Getting an abundance of what we want in life is not always a sign that God is blessing us. It is hard to swallow this fact, isn’t it?
But think about it. If what we want is bad for us, getting a lot of it is still negative. More of a problem is just a bigger headache. It may be hard for us to fathom this in our consumer driven culture. The prosperity gospel teachers don’t help either. But it is true. Sometimes getting what we want is absolutely the worst thing for us and getting more of it is just piling on the pain.
But even when this occurs, God does not leave us as orphans. He uses our pursuit and attainment of what is bad for us to point us back to what is good. He shows us through what we initially think is abundance just how wrong our hearts were in the first place.
The account of the Israelites and the quail in the Book of Numbers is a good example of this process. Numbers is an account of a people that are filled with rebellion and disobedience. Though they had just been saved from slavery and captivity in Egypt, they were ungrateful and chronically dissatisfied. It is somewhat shocking when you stop and think about it.
The Israelites have been blessed in open and obvious ways by God during the time of the Exodus. God miraculously leads them out of Egypt. There is a giant pillar of fire at night and ginormous cloud over them during the day leading them through the wilderness. God literally feeds them and guides them every single day.
Yet, their hearts are filled with discontent and their mouths with grumbling and murmuring. The Hebrew word that describes the complaining that they do is translated in some versions as “speaking evil in the ears of the Lord”. They are complaining to God about God.
The Lord brought them out of captivity, saved them from a life of slavery and provided great things for them in the present. He also was pointing them towards something better for the future – the Promise Land…and they complained about it. Look how they complained too:
so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat? 5 We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!” Numbers 11
They disdained the things of the Lord, manna. They lusted after the things of the flesh, meat and things that fed their faces. Their desire to please their appetites was greater than their appreciation for the miraculous provision by God.
It is amazing and befuddling, isn’t it? How could they do that with all that God has done for them? Did they forget that they were being worked to death as slaves in Egypt?
Well, God miraculously saved us out of a life of sin and death, right? Have we ever looked back on that life and coveted? Have we compared the fantasy version of that life with our walk now and lusted after the onions and leeks of life before Christ? It is usually not vegetables for us, but are we staring backward at the drugs, alcohol, sex or other things that are sensually appealing from that time?
Do we forget that we were just as certainly in slavery and being worked to death as the Israelites were in Egypt? Sin was our master and sin always results in death.
When we allow those longings for the world to take root a funny thing happens. Suddenly the things of God do not taste good to us. Much like the Israelites with manna, we begin to find God’s work distasteful and think only the things of the flesh will satisfy us.
If we seek the things of the flesh the things of God are going to be repugnant to us. If we seek the things of God, the things of the flesh will disgust us. It is a relatively simple formula.
Are you lusting after alcohol? Porn? Drugs? Infidelity? Like the Israelites, you might be caught in this cycle. If you are seeking the things of the flesh, the flesh is never satisfied. The lust is always there driving us for more, more, and more. More of a bad thing just results in more pain. It is a life of emptiness, enslavement and death.
Look what God does to break the chain. In Numbers, God gives them what they want…in great abundance. They complain about what was from Him and demand meat so He sends thousands of quail for them to eat. They lusted after meat and God answers their cries to Him.
But because the place from which they cried out to the Lord, one of rebellion and dissatisfaction with God, they will never enjoy it. God’s provision which could be holy and wonderful becomes intertwined with and an excuse for their sin.
The Bible says that they gorge themselves until they have quail coming out of their noses. It is a disgusting picture of what sin does to us. What should have been a time of rejoicing becomes a gross picture of man’s sin mastering him. Abundance outside of God’s will always ends up with emptiness and disgust.
And because their desire was born out of sin, no matter how much they eat they will never be satisfied. Their souls will never be filled by what is fleshly. What feeds the sinful nature never feeds the Spirit. The psalmist writes about this event in Psalm 106:
Ever notice that when we give in to the lusts of the flesh in life, “just one time” is never enough. Just one time begets another time begets one hundred times and soon there is a great burden on our back that we have to carry. The Lord never wants sin for us and never leads us to sin so it is only fair it is ours to lug around.
The wonderful thing though is that God doesn’t leave us there. Despite the fact that we deserve it, He doesn’t turn away from us and leave us trapped by the sin that we swore off years prior. He uses the disgust that our excess should create in us to turn us back to Him. Quail coming out of the Israelites noses and the sickness that surrounded the excesses was meant to bring the Israelites to repentance.
God uses even their fleshly desires and sin to bring them back to Him. He does the same with us. He never causes sin and never encourages it. Once we have set our hearts on disobedience, though, He uses the misery of it to turn our hearts around.
Christians are straining under the weight of sin all over the world today. We are feeling the leanness of our souls even as we are disgusted with our excesses. Like the vile results of too much quail coming out of us, we are seeing the nastiness that results of consumption of huge amounts of sin. We are seeing the emptiness that goes along with it.
So what is the answer to this problem? How do we avoid leanness of our soul?
Don’t be like the Israelites. Simple but true.
Never forget the cost paid to get us out of bondage and to bring us out of the world. As Jesus said, seek first the Kingdom of God and let God add the rest to us. Fix our eyes on our Savior, Jesus and then follow Him…no matter where it appears He is leading.
Jesus promised us not only life but what? Life abundantly. Real abundance that will fill our souls with everything they need.
The call of the world is like the call of Egypt to the Isrealites. It is seductive to our flesh and seems satisfying but ultimately leads to starvation. Real prosperity only comes with Jesus. Follow Him and be filled!