God’s Faithfulness in the Grumbling of Youth Ministry
This week on the Rooted blog we are sharing some of our favorites from the archives, because the truth of God’s Word and his gospel never changes. Enjoy, and happy summer!
A few years ago, I decided to embark on a three-year preaching journey through the entire Bible. I wanted my students to better grasp the meta-narrative in Scripture and see how every passage connects with Christ. One of the big picture ideas that still stands out to me is the sin of complaining and grumbling, and how God deals with it.
The Bible starts with Genesis and lays out the problems of mankind and God’s plan for redemption, things build up in the book of Exodus. Here, God’s glory is on full display as he chooses to raise up Moses and use him to judge the Pharaoh and the Egyptians for their slavery and mistreatment of the Israelite people. So many threads that began in Genesis begin to converge throughout the Exodus narrative, as God starts fulfilling the promises that he made to Abraham. And in fourteen action-packed chapters, God lays waste to the Egyptian kingdom and brings out Israel on eagle’s wings (Ex 19:4).
Exodus 15 is crowning song of praise to the Lord for rescuing them in such spectacular way through the Red Sea. But this exuberance doesn’t last very long. At the end of the same chapter, the people journey for three days without water and when they finally find a water source, it’s bitter. The Israelites, on the verge of dying of thirst, complain and grumble against God and Moses; the Lord then provides a way to sweeten the water so the people are able to drink and rest.
I found this to be incredibly disheartening from a leadership standpoint. The Israelites JUST witnessed one of the greatest miracles in the Bible a mere three days ago, and already their faith is wavering and they wonder if God is with them.
But fine, let’s give them some leeway here. Three days without water will kill you and they had lots of children and livestock with them. Their stress and anxiety would be pretty high. And this is a great opportunity for the Lord to be tender with them and provide for them so that they would have even greater confidence in the Lord’s ability to provide for them. Let’s brush this one off.
Forty five days after crossing the Red Sea, however, I think the Israelites cross a line. Exodus 16:3 tells us that they complained by saying, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” I imagine that Moses’ face upon hearing these complaints and accusations against God would be flush with anger and fear. Are they insane? Have they forgotten that, a month and a half ago, they were slaves saddled with hard labor? Not only have they forgotten their misery, they seem to be misremembering their entire existence in Egypt. After everything that God did for the people, that they could so boldly turn away from him in their hearts and display this kind of faithlessness seems almost unbelievable.
But is it?
Difficult as it is, even a cursory look in the mirror should prove my judgments against the Israelites a little too premature. I have more than my share of faithless moments in ministry.
I have seen over and over again how God works in the lives of my students and my staff, and yet I’m constantly questioning whether or not God’s methods are best. Shouldn’t I be focused on the big, flashy events instead of centering my life on prayer and engaging with his Word? Shouldn’t I be trying to network and partner with more people instead of chasing down the student who doesn’t really want to meet with me anyway? Should I really put so much effort into the students who are antagonistic towards the church and our ministry?
These thoughts are a mixture of different sins wrapped around an icy core of disbelief. This student is beyond the mercy of God. God needs me more than I need him. God’s love through me isn’t enough to change these students’ hearts.
But whenever I read this part of Exodus, I half expect the next verse to say, “So God smote them as he smote the Egyptians in the Red Sea.” But that’s not what it says. Not even close. The majestic mercy and glorious tenderness of our God shines through like an unexpected beacon of light, and instead of destroying the people for their lack of faith, he announces a banquet: “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you…” That’s amazing. Rather than shower them with judgment, he showers them with bread and an opportunity and invitation to place their faith in him. He would rain bread from heaven six days of the week, and on the seventh day, there would be none. Each day, they would gather what they needed for that particular day, and on the sixth, they would collect double.
Of course, the Israelites didn’t obey any of these commands. Some tried to collect more each day, and others tried to collect on the 7th day. But God was faithful: for the next forty years, he would lay out the day’s meal, every week, on schedule, and on time.
What God provides for us in our ministries is what we need and what our youth need. He can be trusted with the big and the small, but most of all, he can be trusted with our faith. He’s in control of the ship, and we only need to trust and obey. So no, chasing down those students is not a waste of time. Devoting yourself to prayer and God’s Word is not a waste of time. Seeking out the lost and marginalized is not a waste of time. This is God’s banquet, spread out for us to take. 1700 years later, Jesus himself would come to a wedding feast and as his first miracle, he would take the water for ceremonial washing and transform it into the best wine ever. This is a miraculous foreshadowing that he can transform ritual obedience into something beautiful and wonderful. Christ seeks to do this in us as we faithfully obey as ministers of his grace.