It’s not coincidental that I am back in the beginning of the Old Testament again. God has a message for me, and maybe he has one for you, too.
Like me, you may be wrestling with challenging circumstances — the loss of someone you love, betrayal, hurt, physical pain, sickness, work stress, parenting stress, a difficult spouse. I don’t know what it is for you, but the first part of the year were some of the most difficult months I have ever lived through. They weren’t what I expected, and I wasn’t happy about them at all. In fact, I was disappointed with God.
Like the Israelites in the desert, I wondered why he had taken me this route, why it felt like his promises had not come true for me. I had this laundry list of expectations of what God should be and do for me that I forgot to worship him as holy and awesome.
Failing to acknowledge him for who he is made me question his goodness. I remember a conversation with my mom, who encouraged me to keep hoping and praying that I would recover, and I replied with cynicism, “What should I pray, mom? I don’t know what to pray. How do I know that God wants to heal me? How do I know that getting better is part of his plan?”
In other words, I started to doubt that God was after my good.
During one conversation with my husband, Edric, I recall saying, “I am not sure if I know who God is anymore. It’s as if the God I used to think I know isn’t really the God that is. And I am not sure how to approach him.”
All the things I wrote about in my book, When a Good God Allows Rape, seemed difficult for me to apply in the context of sickness and nearly losing my life to major surgery.
Just like the Israelites, I was worried, stressed, depressive, and worst of all, complaining in my heart against God. It wasn’t until recently, during my quiet times with the Lord, that I felt so convicted about my grumbling. As I read chapter after chapter about the holiness and awesomeness of God, I felt ashamed.
Who was I to bring God down to my level? To question him? This was no small thing, to complain against God. Grumbling cost the Israelites the promise land.
“And you saw how the Lord your God cared for you all along the way as you traveled through the wilderness, just as a father cares for his child. Now he has brought you to this place. But even after all he did, you refused to trust the Lord your God, who goes before you looking for the best places to camp, guiding you with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. When the Lord heard your complaining, he became very angry. So he solemnly swore, ‘Not one of you from this wicked generation will live to see the good land I swore to give your ancestors…”
There are many times in our lives when we have to exist between the already and the not yet — in the wilderness…The in-between. Here, God wants us to learn to worship him, not because our circumstances are what we want them to be, but because we are trusting that he has a purpose and a plan for the season we are in.
Worship is the antidote to grumbling and complaining. It is to behold God with the awe that he deserves, to acknowledge his holiness, that he is above all and over all. Worship is a by-product of faith, and worship also increases faith.
I like how John Ortberg emphasized our need for worship:
“I need to worship because without it I can forget that I have a big God beside me and live in fear. I need to worship because without it I can forget his calling and begin to live in a spirit of self-preoccupation. I need to worship because without it I lose a sense of wonder and gratitude and plod through life with blinders on. I need worship because my natural tendency is toward self-reliance and stubborn independence.
In this world, we will encounter trials and difficulties, some that seem insurmountable, that make us bitter and disappointed with God. However, to complain against God is a serious offense. It is different than being honest about our frustration and anger. It is to presume that we know better, that we are more important, that we are entitled to comfort and happiness on our own terms.
This kind of thinking and attitude made the older generation of Israelites forfeit the promise land. They missed out because they focused on what they didn’t have, instead of what they had — God’s presence, God’s promises.
I understand where the Israelites were coming from because I wrestled with the same grumbling heart. Worship served as the remedy. It elevated my perspective to behold who God is, to be thankful that he brought me this far, to give me the hope I needed to keep pressing on.
May you be encouraged to do the same…
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”—Psalm 43:5