I'm a little bit behind in posting my worship reflections, because I was sick with a cold for almost two weeks, and then...I have no excuse. So this worship service was about a month ago. I didn't want to miss it, though, because I thought it was a really profound thing to think about.
We've been doing a series on the Exodus and the desert wandering of the Israelites, found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. So this particular week, Paul gave a message entitled, "Oh, Stop Your Whining." We went through several passages of scripture where the Israelites grumbled and/or someone cried out to God (including Exodus 14:10-15, 15:22-25, 16:1-4, 17:1-6 and Numbers 11:1-20). Paul gave us a chance to "grumble" about something with our neighbor (he specified grumbling about something or someone not present in the room!), and times to reflect out loud what it feels like to grumble, and what we notice about the passages where grumbling occurs.
His main point was that there seems to be a difference between when people grumble, and when people cry out to God. I thought this was a really helpful and profound insight. It's easy to complain, but this is usually under our breath, or out of fear, or wanting things to just be how they were before (even if that was bad) because at least then we know what to expect.
Crying out to God, on the other hand, is a way of remembering God's faithfulness and asking God to be faithful today. Usually when Moses or the people cried out to God, they remembered what God had done for them and their ancestors in the past and the promises God had made to them. Then they asked where God was now, and why something difficult or unfair was happening to them. There are lots of psalms like this as well.
I think maybe the difference is our level of trust. When we trust God, we cry out to God--we know God can and does provide for us, even if in ways we don't understand. We remember how God has dealt with us in the past, and with others. We remember and trust that God is on the side of justice and love. When we grumble, on the other hand, we doubt God's faithfulness. We're afraid that things are going to get worse rather than better.
We also talked in worship about this being a question of control. We want to be in control, and grumbling somehow makes us feel more in control. We think we know better than God, and that "going back to Egypt," wherever our "Egypt" happens to be, would be better than going forward into God's "Promised Land." We want a particular thing to happen. When we cry out to God, we're willing to move forward with God into something new, something we don't understand and over which we have little control.
Paul also asked an excellent question of us: "How do we as a people learn to trust God and not be a grumbling community?" He suggested as a community we need to learn to re-frame things. He gave the example of putting photos in various frames (he's actually my father-in-law and taught my husband a lot about being a photographer...), and how if you have the right color mat or border it brings out different parts of the picture. It's the same picture, but the way you see it changes. A major way we can provide a new "frame" for situations in which we find ourselves is to practice gratefulness. We do this by intentionally noticing things in the "picture" that we might not have noticed otherwise, things that bring spontaneous joy. We also pay attention to the background: God's faithfulness in the past. When I do this I generally feel much more joyful and grateful.
A couple queries still remain:
Do we have places and times to remember our gratefulness for God's faithfulness?
And do we have places and times to honestly cry out to God as a community?