Do you ever feel like a modern-day Israelite? Let me explain what I mean. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt for many many years between the end of the book of Genesis and the start of the book of Exodus. Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph, and he said to his people, “behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. (Exodus 1:8-14 ESV)
The Israelites were serving the people of Egypt in hard labor. So, they began to cry out to God to free them from this hard life. During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel, and God knew. (Exodus 2:23-25 ESV). So, God moved. He would rescue his people, with a strong arm and a mighty hand. He would fight for his people. He is a rescuer. We all know how the story goes. God sent Moses and the 10 plagues on Egypt. Pharaoh lets the people of Israel go free. He even plunders the Egyptians on the way out, then drowns the pursuing Egyptian fighters when they pursue the Israelites. They were now free. God had heard their cries and rescued his people. Would they be grateful for it? Would they praise the God of who moved heaven and earth so they wouldn’t have to live a life that made them cry day in and day out? The answer, of course, is no. They complained at every turn during their journey to the promised land. They complained every chance they got. Complaining that God brought them out into the desert to die. Always the same complaint. Why did you lead us out of the land of Egypt? Why did you take us from a land where we ate bread and meat? Why did you take us from a land where life was better? Why did you come for us in the first place?
How many times do we do the same thing? I for one am going through this very thing. My prayers were frequented by things like, why does work have to be so hard? Why can’t I have more time with my family? Why is it so hard to make end meet? Why can’t I just have the faith to believe you will make ends meet. So, I began to pray that God would move, that he would rescue me. I began to pray things like, “help my faith, draw me closer to you, and make me more like you.” My prayer was to be changed, to give myself wholly surrendered to Him and His will for my life. The number of times I prayed for God’s will to be done in my life, cannot be counted. So, God being a loving rescuer, not wanting his children to remain the same, moved. He moved on my behalf. God moved. I should be ecstatic. I should be praising his name like never before. Unfortunately, much like an Israelite, I chose to complain. God answered my prayers, but not in the way I wanted them to be answered. He chose to flip my life upside down. I went from steady income, to nothing at all. I went from being healthy, to seizures. I cannot get through the day without a nap. I cannot work too hard, expending too much energy, results in twitches, shaking, and eventually seizures if I push it too far. I went from going where I wanted, when I wanted. To being totally reliant on others to take me where I need to go. This is not where I saw the answers to my prayers going. I chose to complain, day in and day out about my new circumstances. Why would God choose this for me? Why would he drag me through this? I used to have it so good. Why would he take me from the land of Egypt (so to speak) and bring me to this place? Because he loves me! Because he doesn’t want me to remain the same. Because he wants to answer my prayers to make me more like him.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified, (Romans 8:28-30 ESV). He wants nothing more than for me to be conformed into the image of his Son. The conforming into the image of his Son requires that we think differently, be renewed mentally, and sacrifice all we are for him, including our lives. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect, (Romans 12:1-3 ESV). God places us in times of trials and struggle, pulling us from places we feel were comfortable, to make us perfect. To help us become more like his Son. To make us more holy and acceptable in His eyes. We are to count it joy when places us in trials to change us. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kings, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4 ESV)
So why do we complain when God answers our prayer? Why do we complain, like Israelites, dragging our feet and complaining the whole way to the promised land? God wants us to be perfect, lacking in nothing, conformed to the image of his Son, not conformed to the world, but renewed. Why do we put a fight the whole way? Why do we complain, woe is me? Life was better before, why did you drag me out here to let me die this way? Because change, perfection, and transformation cannot occur without death first. Then Jesus told his disciples, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26 ESV). God is bidding us, follow me. Die to yourself. I promise at the end of your life you will find a more perfect life. You will be perfect, lacking in nothing, changed from the inside out, conformed in the image of my Son, Jesus. We must deny ourselves and take up our cross. We must die to ourselves to find a more perfect way. God does not promise us a pain free life. If you want to follow him and be perfect, it requires, pain, it requires death. The cross is not comfortable. But if we deny our will, chose his will, pick up the uncomfortable cross, and die to ourselves, we will find a more perfect life in the image of Jesus.
So pick up your cross. Rejoice in the troubling times. It is only working for your benefit to make you more like Jesus. My cross is uncomfortable. My cross is this brain injury. My cross is twitching and shaking. My cross is no driving, no working, basically being grounded to my house for months. So I chose to rejoice in the rain, I rejoice in my death and the denial of myself. I will no longer fight and complain the whole way. Lord, have your will and your way in my life. Even if it is uncomfortable and it leads to the end of me. So be it. Like Paul I say But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith, that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11 ESV)
My prayer is that we would not complain in the difficult times, but would instead embrace them and look forward to the change that will happen within us. May we count it all Joy!