Updated: Nov 10, 2022
They don’t teach you to pray like this in Charismatic churches!
There is a very powerful passage in Numbers 11 that speaks to leadership and the psychology of a leader. The B’ne Yisrael (Children of Israel) are hungry, and they want meat.
“If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Num. 11:4-6)
Moses can’t take the complaining anymore. He is overwhelmed with leading these people by himself. I didn’t like working with leaders who constantly expressed their dissatisfaction. If you think it is your job to make them happy, it will pull you down emotionally. And I’m sure Moses was feeling this to some degree. He’s the one who convinced them to leave Egypt. And now he is experiencing tremendous anxiety and probably some buyer’s remorse as they incessantly complain.
He said what?
Moses then takes his complaint to God in a way that we are taught in most Charismatic circles not to. Hear the pain in his voice.
“Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. He asked the Lord, ‘Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, “Give us meat to eat!” I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.’” (Num. 11:10-15)
“We might have thought Moses would take this out on the people, but instead, he took it to the Lord.” I understand this to a small degree. We have to do a new ministry assignment with great zeal. Once I was asked to coordinate some life-giving activities for a group of pastors. Soon, there was resistance (not saying they were wrong), and the fact that it fell on me as the leader to deal with it in my second language became one of the biggest stressors that eventually led me to a similar anxiety as Moses. It wasn’t the time consumption but the mental consumption and how I would dread conversations. Ironically, one of Moses’ excuses back in Exodus 3, why God should find another man, was because Moses couldn’t speak well. One commentary suggests that Moses’s fear was because he was no longer fluent in Egyptian. Remember, he had been gone for 40 years. While I am fairly fluent in Hebrew, I am far more confident in English. Confrontations in Hebrew can also bring a tremendous amount of anxiety. I can only imagine Moses using a language he had not used in 40 years to confront the most powerful man in the world, Pharaoh!
Many times, the anxiety is not based on reality but on what you think reality might be. In most cases, my Hebrew has been plenty sufficient for the conversation. The funny thing is that the dialogues were always pleasant and my Hebrew was always sufficient. But I understand a little bit of the way Moses is feeling. His complaint is not with the people but with God for not giving him enough grace or help to deal with it or giving him a group that was not keen on following. Moses’ complaint is bold and intense. I wouldn’t say he’s suicidal, but he is certainly asking for assisted suicide! “If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me.”
God loves honesty!
I am impressed by Moses’ raw plea before the Lord. Most of us would be terrified to talk to God like this. But He can handle it. It’s often this type of complaint/prayer—one that the average believer would be afraid to pray—that gets answered. But we see not only Moses, but David, Jeremiah, Elijah, and Job pray this way—not to mention Jesus on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) About a third of the psalms are laments.
In these laments, the writer pours out to God his sorrow (Psalm 137), anger (Psalm 140), fear (Psalm 69), longing (Psalm 85), confusion (Psalm 102), desolation (Psalm 22), repentance (Psalm 51), disappointment (Psalm 74), or depression (Psalm 88) either because of external evil or internal evil or darkness.
Not long ago, my dear sweet wife Elana had a bit of a breakdown, and she cried out to God in a very aggressive, accusatory way. In the past, I would’ve stopped her. “We can’t blame God. God is good even if it doesn’t feel like it.” But my perspective has changed (not about God, but how we are permitted to address him), and I just sat with her as she poured out her heart before God in anger and hurt. It was healthy for her. Of course, she loves the Lord, and certainly, Moses did too. But he was overwhelmed and saw no way out.
Honest complaints, answered prayer
And that is when God hears our plea. God had a plan for Moses, but I don’t think he was open to it until he became overwhelmed. One of the ways that God uses anxiety in the life of the leader is to show us that we cannot do it all by ourselves. That is certainly one of my biggest problems. Sometimes, we have a hero mentality, thinking that we have to be the one who parts the Red Sea. But God gave Moses a strategy that every leader of any organization should heed—delegation.
In the case of Moses, he simply needed help. We’ll see in Numbers 18 that he still is not a very good delegator. But he is learning. This is a big step in Moses’s leadership: learning to trust others. If I had to guess, he could have done this earlier but resisted (see point 2 below). Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before we are willing to share the responsibility of leadership with others. Moses was there.
Sharing the load
Letting others help you and even take some of the pressures of leadership (meaning, not just support staff) will not only lessen the anxiety of leadership but be far more effective. The Lord gave this strategy to Moses:
“Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone” (Num. 11:16–17).
Why do we take it all on ourselves?
1. We can be control freaks. We can be micromanagers. We can lack trust, thinking that no one else can do the job better or even sufficient. Empowering others to make decisions takes faith. Not doing it is a lack of faith in God. Yes, they need to prove themselves. Over the years, I have held various positions in ministry while running Messiah’s Mandate. From 1998-2018, Messiah’s Mandate was a one-man show. I not only did the writing and the traveling but the posting and graphic design and booked my own flights. A few years ago, I finally built a team around me and have empowered them. Our kingdom influence has skyrocketed since then! Moses seems to have taken all the responsibility and pressures for leading the children of Israel upon his own shoulders. This is never healthy, and it left him anxious and suicidal—ready to quit.
2. We want to be the hero. With most of us, we play different roles in our families and communities. Some are very pastoral, some are the court gestures, keeping us laughing, and some are the heroes. That is typically how I view myself in my family. But this spilled over in the ministry, and I wanted to be everybody’s hero. I had a hard time saying “no” to any need. In the past year, we raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Ukraine refugees, started an orphanage in Africa, helped Holocaust survivors, and so much more in our ministry (and I am so blessed that we did!). But then people began to turn to me with other needs. After all, I am a hero. I’ll just raise more money. This also became a powerful stress point in my life. Moses reluctantly obeyed God when He called him at the burning bush, and goes back to Egypt. But very soon, he is a superstar. He boldly confronts Pharaoh, leads the children of Israel up out of Egypt, and parts the Red Sea. I am not saying that the humblest man in the whole world was proud, but that he possibly came to see that he had to meet everyone’s needs, and it was crushing.
Coming to the end of ourselves
In the midst of the story in Numbers 11, two men outside of the camp began to prophesy. Joshua wants this “out of order” nonsense stopped.
“Joshua, son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Num. 11:28-29).
This is a more mature Moses. Had it been in the past, he may have agreed with Joshua. But Moses has come to the end of himself and the beginning of God’s wisdom. When you hit that wall of anxiety, depression and you want to quit, you stop caring about being the hero. You begin to see that you can’t micromanage everything. And you are grateful for the help of faithful leaders to come by your side.
We don’t have a lot of insight as to how Moses slept that night after he told his complaints to God, but we know that he didn’t quit. And God did not kill him. He continued as the leader of the children of Israel. But this was a milestone in his growth as a leader.
It seems that secular organizations are so much better at spreading out responsibility and delegation than those of us called by God to leadership. It’s best to learn these lessons before we hit the proverbial wall. But sometimes, as in the case of Moses, that is the only way God can get our attention. When you’re suicidal, you’ll take any suggestion! And remember, the breakthrough came when Moses poured out his complaint before God. Don’t be afraid to do what all the great heroes of the Bible did—be honest with God regarding your emotions.
 Dale A. Brueggemann, “Numbers,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary: Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, ed. Philip W. Comfort, vol. 2 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996), 295.  Jon Bloom, “God wants you to complain,” Desiring God, March 9, 2012, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-wants-you-to-complain