It is a fact of life along with taxes, mismatched socks, traffic when you are in a hurry, that in this world we are going to have trouble.
In fact Jesus, who himself encountered more trouble in this world then all of us combined, said, “…in this world you will have tribulation…” (John 16.33). Furthermore, for believers who have been saved by divine grace, given a new nature, yet still imperfect and given to sin, we seem to encounter varied forms of ‘trouble’ even in the body of Christ.
Even more for those of us in pastoral ministry, we seem to partake in espresso strength doses of trouble. I remember a particular ‘green’ moment in my first year of full time ministry when I asked the guys during a staff meeting (this was about 4 months in), “Is it always like this?” To which they lovingly responded, “It is Mach IV with your hair on fire. Buckle up. Heaven will be great.” This was during a particularly tumultuous time, but it has nevertheless characterized ministry. Those of you who are in ministry know what I am talking about.
So how do we respond? Well, the temptations abound, and the natural responses are, well, natural. We can become bitter, self-consumed, tired, discouraged, or even depressed. All of these things will naturally happen when we find ourselves inwardly focused and dressed with thin skin. But is this God-honoring? Is this biblically right?
Recently we have been reading through the Book of Numbers with the family. I have been struck by Moses’ response to the seemingly incessant grumbling and divisiveness by the people. Surely when God tells us that Moses was more humble than any who were living in his day (Num. 12.3) then we have something to learn from him.
When the spies come back from the land in chapter 13 they give the report that the land is outfitted with NBA prospects and that Israel's lack of height and muscle appears to be a significant disadvantage. The morale was poor after this report. In fact it was so bad that the people “wept that night” (14.1) in a “loud cry”. The whole congregation grumbled against Moses and petitioned for a new leader and a return to Egypt (good thing they weren't congregationally ruled).
So what would you do? Isn't there something in you that wants to let them have it? Just tell ‘em to shut up and go back to bed? But Moses shows us the path of loving humility:
Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel. (Num. 14.5)
That is convicting. Divisiveness, grumbling, overreacting, and ungodliness; and to this we find Moses with his nostrils in the dirt. Convicting.
But this is not an isolated incident.
In the famous rebellion of Korah in chapter 16 we read that he had gotten quite a gaggle of folks to join him in his insurrection:
And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. 3 They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron…(Num. 14.2-3a)
And how does Moses respond?
"When Moses heard it, he fell on his face" (Num. 16.4).
Then of course God was going to step in and deal with this rebellion. Moses was “very angry” (v.15) but nevertheless prayed.
The stage was set for those who have asserted themselves and those whom have been appointed by God for work. God warned Moses and Aaron to get back lest they be consumed when he torches the congregation in judgment. However, Moses, (and you have got to feel for this guy) petitions the Lord again, asking for mercy:
And they fell on their faces and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and will you be angry with all the congregation?” (Num. 16.22)
Moses wanted God to deal with those who started the factiousness and not the whole congregation. Again, we see Moses’ loving, humble, God-fearing heart.
Finally, we see the same pattern in the 20th chapter. The people are grumbling due to the lack of water. And so then we see our guy Moses grabbing a face full of dirt as he cries out to God for mercy and intervention:
Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them (Num. 20.6).
I want to respond to trouble like this. I want to fear God and love people in such a way that when something comes along that is problematic that I fall on my face and petition the Lord God for mercy. Moses becomes a good tutor for those of us in pastoral ministry and for that matter, all who desire to live humbly in the fear of God.
In the sense that Moses did what is right and is a suitable pattern for us it is only in shadow form compared to the incarnation of humility, our Lord Jesus Christ. In the face of miracles he was called the devil. The incarnate word was questioned of his teaching of the word. The God of comfort was abused and abandoned. The giver of life was sentenced to die. All of this he did without reviling, belittling, acting out in the flesh; for Jesus did not sin, he just glorified the Father in loving obedience:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pet. 2.21-24)
Moses is helpful for us as a prefigured model of who Jesus would be as the sinner's righteousness. Let us learn from Moses while we cling to and follow Christ our righteousness, knowing that it is his glory, not our own that we pursue and love. It is in this pursuit that we'll find ourselves getting more face time on the ground rather than counting our wounds in the mirror.