Friday, June 21, 2013

How to Waste Your Calling: Thoughts on Numbers 12-20

It was one of those days when I was feeling particularly small and unnoticed.

I belong to a really, really large church body, so it is easy to feel lost in the shuffle of things, even if that's not really the case. I settled in to my seat in the Worship Center that Sunday, in the second row. Since my husband leads a ministry on Sunday mornings, I often find myself alone at church. There is something about being in a big crowd all alone that makes you feel like such a small part of things, like sitting on a boat staring out into the expanse of  the ocean.

In a moment in which I wanted to let myself feel insecure, insignificant, unimportant and unnoticed, and sorry for myself, God revealed a few things to me. "I have given you a platform, Beloved," I felt Him say. And suddenly things clicked into focus, and I saw through His eyes. I realized that while in the service I usually attend I am one of many staff wives present, yet there I became aware in the new service I had recently begun attending, I was the only one there. I sat there, a Bible study teacher, a positioning that God had completely orchestrated. Only moments earlier I had spied a little girl look at me as though I was some sort of celebrity (everyone under the age of 10 knows me as "Mr. Michael's wife") and say with breathless excitement to her mom, "That's Miss Amanda." I recalled that God had just recently brought an intern to stay at our home for the summer, making me an important ministry and resource to this young life He is molding for leadership. I recounted my enormous ministry to my husband as a wife and administrator of my home. And a few days later I would be a 'house mom' for a week to nine amazing sophomore girls at our high school church camp. As I write this I'm still realizing that even this blog is a ministry to all of you out there, another job He has allowed me to have. Yes, at home, at work, at church and in ministry, from children to adults, He certainly has given me a platform. And I am not small, insignificant, unimportant OR unnoticed at all. I certainly was humbled at all these realizations.

When you begin to feel invisible, it is very easy to begin to believe that your behavior doesn't matter. You're not really influencing others anyway, why the need to be 'on point' all the time? Well, beloved, this is a great lie from the enemy, let me assure you. There is always someone watching us, always someone looking to us for wisdom, direction or as a role model. We must open our eyes and live accordingly. The problem is that most of us don't stop to recognize what we already have, so we continue to beg God for more, more, more.

While at our high school ministry beach camp last week, I read something that stuck with me in one of our daily devotions:

"If you want to be entrusted with more, be trustworthy with what you have."

Such wisdom, and yet so difficult to execute! Oh, how I have begged the Lord to expand my territory, all while He really was and I just wasn't paying attention because He wasn't doing it in a the way I thought He should. How frivolous I have been with the many roles I have been given. I find myself feeling like it's not enough, like I am entitled to more, better, bigger or just wanting something different, even resenting where God has placed me. Maybe you can relate to this a little.

You might want to start beating yourself up right about now. But realize that this condition is as old as time. As I spend hours in Numbers over the last few weeks, several leaders emerged in the timeline who misused or misunderstood their God-given roles and platforms. The Lord showed me some common mistakes that are made by leaders, and what we can do to avoid these and lead for the right reasons and in the right way. So let's dig in and find ourselves, shall we?

The Green-Eyed Monster - Numbers 12

Miriam and Aaron were the sister and brother of Moses. Can you imaging playing second fiddle to him? It must have been difficult to be in such great positions of leadership but to know you were still far inferior to the one who speaks 'face to face with God.' Especially when it's your own sibling! They knew his flaws, his shortcomings, they had grown up together and picked on each other as kids. They didn't have Moses on a pedestal at all. So they began to wonder, as many of us do when we see some elevated above us, "What's so special about him?" 

Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman) and they said, "Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?
Numbers 12:1-2

Miriam was a prophetess and leader of the women and Aaron was the consecrated high priest, both very important roles. But they began to compare themselves with others and they got jealous of what someone else had. Then things got very petty. It was never about Moses' wife, that was just the surface excuse to criticize him. How often do we envy someone else for the status they have, the things they possess, their knowledge or gifting? And do we actually say that we are jealous? No, we do what Miriam and Aaron did, we find something silly and criticize, we slander and gossip and demean to make ourselves feel better. But notice how verse 2 ends: "And the Lord heard it."

