Exodus 17:1-7

Half Empty or Half Full?

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Exodus 17:1-7

Half Empty or Half Full?

Dr. Keith Wagner

One time Tom Sawyer was told by his aunt Polly that he had to white-wash the fence. Tom was unhappy since he had planned to go fishing with his buddies that day. But Tom did what his aunt asked and began white-washing the fence. After a time, along came Huck Finn and some other boys, carrying their fishing poles. They poked fun and Tom and kidded him for having to work when they were going fishing.

As they were passing by, Tom took their remarks all in stride. Finally, Tom got a chance to reply. He said, “You know, it ain’t every day a boy gets to white-wash a fence!” Tom turned a chore into something special. A few moments later he had all the boys helping him with the job.

What Tom Sawyer did was to make the chore of white-washing a fence something positive instead of something negative. Instead of agreeing that it was a difficult task, he made it into something that his friends could all do for fun. What Tom did was approach his chore with an entirely different attitude. Instead of being negative, he was positive.

When the Israelites complained to Moses that they had no water to drink Moses was backed into a corner. The people were criticizing him for bringing them into the desert and allowing them to run out of water. Moses, however believed that somehow they could make it and didn’t buy into their negativity. His people saw only thirst but Moses saw help. Their complaint did not cause him to doubt in the abiding presence of God. Therefore, Moses asked God for help. God told Moses to strike the rock at Horeb with the same rod that he struck the Nile and he did just that. As a result water came pouring out.

Moses, with the help of God, had turned a bad situation into a positive one. Moses sees the whole situation differently. He knows God has brought them this far and will take them the rest of the way. Although the Israelites had been helped before, with water, bread and protection from the Egyptians they still had a negative attitude. Moses, however knew that they had encountered obstacles before and they had overcome them. His perception is totally different from his people. All they want to do is complain, criticize and whine. He, on the other hand, believes in God and trusts that God will be with them.

In this case a negative attitude is an expression of unfaith. Had the Israelites believed as Moses believed, they would have had more confidence in his leadership. But all they could do is find fault. That is why Moses named the place, Massah, which means faultfinding. It wasn’t Moses the people had the problem with — it was God. God had intervened several times before but they still complained. They failed to make the connection that God would help them now, just as God had helped them in the past. How many times would God have to intervene before they started to believe?

One wonders whether or not the Israelites actually like being enslaved to a crisis. This was an oppressed people who were in bondage to the Egyptians, and now they are free. Perhaps to live not in crisis is totally foreign to them. Do we really want God to liberate us from our crises or is it easier to remain in bondage to them? I know people who need to be in crisis to get attention. They actually can’t stand it when life is static or calm.

The Israelites had previously believed when God led them across the Red Sea, but now they seem to have lost their faith. Since they now faced another crisis perhaps they felt God had deserted them. “Is God with us or not?” they asked. The wilderness that they were in is not just a place, it is also a state of mind. When our comfort zone is threatened we tend to lose a handle on reality. In other words we fail to see the big picture.

On Friday afternoon I was desperately trying to restore my computer. I was so obsessed with the problem that I forgot to eat lunch. I had become do dependent on my computer that I was forgetting other things that needed attended to. After four hours of frustration I finally resolved to let it go for the day. That wasn’t easy, but I finally went home, did laundry and cleaned the house. I had to quit thinking negative thoughts and focus on the rest of my day.

It is human nature to question the presence of God when things go wrong. When we are able to perceive a situation in a positive way, rather than negative, God becomes more real to us and life doesn’t seem so overwhelming.

A colleague tells the story about a certain man who went to church one Sunday. He frowned when the organist missed a note. He glared menacingly at two whispering teenagers. He looked repeatedly at his watch. When the offering plate was passed, he felt that the usher was watching to see how much he gave. He sat tight-lipped during all of the hymn singing. During the sermon, he felt pleased with himself when he caught the preacher making a slip of the tongue. As he sneaked out a side door during Communion, he muttered to himself, “That was a terrible service, why do I bother?”

Meanwhile, another man went to the same church on the same Sunday. He chuckled at the sight of a father exchanging hugs with the toddler. During the Offertory he wondered, “God has given me so much. Am I giving enough?” He struggled honestly with the scripture readings to find a word to live by. Part of the sermon helped him with a question he had often thought about. He enthusiastically joined in the singing of the closing hymn. As he left the church, he thought to himself, “How good it is to be here together in God’s presence.” Both men had gone to the same church, on the same Sunday, but each had come away with a totally different perspective. It was their attitude that made the difference.

Today, some of you might be saying, “What a beautiful day, the sun is shining.” On the other hand, some of you may be saying, “It’s chilly outside, I wish it were warmer.” I could say “I have now lived half my life,” or, on the other hand I could say, “I still have half of my life in front of me.”

I was thinking about this message last Wednesday while working out at the YMCA. Following my workout I run a half mile. Sometimes I run in the gym and shoot baskets afterwards and other times I run on the running track on the 2nd floor. On that particular day I started to enter the gym, but no basketballs were out. They are usually out by 9am. I said to myself, “I guess I’m supposed to run on the track.” As I was climbing the stairs to the track I noticed an old man having difficulty opening the locker room door. I offered my key and the door opened. He thanked me and I proceeded to the track. I thought to myself, “Had I complained about the fact that the basketballs weren’t available that morning I would have missed the opportunity to help another person.” A small thing, perhaps, but for me I was able to make the connection between having a positive attitude and helping another human being.

When the Israelites complained to Moses, he didn’t get defensive or argue. Instead, Moses asked God for help. I believe more people would have a positive attitude if they would not be so stubborn and ask for help. For me, there is a direct relationship between asking for help and believing, (as Moses did) that God would provide.

Why is it so difficult to ask for help? Unfortunately we live in a society that has taught us to be independent and self-sufficient. But, is it realistic to think that we can get along through life without any help. That’s not the way God designed us. From the very beginning he knew that Adam couldn’t live alone so he gave him a helpmate.

Moses asked for help but God didn’t do all of the work. God told Moses to gather some of the elders and then strike the rock with the rod. Moses had God’s help but he still had to act. Getting help doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. We still have to act.

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There was a man who was complaining to God that he never won the lottery. He prayed and prayed that he would win. Finally he was outraged and God replied. “Son, if you want to win the lottery, you first have to buy a ticket.”

The same is true with getting help. I said earlier that I had a problem with a virus in my computer. I needed help but waited too long to get it. I finally called a technician to help me. He came and fixed the problem. I know there is certainly a God, but I sometimes fail to acknowledge that until I humble myself and ask for assistance. Like Moses, I had to act.

What I find amazing about this story is that God intervened and gave them water to drink. The Israelites complained again and again, but God still responded. The fact that God brought forth water from the rock is symbolic of the fact that God showers grace upon us when we need it, whether we deserve it or not.

God wants us to believe in God’s intervention. God wants us to have a positive attitude because then and only then do we have faith. God wants us to humble ourselves and ask for help when we have a need. And, God constantly pours grace upon, even when we least expect it.

––Copyright, 2002, Dr. Keith Wagner. Used by permission.