” . . . I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
“And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp” (Numbers 11:1,2).
It’s been five weeks since we left our contentment series. I’m afraid I’m not much more content now than when we began, stuck somewhere between the two Scriptures above. How about you? That’s what I thought. So let’s get back to it.
Review. First, a brief review. I’ve been summarizing and commenting on 17th century-Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs’ book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. He defines contentment as “that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious, frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” In other words, I am content when my inmost being is inclined to submit to and delight in whatever situation our Father puts me in.
Providence. Contentment brings us face to face with “providence.” J. I. Packer quotes the Westminster Shorter Catechism, then gives us his definition of God’s providence . . .
“God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.11). If Creation was a unique exercise of divine energy causing the world to be, providence is a continued exercise of that same energy whereby the Creator, according to his own will, (a) keeps all creatures in being, (b) involves himself in all events, and (c) directs all things to their appointed end. The model is of purposive personal management with total “hands-on” control: God is completely in charge of his world. His hand may be hidden, but his rule is absolute.”
“Situations.” Jesus once assured his fearful disciples . . .
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.
Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).
In his providence, our Father puts us in “situations” (a sparrow falls, I become disabled). Paul had learned to submit to and delight in God putting him in whatever situation he providentially chose. I’m still learning, still enrolled in our Father’s contentment course. I still complain.
Israelites. In Numbers 11, the Israelites had just left Mount Sinai. Their wilderness journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land was starting its second year. Despite the Lord’s miraculous provisions along the way, they grumbled. No food (Exodus 16:1-3). The Lord provided bread and quail (Exodus 16:4-36). No water (Exodus 17:1-4). The Lord gushed it from a rock (Exodus 17:5-7). Now, like whining children in the backseat, they were complaining about their whole hard-knock life—particularly the food. No more lip-smacking Egyptian menu. Only manna from heaven (Numbers 11:4-6).
When the Lord heard their complaints (apparently he does hear what we’d rather he didn’t), “his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp” (Numbers 11:1b). Think Sc-Fi. Some giant, other-worldly being focuses his raging anger at Earth. A beam of white-hot light fires from his eye and Manhattan burns.
Evils. Fiery anger? Over a little complaining? Why did the LORD get so hot? Burroughs wrote two chapters titled, “The Evils of a Murmuring (Complaining) Spirit.” Here are seven evils he cites . . .
- Murmuring and discontentedness reveals corruption in our soul.
- God considers complaining rebellion. (See Numbers 16:41 and 17:10).
- Complaining is contrary to the work of God’s grace in us.
- Thanklessness for what one has is a mark of ungodliness (Romans 1:21).
- Complaining is contrary to our prayer, “Your will be done.”
- Complaining robs us of the present comfort we do have. It can’t get us what we want. It makes our affliction worse.
- Complaining provokes God’s wrath.
At first glance the Lord’s anger seems over the top. And Burroughs seems a tad extreme to talk about the evils of complaining. Until I stop and think deeply about that list. Complaining comes from a corrupted soul. It’s rebellion. Contrary to God’s grace-work in us. Ingratitude is a sign of ungodliness. When we pray, “Your will be done” and it is, then we complain? I suppose an occasional complaint isn’t so bad. But when complaining becomes my default reaction to “situations”, what else can it be but sin?
I’m surprised my backyard isn’t burning.