When we read on we find that God was personally offended by Miriam and Aaron's actions. You see, Moses hadn't chosen to elevate himself - God had. So who they were really attacking was God and His sovereign choice to elevate who He wanted for the job. They also displayed real ingratitude for the great honor they had been given already. It makes me cringe to think that I'm hurting God with my careless and selfish words, that I'm disrespecting my King's choices. Have we even considered Him at all when we do things like this?

There were consequences for Miriam and Aaron's rebellion and jealousy. Miriam was shown just how unclean and unworthy she really was through her skin affliction punishment. In that moment in verse 10, God shows these leaders that there is no one truly worthy of His presence and calling - and they are no exception. We are all unworthy and unclean in His eyes, yet He chooses in His mercy to use us as He will for His glory. As our Creator, it's His prerogative to use us how He will. To rebel and whine about it and attack others who hold roles we wish we had or feel we deserve is just wrong.

Notice also that because of Miriam's punishment, the entire congregation's progress toward the promised land was delayed. Make no mistake. You are a leader in some area or another. And your mistakes don't just affect you. They hold up those who are in submission to you as well. Every outburst, every indiscretion, every rebellion harms the ones who God has entrusted to your shepherding and care. You may discourage or hurt them, or you may model incorrect behavior, leading them down the wrong path, causing them to stumble. It's so against our American individualistic society's mindset, but we must try to vigilantly remember that it is never just about us as the individual.

So let's be careful not to compare ourselves with others - don't give the enemy a foothold. Look for your God-given place, and bloom where you're planted!

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.
1 Peter 5:6

Attitude is Everything - Numbers 13

In Numbers 13 Israel had reached the promised land, the place God brought them out of Egyptian slavery to receive. After following a pillar of fire and cloud for months, eating manna for breakfast lunch and dinner, witnessing terrifying visions and experiencing hardships and uncertainty - they had finally arrived at the brink of God's promise. They were so excited that they petitioned the Lord to get a sneak peak of the 'new digs.' God allowed it, so they embarked on a 40-day journey to check out this new home of theirs.

What they found was a great prosperous land. Verse 23 says that they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes and carried it on a pole between two men, which is an idiom describing a fabulous agricultural situation. They also discovered that the land was inhabited already by the descendants of Anak, people who were historically very large and in cities that were very well fortified.

When they return, an interesting thing happens. The scouts, who were prestigious and respected leaders from each tribe by the way, gave a report of all they had seen:

"Thus they told him, and said, "We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there."
Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, "We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it." But the men who had gone up with [Caleb] said, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us." So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying,"The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim; and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight."
Numbers 13:27-28; 30-33

Notice right off the bat here that they have already disengaged from God's promise and from personal responsibility for wanting to seek out the land. "We went in to the land where you sent us." It's not "our promised land" or "the land we wanted to see." They are already pawning things off on Moses because they didn't like what they saw. When things get difficult or inconvenient, do we take ownership of our part in things? Or are we eager to shove the responsibility onto someone else, to protect our own personal interests or reputations?

Next we notice how suddenly some insecurity sets in on the part of these leaders, these scouts, and their perspective shifts. This moment really shows the lack of faith in these great tribal leaders. They saw some struggles ahead, some challenges, and they panicked. Rather than, like Caleb, trusting in the Lord's promise and provision, they get emotional and react and totally distort the truth in their report to Israel - which causes mass panic. Their words caused Israel to go in the wrong direction, away from trusting God, away from Moses. They began a riot and Israel was ready to elect new leaders and go back to Egypt.

