“Do not listen to those who weep and complain, for their disease is contagious.”
So observed Og Mandino, a best-selling author whose most famous book was The Greatest Salesman in the World. Inspired by the Bible, Mandino’s writings wove together Scriptural truth, common wisdom and an emphasis on seeing the positive elements of life and sold over 50 million copies.
That encouragement by Mandino to avoid complainers came to mind as I thought about the current coronavirus COVID-19 situation. As we adapt through social distancing and deal with shortages of food – and toilet paper! – we have a choice to dwell on the negatives…a disease of the heart, or to look to and trust God, who is sovereign and good even when things are odd, uncomfortable and unpredictable. That perspective should cause us to avoid grumbling and to “fear not,” as Jesus encouraged.
Today I was reading an Old Testament passage and considering this season of COVID-19, and the uncertainty we’re experiencing. The book of Numbers is a summary account of 39 years of wanderings in the desert as Israel moved from captivity in Egypt to freedom in Canaan. To be sure, Israel had a lot of discomfort, waiting and uncertainty. The unknowns were significant for a great, wandering multitude! Through it all, however, God was guiding and speaking.
As Charles Ryrie observed,
“The principal lesson of Numbers is that God’s people must walk by faith, trusting His promises, if they are to move forward…The book recounts the unbelief and discontent the people…”
Although Israel enjoyed God’s favor and victory as they wandered in the desert, and some military victories as they got closer to fully occupying the land He had promised to give them, they struggled to see God and His goodness on a consistent basis during.
Much of the time Israel only saw what they seemingly lacked. They became acutely aware of what they wanted but did not have. They lost sight of the good things God had promised for the future. They got impatient.
To be sure, the 40 years of wandering was an exhausting journey. It became very difficult. As the people dwelt on what they did not achieve or have, they got anxious and spoke negatively about their situation and their God. They complained and grumbled. That negativity was a contagious disease, as Mandino suggested, and in Numbers chapter 21 God had had enough. He sent venomous snakes to afflict and punish the pervasive attitude. Many died before there was an awakening to their sin and the people repented. But the weeping and complaining did cease, at least for a while. I guess snake bites have a way of giving perspective.
Reflecting on the snake incident I considered its relation to these days of social distancing and empty grocery store shelves. Here’s a takeaway. Instead of dwelling on the negative and what you don’t have (including, perhaps, toilet paper), and being a complainer, try to implement a simple 4-step approach to life. I’ll call it a “positive cycle.”
- See God’s goodness and grace. He cares, guides and supplies you abundantly.
- Speak of God’s provision in life. Use your words to reinforce an awareness of HIs goodness. Avoid the trap of negativity and complaining…which leads to impatience and discontentment.
- Seek strength from God to persevere. He can sustain you in any and all circumstances. He aline is our true refuge throughout life.
- Stay positive by dwelling on the good, right, true things in life. Ignore the doomsayers and fear-mongers. God doesn’t seen ready to bring about the end of the world, and He is speaking through the days of uncertainty…what’s He saying to you? He promises that as you look for Him, you will find Him.
These four simple habits can help you avoid a pessimistic and complaining life, and will lead to a cycle of faith and belief. I’m confident they’ll also help you avoid the disease of negativity – and snakes!
One way to stay in this “positive cycle” is to pray often. Keep talking with and listening to God to stay on track and not fall into despair, especially when things aren’t quite working out the way you’d like them to. As Jim Daly observed after the President called for us to band together in a national day of prayer on Sunday March 15:
“In times of trial, our nation has a wonderful history of bringing its many needs to the Creator of the world, humbly and expectantly asking him to intercede on our behalf.”
Instead of grumbling and rejecting God as Israel did in times of trial, thus experiencing divine judgment, we ought to be quietly optimistic and confident today. Avoid the disease of negativity and complaining that Og Mandino wrote about. Through prayer let’s humble our hearts and show our trust in God!