childish behavior He still cares for us and has a plan and purpose for our minor discomfort. I say minor, because I think it is possible to find a person in a more grievous situation than your own (often significantly worse). Notice though that the comparison can also lead to "who has the bigger complaint" syndrome. That is not helpful either.

Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4 (HCSB)

It seems to me that this attitude is at the heart of intercessory ministry. It is difficult if not impossible to help another out when you can scarcely get your eyes off of yourself and your dire circumstances. There is no hope, no peace, no faith! Why did the Israelites not have water? Lack of faith.

Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart's desires. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act, making your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like the noonday.
Psalms 37:3-6 (HCSB)

This verse seems to capture the heart of minister of intercession. Trust in the Lord, Do what is good, Dwell in the land, Live secure, take delight in God, Let him transform your heart, commit yourselves to God, Trust Him. And what will be God's response? He will act, He will make your righteousness shine, He will exalt justice. This is the heart this is the way of intercession.

Moses responds by challenging their unbelief. And their response was more unbelief. Moses then turns to God and asks, "What am I going to do with these people?" There are moments of desperation when you are engaged in the ministry of intercession. People will not always see things as you see them. Sadly they may even take their frustrations out on you. Your job is to stay connected to God. Moses believed in the provision of God. He had a heart of abiding trust, and was connected to God in a way that he was immediately aware of how the people were grieving the Lord. He called out to Him and as before God gave him instructions. This pattern is become more and more fixed in my mind. Recognize the problem (primary unbelief and secondary thirst), seek the Lord (What am I to do?), Listen to what He says (Strike the rock in front of the people), Obey what God has shown you, and celebrate the intercession of the Lord. Notice that being obedient Moses addressed both unbelief and thirst of the Israelites. Trust God He knows what He is doing even when it seems that He has abandoned us. Do not let unbelief kill your faith.

What is your unbelief? What is your thirst? What is the unbelief in others? What is the thirst in others?

It's time to go to work!

God Bless You

~BJ

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