The cost was very great. What should have been a victorious and joyful moment for Israel - entering the promised land - began a severe punishment that affected an entire generation of people. Because of the people's lack of faith in Him, they would not be permitted to enter the land. They would wander in the wilderness until their children had grown up, and the next generation would inherit the land instead. Again, we see that our decisions can affect others. These children could have grown up cultivating and settling and harvesting in the promised land, but because their parents were disobedient, they had to do a job that was not meant for them, they had to be pioneers and warriors instead. If you are a parent, don't let your reactionary judgement cost your children their calling and purpose. Don't cheat them out of what should be theirs and make them do for themselves what you should have done for them as their leader and shepherd.

These leaders - and you and I - have a choice to make each day. When difficulties arise, when unforeseen circumstances present themselves, do you adorn yourself with a negative outlook? With cynicism? Pessimism? Or do we trust that God is faithful and knows our best interest and that when He says "With ME all things are possible" He means it? Before you speak, before you react, before you affect others and set them on a trajectory - make sure you think about the affect it is having, ensure that you are stating facts and coming from a perspective of trust in the Lord. Otherwise, the outcome can only be defeat - for you and for those around you. Don't allow your inclination to have a bad attitude cheat you out of the great things God wants to give you. Let's be winners!


Give Credit Where Credit is Due - Numbers 20

Moses is such a great example of how someone can be so faithful and humble for so much of his life, and then in an instant make a huge error in a moment of weakness. In his career, he had so many victories and privileges. He had been the vessel God chose to feed and fill and speak to His people. What an honor. And it is said that Moses was more humble than anyone on the earth (Numbers 12:3). So it is very surprising that of all the great things he did, that one seemingly small mistake could exclude him from entering the promised land. Let's read from Numbers 20:

There was no water for the congregation, and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, "If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why then have you brought the Lord's assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here?
Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to them; and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying "Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water.
So Moses took the rod from before the lord, just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, "Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sigh of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them."
Numbers 20:2-4, 6-8, 9-12

Many theories and suggestions have been made as to what exactly transpired here. Some believe that the infraction took place because Moses struck the rock in anger rather than obeying God's command to speak to the rock. Some believe it was because of his falling short of God's high expectations of leaders through his temper and treatment of Israel's needs as a personal inconvenience. But the punishment doesn't seem measure for measure to fit the crime, as is God's style. No, something much more serious took place here and it become evident when we closely read the text.

When Moses went before the people he said the words "shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" And rather than speaking to it, his own hand struck it, who does it make it look as if the water is coming from? Moses' actions make it seem as if the miracle was of his own doing. Moses had been YHWH's spokesperson for so long, that it seems as though he got a little confused about where the source of his power was coming from. Whether he understood it or not, he was misrepresenting the facts in the eyes of the people. Moses of his own strength couldn't bring forth water from a rock. He was not the one delivering the people. That was God's act of provision. And God was not receiving the proper credit for His own acts. And that is a huge no-no.

When we teach, instruct, speak for God, when we pray for healing, when we serve others, the glory is never, not ever, for us to keep for ourselves. Everything we do, we do for His name. We should always be pointing others to Him. We must always remember that we are just redeemed people being used by God for God. It is not for us to receive glory. It sure does feel good, and it is a huge temptation to take credit or to act as if we have the power to do big things - but it is God alone who does big things. We just get to be a part of it.

Final Thought

Please note that I have by no means exhausted the list of mistakes of the leaders in Numbers. There are others I didn't have space to include, so I encourage you to go and seek these out for yourself. Among them are learning to operate in God's timing (Numbers 14) and self elevation as a leader rather versus God's appointment (Numbers 16-17).

Let me encourage you today, sweet friends, wherever you find yourselves, you are not invisible. The place where God has called you is enough and perfectly suited just for you to bring Him the most glory possible at this moment in your life. Maybe you noticed that all of these people had differing roles and responsibilities. It's not just about being the Moses. You can have a very important leadership role as a spouse, as a parent, in your place of work or in the community. Pray that God will reveal to you how He has already elevated you to the perfect place of influence. Never give in to the temptation of believing that He has made an error or left you somewhere and forgotten you. Never think that the calling on your life is only for one moment, or one season. And never take your calling for granted, Beloved. Make every moment count for His Kingdom!

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10


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