Every one of us faces a whole list of demands that we must deal with daily. There are meals to make, jobs to do, homework to finish, preparations to complete, activities to attend, bills to pay, people to see, storms to weather and a future to plan. Most of the time we handle these demands without much thought . . . they are a part of living. But every once in a while the demands of life become overwhelming. It may be because of an illness, a family problem, the pressures of work or financial demands. At times we are simply overwhelmed with the many expectations that others have for us.
In the text before us we see one of those pressure times. The Israelites have now been in the wilderness for awhile. The book of Leviticus covers only one month of the 40 year journey to the promised land. But the book of Numbers records 39 years of wandering in the desert. Chapter 11 is still in the first year of the journey. But the people are tired and road weary. And, as we will see, their leader, Moses, is a little weary himself.
As we look at this passage this morning we will see some common responses to dealing with the demands of life. And as we do we will discover three things to remember during these times.
THREE RESPONSES TO DEMANDING TIMES
There are two very common responses to demanding times. They are evidenced in this passage and also in our lives. We see the Hebrew community react first to demands of the wilderness by complaining (yes, again).
1Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down. 3So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the LORD had burned among them. The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
First there were those who complained about the “hardships” of living in the dessert. These Israelites sounded like a group of kids on vacation with their parents. Maybe they were saying things like,
- are we there yet?
- my feet are sore!
- I don’t want to do that!
- Herschel is bothering me.
We know the kinds of things they were saying because we have said them ourselves. In their complaining these people were forgetting that God had brought them out of Egypt with a series of miracles that should have impressed even the most hard-hearted. They were overlooking the fact that they were no longer slaves of cruel taskmaster but were free. Every day God provided for the people. Their clothes and shoes did not wear out. (Deut. 29:5) They may have been in the dessert but they were being cared for by the Lord in a special and remarkable way.
God heard these ungrateful words and we are told that “fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp”. There is some question as to whether this fire consumed just the shrubbery and tents of the people on the outskirts or whether it consumed some people as well. Either way, the people were afraid and then they called to Moses. Moses prayed and then the fire died down.
But this does not stop the complaining. We are told that the “rabble” began to complain about the menu. There are always “rabble” in every crowd. It only takes a few people to start complaining and it becomes contagious. That’s why we have to be careful about hanging around too much with people who complain all the time . . . they infect us with their negative attitude.
To be honest, we do understand their complaint. There was not much variety to their menu. Every day it was manna. Manna for breakfast, manna for lunch, manna for dinner. I suspect they tried to be creative in how they prepared the manna, but it was still manna. They had manna bread, manna cakes, manna bars, manna mush, manna loaf, and manna soup. Maybe they had manna flakes for breakfast and snacked on manna chips! But the people (at least the rabble rousers) were sick of it.
Instead of talking about this to the Lord, the people began singing the praises of the “good ole days”. Of course these were the days before God had rescued them. They remembered the fish (which they were probably sick of in Egypt), and the fresh produce that used to adorn their tables. They painted quite a picture of what used to be. Some of us don’t realize how “bad” we have it until someone points it out to us!
Complainers remember selectively. We remember the good ole days of high school but forget how often we felt lost, excluded and confused. We remember the good ole days of past relationships and forget that the reason they were past relationships was because we didn’t really get along all that well. We remember the great friends we used to have . . . but forget that if they were such great friends we would still have them. Complainers remember the past selectively and magnify the problems of the present disproportionately. They are like the guy who during a power failure, complained of having gotten stuck for hours on the escalator
There are several things we need to keep in mind when we are tempted to complain in the demanding times of life (and we all do on occasion).
- Complaining doesn’t help anything and doesn’t make us feel any better (even though you would think it must make us feel better because we do it so much)
- Complaining is really a lack of appreciation for what God has provided . . it indicates a lack of gratitude
- Complaining is really a lack of faith. We show that we do not have confidence in God’s ability and wisdom to provide what’s best. A faithful person sees and opportunity or a lesson rather than an obstacle.
- Complaining focuses on problems rather than solutions
- Complaining drags down the people around us
If you deal with people at all, it is likely that you understand the sense of discouragement that Moses had. He kept relaying the word of the Lord and it seemed like the people kept ignoring it. They would get in trouble and run to him. They would have a problem, and run to him. There would be a crisis, and they would blame him. Listen to his words,
11He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? 12Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? 13Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”
Moses says he’s had enough. Moses feels the burden is too great. He’s worn out, discouraged and tired of messing with these people. He says he would rather die than have to continue to deal with these folks. After all, he never asked for this crummy job anyhow! Have you ever felt that way?
