The Promised Land: Part 3 (Numbers 14:1-4)
There's probably no better illustration of the human tendency to doubt God and rely on ourselves to accomplish what we think is best than the story of the Israelites attempting to enter the Promised Land. What was supposed to be a 3 day trip turned into 40 years of wandering in the desert and the death of nearly everyone who escaped from Egypt. This is a story that has been on my heart quite a bit over the past few weeks, and as I read over Numbers 13-14, the Lord showed me a number of powerful things that I want to share with you as you examine not only the situations you encounter in the classroom, but things you are experiencing in your own spiritual walk, as well.
Recently at lunch, I was listening to a second-year teacher compare her current classroom situation with the one from last year. As we all got into the discussion, I realized just how rosy everything looked in retrospect even for a person who only had one year of comparison- last year the kids were higher in reading, last year we had less testing and paperwork, last year we didn't have to have extra meetings on Thursdays. And it seemed like the longer people had been teaching, the more drastic the comparisons they made- five years ago the superintendent (who was much better than the current one) gave everyone 10% step increases, ten years ago we didn't even HAVE standardized tests, twenty years ago we didn't have to deal with these discipline problems because the parents were doing their jobs! By the end of the conversation, we were all perched indignantly on our soapboxes complaining about the perennially popular teacher topic: The Sorry State of Education Today.
Those discussions can be stress-relieving because they help us remember we're not the only ones experiencing frusteration, but repeatedly dwelling on the negative tends to make us feel discouraged and hopeless. The collective perception of self-pity and idealization of the past that my co-workers and I had engaged in was exactly like that of the Israelites. After they choose to believe the negative report from the spies who were sent into Canaan rather than trust that God would deliver them into the land, the Israelites began really wallowing in their misery. And just like us, they were so caught up in the moment (How much longer can we possibly deal with this?!) that they had completely lost sight of the big picture:
"Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. 'If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!' they complained. 'Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?' Then they plotted among themselves, 'Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!'”
You know you've lost perspective when you're crying all night long about a problem that only exists in your mind and begging God to return you to slavery. God told the Israelites that He would give them the land. Period. This is the God who parted the Red Sea for them. Yet they forgot everything they knew about God's character and chose to let worry consume them to the point where they actually believed that things were better in the past. God tells us in His word that He has a plan to prosper us and not harm us- why would He bring us into any situation that wouldn't ultimately be for our gain?
The people actually entertained the idea of finding a new leader who would return them to Egypt. If you've ever spent time contemplating how to change your administration or fantasized aloud with others about how wonderful it would be to return the system 'to the way it used to be', you know how time-consuming and energy-draining this type of activity is. Complaining is emotionally exhausting: no wonder the Israelites didn't feel like they had the strength to go on- they had expended it all on tearing down their leaders!
The Israelites were choosing known evils over unknown ones. Imagine if God had actually given them what they asked for and sent them back into slavery! How many minutes would have passed before they would have started crying out again for deliverance? We are so blessed that God does not give us everything we ask for, but answers our prayers in accordance with His omniscience. You would think we'd learn to trust Him a little more because of that.
What better reason to step out in faith for whatever God is asking you to do? He knows the entire situation and will guide your steps. Remember the trials you have faced at work that He has brought you through- the parent two years ago who screamed at you in the hallway; the child in last year's class who flew into a stubborn rage every time you asked him to open a textbook- doesn't it seem like those things happened ages ago? Yet they seemed so huge at the moment that you couldn't imagine ever moving past them. When you start to lose perspective, think back to all the situations that God has delivered you out of, and believe that the problems you are facing in the present are just a small bump on the road that are ultimately leading you down a path of future blessings that are so incredible, only God Himself could have designed them.