Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Life Of A Believer - Discouraged

Numbers 21:4-5 “Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses: ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.’”

After Israel’s rebelled at the edge of their promise, God turned them around and sent them back out into the wilderness. For four decades they marched through the dry wasteland burying each other one-by-one. That’s a long time to live in a tent! Eventually, their hearts began to wander back to where they came from.

“Remember the houses we lived in in Egypt?”
“What I wouldn’t give for a dip in the Nile river right now!”
“Why did we even leave? Oh yeah! Moses promised us a land flowing with milk and honey!”
“Moses! Where’s this promised land of yours?”
“Did you really bring us out here to die?”

The conveniently forgot that Moses did lead them to their promise, and that their unbelief and rebellion kept them out of it. In fact, if anyone had a right to be discouraged, it’s Moses! Think about this from his perspective: you’ve done everything right, you’ve put up with these stubborn people for over a year, you bring them up to the place God wanted them to be - and they refuse to go in! Now you’re stuck with them for forty years in the wilderness, and they’re blaming you!

God refused to put up with it! He sent “fiery serpents” among the Israelite camp - venomous reptiles that bit the people so that many of them died.

Without going into too much distracting detail, God didn’t have to do much to “send” these venomous reptiles into the Israelite camp. According to Herodotus and Josephus, this desert area was literally infested with these serpents (reptiles, but not “snakes” as we have always been taught), all God had to do was remove His protection that previously covered the Israelite camp. As soon as He did that, the serpents that were kept out of the camp were allowed to come in.

It didn’t take them long to realize that this was because of their sin. They came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against Yahweh and against you; pray to Yahweh that He take away the serpents from us.”

Moses, the good man that he was, did just that. He went to God and prayed for the people. However, God didn’t simply take the serpents away or even reinstate His protection of the camp. He told Moses to make a pole with a bronze serpent on it and set it up in a prominent place. From then on, anyone who was bitten could look to that bronze serpent and be healed of the poison. It was an exercise in trust - were they finally going to submit to God’s care for them or not? Apparently they did trust God - because from that time forward, no one else died from these creatures’ bites. It’s also interesting that from this point on, they never complained against Moses again!

Once again looking at 1 Corinthians 10:6-11, we see that these things serve as examples for us: “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”

The Israelites didn’t guard their hearts from discouragement. That discouragement led to discontent. That discontent led to discord (complaining and whining against Moses and against God). Finally, their discord led to their destruction. This is a pattern that still holds true today.

This is why Proverbs 4:23 warns us, “Above everything else, guard your heart; it is where your life comes from.” More than anything else, we need to watch over our emotions. Like the Israelites, it’s easy for us to get discouraged when we’re lacking something we feel we should have. Whether we short-changed ourselves on what God wanted for us or whether we’re still waiting for what we know God promised us - beware of discouragement!

If you’re not watchful, a little discouragement will grow fast! Without guarding your heart, you’ll soon find yourself feeling “down” all the time. Before long you’ll be focused more on what you lack than what you have. Why? Because discouragement breeds discontent. Before long, that discontent will worm its way into your conversations. You’ll begin to say things like: “I don’t understand why this isn’t happening.” or “Why hasn’t God done what He promised?” As soon as words like this come out of your mouth, you’ve moved from discontent to discord. You’re actually accusing God of not following through with what He said - making Him into a liar!

Complaining against God is dangerous. He won’t “punish” you for it - but it does open the doors of your life to the things that God is keeping out. I don’t know about you, but if God is keeping something out of my life - I’d rather not invite it in! But that’s exactly what we do when when we allow discontent to come out of our mouth.

So what’s the answer? John 3:14-15 tells us: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
In the Greek, that word translated “life” is “zoe”. Pay attention to the way James strong defined zoe: “life real and genuine, a life active and vigorous, devoted to God, blessed, in the portion even in this world of those who put their trust in Christ, but after the resurrection to be consummated by new accessions (among them a more perfect body), and to last for ever.” So you see that it’s not only salvation from Hell, but a real and genuine life here on earth!

In the same way they looked to that serpent on a pole, we look to what Jesus did for us on the cross. When He died for us, He paid for our joy, our peace, our righteousness, our healing, our forgiveness, our abundant life and our eternal life! When we look to Him, and the price He paid for us - it destroys discouragement!

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