- over worked
- taken advantage of
- can’t please anyone
- giving all you can but people just keep wanting more
Complainers don’t realize the effect they have on those who lead. Constant complaining eats away at those in leadership. Complainers don’t increase courage in leaders, they decrease it. We have all battled discouragement at one time or another. And when the battle rages there are several things to remember.
- you are not unique in your feelings. In times of discouragement remember Moses, Elijah and others who faced this same demon.
- you are not alone. Even when we feel most alone, the Lord stands by our side.
- God understands, sees, and appreciates the work you are doing. He does not measure things as the world does.
- Sometimes discouragement comes because we have been drifting from the Lord. Our first step in combating discouragement should be to throw off our sin and return to the Lord. Sometimes we feel discouraged because we are trying to “do it on our own” rather than trusting the Lord.
- Discouragement is the tool of the Devil. We must not let the Devil gain the upper hand.
The third option for handling demanding times is the road less traveled. We don’t see a lot of trust going on here. Yet, at the same time, Moses does bring his complaint to the Lord. He does turn in the right direction!
In the demanding times of life we need to hold more tightly to the Lord. Martin Luther is often quotes as saying he got up early each day to spend an hour or two in prayer. And on the extremely busy days he would get up even earlier to spend 2-3 hours in prayer! Luther understood that the best way to combat the demands of life was to walk close to the Lord. In demanding times we must find shelter in the Lord.
THREE THINGS TO REMEMBER IN DEMANDING TIMES
If you look carefully, you can see three things to remember in the demanding times of life.
God tells Moses that He is going to take care of the menu problem. He says He is going to provide meat for the evening’s meal . . . and what’s more, He will give them meat to eat for an entire month!
Moses is skeptical. In his head he is doing the math and concludes that there aren’t enough animals or money to feed this great group of people for even one night . . . much less for a month.
Reminds me of the story of the feeding of the 5000 in the New Testament. Jesus was teaching a large group of people (it numbered 5000 men). It was getting close to dinner time and the disciples were getting hungry so they suggested that Jesus send the people into the nearby villages to get something to eat. Jesus smiled and said, “Naw, you guys feed them.”
The disciples I’m sure, looked at each other, raised and eyebrow and went to inventory their resources. They returned to report that they had five loaves and two fish. Jesus said, “Great!”
I suspect the disciples wondered if Jesus thought this was going to be His portion. Someone surely said, “Lord, that’s everything . . . that’s all we have for all these people.” Jesus said, “O.K. well you better divide it and start passing it out to the people.” The disciples looked at each other and raised an eyebrow and more than one thought, “We should have had Him stand in the shade!”
Yet, when they began to distribute the baskets (they couldn’t bear to watch), the people had plenty. When dinner was over they brought back 12 full baskets of leftovers.
The situation is similar to this occasion with Moses. He knows it is impossible to feed these people. But he is forgetting something. He is forgetting the greatness of the Lord. The Lord says to Moses,
23The LORD answered Moses, “Is the LORD’S arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”
God’s response is wonderful? “Are my arms too short?” Moses needs his faith stretched. God is still the all-powerful one. He is the master of the impossible situation. The God who created the world with a word is certainly capable of creating enough meat for this group of people.
31Now a wind went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea. It brought them down all around the camp to about three feet above the ground, as far as a day’s walk in any direction.
The sky becomes dark with quail. In fact the Quail are flying so low that the people are able to just grab them out of the sky! God brings enough fresh meat in so that we read that the person who grabs the least gathered 10 omers. This is the equivalent to 65 bushels of quail! One omer was considered to be one camel load. The person who gathered least gather ten camel loads of meat!
What an object lesson this should have been to Moses . . . and to us. When life gets demanding we too quickly forget who we belong to. We forget the nature, power, and strength of our great God. We feel overwhelmed and forget that He is able to supply “all our needs abundantly”. He is equal to any situation.
