Numbers 12 is a very rich chapter. I encourage you to read it for yourself and see what’s in there. Part of my Bible reading technique is to see what the characters are up to, and imagine myself as that character, to see if there is any bad trait to avoid, or any good quality to emulate. There’s plenty of material here. Let’s take a quick run through this morning and look at just one component – dealing with criticism.
v1 -2 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses.
Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.2 “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.
Complaints against spiritual leaders are clearly nothing new. As someone once said, when you are the one out in front, you’re the one that gets the bugs in your teeth. I read on another minister’s FB page this week one explanation of why this is so:
“Many criticize churches and think church is at best a waste of time, and at worst a bad idea. I am not among them. If you have experienced the ugly, I understand, and I’ll raise you one. The harshest attacks I’ve ever experienced have come from people in churches I’ve served.
But that’s what I signed up for. The church is a hospital, and hospitals exist for people who aren’t well. Sometimes people bring bad diseases to hospitals, and even spread them. But lives are saved in hospitals, and churches. People come to life and health and wholeness in churches like nowhere else. The Spirit of God works in unique ways in His church, and the best things of this life cannot happen apart from a long involvement in a congregation of broken people on the road back to God.” (Dick Alexander)
This is great insight, and helps me have more compassion for the critics. As someone else said, “Hurt people hurt people” and when I face criticism, there’s probably at least some of the pain that I am not responsible for, that is being projected from a person’s past hurts or difficult experiences within a church, or with a minister.
To Moses’ credit, he doesn’t respond with defensiveness or aggression (or even passive-aggression) to this grumbling. He steps back and allows God to vindicate him, and even prays for those who criticized him (v13). Miriam is given leprosy by God (but Aaron is not – does this indicate that she was the instigator and was judged more harshly? The text doesn’t say.)
So, while it’s comfortable to see myself in the persona of the innocently-accused Moses, integrity requires that I also ask of myself if there is an Aaron/Miriam spirit in me. Is there a critical spirit that looks at other ministers and secretly whispers, “I could do better. What’s so special about them, that they should have such a thriving ministry? Don’t I deserve to be blessed by God the same way?”
Whenever I detect this in myself, (and honestly, it doesn’t happen often) I have to stamp on it immediately.
Looking from the outside in, I am incredibly blessed. I am part of a wonderful, loving congregation that has a rich history, yet is not trapped in tradition, but sees it as a great foundation on which to build. I work with an enthusiastic and talented staff. I have the great privilege of bringing God’s word to a receptive people on Sundays. I live in a beautiful part of the world. God has given me so much more than I deserve.
There is no room for envy here. I am satisfied, and my only discontent is, I hope, a holy discontent, that looks at Silicon Valley with only 3-5% church attendance, and says, this must change. A discontent that sees so many hurt and broken people that are desperately in need of this “hospital” and its chief physician, Jesus Christ.
What about you? Do you have your critics? Do you secretly hope for their downfall? Or do you seek to understand, and even pray for them, as Moses did? It’s hard to hate someone and pray for God to bless them (yes, and change them) at the same time.
My last comment on criticism, which is a given, are these words from Theodore Roosevelt which I love:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
And now, on with the day.
Go, you strong men (and women)! Go, you doers of deeds! Go, you fighters in the arena and make a difference today.