A few years ago, we went on a skiing vacation with a group of people. What began as a fun get away was quickly complicated by problems. Our connecting flight was delayed, and then delayed again and again until finally we were stranded overnight without transportation, luggage, or guarantee of another flight the next morning. The airline's customer service representatives provided nothing that resembled service so we were essentially left to fend for ourselves. We eventually reached our destination and hit the slopes. Some of our group allowed the frustrating experience to color the rest of the trip. Any new inconvenience was met with grumbling and complaining. Their default was set, and remained, on negative.
It's not enjoyable to be around a negative person, much less stuck in a car or airport with them. No one enjoys that type of company. We don't like it and neither does God. In fact, because of their attitude the Israelite generation, that had been rescued from slavery in Egypt, never made it to the Promised Land. What scholars tell us should have been an eleven day journey became, for them, a forty year march through the wilderness. Despite everything that God had done, and was still doing for them, they grumbled and complained about what they felt they lacked. They never receive God's planned blessing because they failed to appreciate what they'd already been given.
The punishment of wilderness living is still with us today. God does not burn us with a consuming fire or force us to wander in a desert, yet nevertheless there is a consequence to critical living. Happiness runs from negativity and complaint. No grumbler is ever happy or content, nor is anyone who lives around them. A negative attitude scorches emotional life just as fire scorches physical life. It can rage out of control causing untold damage. Nothing good can thrive in the midst of the flame. Any who choose a lifestyle of complaining, choose also to have a lifestyle of wilderness living. God doesn't want that for His children.
Life can never be smooth sailing. There will always been times of turbulence causing flights to be delayed or crisis where everything that can go wrong does. We can't always control what happens to us, but we can control- if we try- our attitude about it. The attitude we have when undergoing trials will often determine how long we remain in that present difficulty. God calls us to be full of joy in all circumstances so that we may serve as a light to the dark world. This doesn't mean that we won't ever be unhappy, just that we won't let temporary circumstances control our joy. So, how can we avoid wilderness living? Consider:
1. Where we are looking-
Attitude begins with perspective. Small minded thinking is negative attitude thinking. It's an attitude of, "what about me?” It looks at what is lacking in the short-term instead of on the blessings and promises we do have. Because there is so much happening at any given time, God created the brain in such a way that we can control where it focuses and what it overlooks. Without that ability, we would have sensory overload. A positive minded person looks at a rose bush and sees a flowering bush with thorns. A negative minded person looks at the same thing and sees a thorn bush with flowers. A positive minded person looks at a man and sees a loving father who plays with his children and makes a little mess. A negative minded person looks at the man and sees a walking disaster area that happens to have children.
Perspective is something that we can easily change. When you find yourself focusing on what is wrong- with yourself, your family, your spouse, your circumstance- train your brain to look for what is good. Adopt a spirit of silver-lining living. Ask God in prayer to reveal the blessings you already have.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,- James 1:2
2. What we are saying-
We can say we believe one way or another but what comes out of our mouth reveals what is truly in our heart. If our speech is full of negative, complaining, whining, nagging words, we are in the midst of wilderness living and if we aren't careful we will remain there.
Pay attention to the words that come out of your mouth or, better yet, ask a close friend. But be prepared to receive an answer you may not like. Often, we are not aware of just how many shaded words we speak. Should we find that our words don't reflect what we want to be in our heart, we need to turn to God for His help in a heart transplant, to fill us anew.
For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.-Luke 6:45b
3. Who we are spending time with-
Just like a virus, attitudes are contagious. Who we choose to surround ourselves with will quickly influence our attitude. It is the mob mindset. The unhappiness and anger of others can spark a destructive fire in us from an ember we weren't truly aware we had. Because we are imperfect people living in an imperfect fallen world there is nothing without blemish. We can always find something wrong. If we choose to spend our time with those who always focus on what's wrong, we will quickly find ourselves doing the same thing. Run away from people like that.
Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character." 1 Cor. 15:33
Message for the Journey:
Unlike the complaining Israelites, wilderness living is a choice God gives us. If we choose a negative attitude, we choose to miss out on God's blessings and live a barren life. Attitudes once changed a difficult 11 day journey into 40 years of wandering in a desert wilderness. Don't let your attitude do the same with you. The attitude you choose today, will impact all of your tomorrows.
Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Eph 4:23