Don’t Shoot the Messenger!

Reading from Numbers 22:21-34, ESV
     Thousands of years ago lived a man who was so wise his name is recorded in several ancient history books. This person was said to have had the power to place curses on people or pronounce blessings upon people. His power was widely known throughout the Near East. His name was Balaam.
     Balaam found himself at the center of the story from Numbers and that his services were requested by a Moabite king named Balak. Balak attempted to hire Balaam to place a curse on the Israelite people. The problem is that Balaam was told by God to reject the offer. The nation of Israel was God’s chosen people, and they weren’t to be messed with.
     Apparently, Balaam was given an offer he couldn’t refuse. So, he went with the delegation to go see King Balak and presumably curse the nation of Israel. That meant Balaam had to ride the most common form of transportation at that time. A donkey. However, part way through the journey, the donkey began acting like, well, you know, a donkey. As Balaam was riding along, the donkey took a detour off the road and into an adjoining field. The donkey saw something standing in the road that Balaam did not see. An angel. And, not just any angel. This was an angel brandishing a sword. So, the donkey did what any self-preserving creature would do. The donkey avoided a confrontation. Out of ignorance, Balaam struck his donkey to get the animal back on the road.
     Well, a bit further along, Balaam came to a narrow passageway between two vineyards, one of which bordered against a stone wall. Again, the angel appeared in the middle of the road. This time the donkey attempted to squeeze past the threat by brushing up against the wall. The resulting collision crushed Balaam’s foot. This time Balaam beat his donkey even more than the first time, while I’m sure adding a few expletives.
     Finally, Balaam came to a point in the road that was so narrow that escape was impossible. Rather than get sliced and diced by the angel with a sword, the donkey took its chances with Balaam by simply lying down. This time Balaam descended from the animal and began beating it mercilessly.
     So, here comes the most bizarre part of the story. It’s at this point that God opens the mouth of the donkey. Now, I don’t know what your thoughts are about talking donkeys. But I have heard more asinine things come out of the mouths of less intelligent beings. In a moment of self-protection, the donkey said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” (Numbers 22:28). Balaam responds, “Because you have made a fool of me” (Numbers 22:29)!
     Let me suggest to you that Balaam is right about one thing. He is foolish. But, not for the reason he believes. Balaam’s foolishness stems from the fact that he fails to recognize that school is in session. The school of which I am speaking though is the School of Hard Knocks. And, in the school of hard knocks it is a foolhardy thing to get mad at your teacher.
     But, isn’t this exactly what we oftentimes do? We curse our instructors instead of learning from them. We kick the donkey rather than thinking there must be some good reason it’s acting up. Yet, here’s the secret. Rather than beating the donkey, embrace it. Instead of blaming the people whom you think are making life difficult for you, accept them.
Several years ago, I came across a statement out of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) entitled, Step Zero. This is the step to be taken before engaging in the Twelve-Step Program of AA. The words of this declaration are as follows:
Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation‒‒some fact of my life‒‒ unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world, by mistake.
     Until I can accept my brokenness and separation from God I cannot stay in alignment with God’s plan for me. Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.
     Acceptance has taught me that there is a little bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us; that we are all children of God and each have the right to be here. When I complain about me or about you, I am complaining about God’s handiwork and I am saying that I am better than God.
     At the end of my third year of ministry, I experienced a critical incident that changed the direction of my life. I was serving a little church in Pickerington, Ohio as a student pastor. At the time, I was attending seminary full-time, working at a community mental health center full-time, and serving as a pastor part-time. I was catching myself coming and going. During this challenging season of life, a woman in our church contracted a life-altering, but non-life-threatening disease. This lady was told by her doctor to stay off her feet for a few weeks. Yet, she was seen around the community shopping for groceries or attending church. Toward the end of her alleged convalescent leave she confronted me with these words: “Quite frankly, David, you have failed [me]. Never once did you come to my home to visit me. Yes, you called me by phone and asked me how I was doing when I came to church. But you never once darkened the door of my home.”
     Well, I lost it. In a fit of exhaustion and exasperation, I replied, “How dare you. How dare you judge me. How dare you judge me a failure. I’ve done everything I can to care for all the responsibilities I am trying to shoulder. And yet, you criticize me. You blame me for not doing what you failed to tell me you wanted me to do?”
     I’m ashamed to admit this. But it took me several years to realize that I had kicked the donkey. I had blamed a person whom God was using to convey an important message to me. That message being: I did fail. I failed because I’m not perfect. I failed because I mistakenly thought that the burden of the world lay upon my shoulders. I failed because I had rejected the teacher God had sent to help me learn a lesson. I failed because though I am an imperfect being, I had forgotten that I’m also a dearly loved child of the Most High God.
     I don’t know what your present circumstance may be. I do know that some of us get knocked around by our teachers more than the rest of us. My prayer for you, however, is that you won’t fail to learn from my mistake. My prayer is that when your donkey kicks, you view it as an opportunity for sanctification and you won’t kick it back. Instead, may you embrace it, love it, and become better because of it.