Missio on Grumbling (Numbers 11)

It must be one of our favorite pastimes as a culture: complaining about our work.  Grumbling.  And certainly there are times where complaint is legitimate, where things at work are unjust.  But there are also plenty of times where we become accustomed to work, and as we become accustomed we start to fixate on the things that are wrong, forgetting the blessings that are there.

I’ve often mused on the analogy of driving on the freeway.  We get on at the entrance ramp, accelerate down the ramp, feeling the slight push back into our seats as we pick up speed, and for a moment we marvel – human beings have created a way that I can (relatively) safely go 60 mph.  But after a few moments, we become accustomed to speed.  60 mph, which seemed fast only moments before, now seems slow.  We need to add speed to keep the feeling.  So we do.  70 mph.  But after only a bit 70 mph seems slow.  80 mph?  We become accustomed to speed, suddenly forgetting the marvel of what is going on.

So it was with Israel in the desert – they ate each day by a miracle, yet before long they were accustomed to it, and instead of marveling at the miracle, they grumbled at God’s provision for them.  Manna was no longer enough.  They needed meat.  70 mph?  80?  90?

“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. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them. Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it. Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the Lord blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased.” (Numbers 11:1–10, ESV)

Isn’t our work so often the same way?  We become accustomed to it.  We forget that it is – so often – God’s good gift for us, God’s provision for our needs and the needs of those we support, God’s means of giving us necessities that we need.  Yes, it can be hard.  And yes, some workplaces are without question unjust and inappropriate.  This is no denial of how often workplaces are turned to wrong, nor is it in any way a defense of such an environment.  But it is also a simple reminder to us – work is a gift from God, not a curse, and we often fixate on what’s wrong – and grumble – instead of remembering the blessing it is that we have it.

Where am I called to consider my tone and to reconsider my fixation on what’s wrong at my workplace?

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