Notice something else. Moses had had enough. He was worn down. He voices his complaints to the Lord. And it is interesting that God does not rebuke Moses. Instead God has a plan. He has Moses gather the seventy elders and God equips these men to help Moses in the responsibilities of leadership. This is not a punishment, God is helping Moses. He gives His spirit also to these men.
God understands our burdens. He knows when we have reached a breaking point. He will provide the help we need . . . if we will turn to Him. Moses turned to the Lord and was willing to receive the Lord’s assistance. You and I must be willing to receive His assistance as well.
This is the way God works. God gave Moses extra manpower. He gave Elijah a good nights sleep and a meal. When Peter was discouraged, Jesus made him breakfast. When Paul was discouraged, an angel appeared to him. I’ve had these same kind of experiences in my own life. In a time of discouragement I’ve been sent a note or received a comment from someone that energized me. I’ve taken a book off of a shelf and found that it spoke to my present state with clarity and power. Sometimes I’ve been given a good night’s sleep and other times a distraction that renews my perspective. God knows what we need and will help us.
When the Quail came the people gorged themselves on quail. They were gluttonous. And we hear nothing about the people saying thanks. The Lord struck them with a plague to remind them to stop complaining and to start trusting.
If life seems overwhelming right now it could be God’s way of getting your attention. It may be due to the fact that you have forgotten Him in your life and are trying to “do it” alone. When life seems to be unbearable it is essential that the first thing we do is return to the Lord. I have found in my own life that when things feel most “out of control” it is generally because I have forgotten God’s sufficiency and His compassion . . . it is generally because I am trying to BE the Savior rather than trust the Savior.
As I said at the beginning of the message, every one of us faces the demands of life. It may be the pressures of a job or the pressures of a weakening body. It may be the pressures of relationship demands or the pressure that comes from loneliness. The demands are there for everyone. We can complain and feel sorry for ourselves. We can become discouraged and filled with despair, or we can trust. Even for the strongest among us, we will not choose to trust all the time. But our prayer must be that we should choose to trust more often than we have in the past. When the demands of life come our way it is essential that we take the time to remind ourselves of who we belong to. Those who wait upon the Lord WILL renew their strength. Or better, God will renew their strength.
If you are going through one of those pressure times of life right now; if you feel like you are real near the breaking point let me make some suggestions.
First, get alone with the Lord. I know you don’t feel you have time for prayer. I know you feel too distracted to read His Word. But you must take the time. The high stress times are not the time to cut back on the disciplines of faith . . . .this is the time we must increase them. Worship becomes a non-negotiable. The Bible becomes more important than the paper. Prayer becomes more important than the news. In stress filled times we must run to the quiet place that is found only in the Lord. If you feel overwhelmed. If you feel stressed out, it could be an indication that you need some one on one time with the Father.
Second, focus on God’s character rather than your problem. The goal is to remind yourself of his sufficiency rather than focus on your weakness. Paul said, “when I am weak, then I am strong”. The meaning is simple. When we come to the end of our rope and begin to trust the Lord, that’s when we find ourselves to be the strongest. Use a topical Bible and look up “God, attributes of”; get a book on the attributes of God (we can recommend several to you”). Go to our website and read through the sermons on God’s attributes. Put your focus on His ability.
Third, reflect on the life and death of Christ. Remember why He came. Remember the price He paid. Remember that He promised to be with you always. Remind yourself that He didn’t bring us this far to leave us. He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown.
Someone tells the story about a British soldier whose courage broke during battle. Unable to handle his fear and the violence anymore, one night he ran from the front-line trenches. He hoped he could make it to the coast to catch a boat back to England. After a number of hours groping in the dark of the moonless night, he realized he was totally lost. The cold and his own fear had also gripped him. Finally, still trudging around in the night, he ran into what he thought was a signpost, but it was so dark he couldn’t see what it said of which way it pointed. So he climbed the post and struck a match. In the glimmering of that match, he looked square into the face of Jesus Christ. Startled, he tried to collect himself and soon realized he was looking at a wayside crucifix. then he remembered the One who had died for him, who had endured, who had never turned back no matter what the odds. Though it took all the energy he had left, by the time the sun broke over the morning’s horizon, he had returned to the trenches.
As a runner, when you’re tired, afraid, and discouraged, the best way I know to get your second wind is to strike a match in the darkness and look on the face of Jesus Christ. [Steve Brown, Jumping Hurdles p. 24-25]