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Abstinence From Whine: Optimistic Leaders Go the Distance

By Scott Hagan

Miriam’s pulse rate was soaring. So would yours or mine. Accountability was one thing, but having the Almighty personally deliver a lecture with a side of leprosy was quite another kind of experience.

One minute Miriam was exercising her “family license” by criticizing her adult little brother, Moses. The next minute her olive skin was oozing pasty white with leprosy. (See Numbers 12.)

Miriam believed her opening complaint against Moses was nothing more than a legitimate concern. After all, a Cushite had invaded her inner circle. Feeling nudged off her perch, Miriam saw Moses’ wife as an outlaw instead of a sister-in-law. Not even her love for her brother could stop her tongue. Her mouth sought to do what Pharaohs armies could not: Bring down Moses. With the aid of her younger brother, Aaron, the two sibling sewers erupted. Then suddenly, both her brothers — Moses and Aaron — looked on in horror as the God who destroyed Egypt now took on their sister.

But the negativity eating its way through Israel like a fast-moving cancer was not initiated by Miriam’s destructive discourse. That was actually stage two.

The real story began days earlier. Numbers 11:1 tells us, “Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the Lord heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the Lord burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp” (NKJV).1

Moses prayed and the fire died out. But the problem of complaining was not over. Verse 4 tells us: “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat.’ ”

Notice the critical spirit in Israel began at the outskirts, or edges of the camp. That is where the fire first fell. The Bible calls the primary instigators “rabble” — an interesting term. It means the “mixed multitudes.” They were those who had tagged along with Israel for the Exodus, not because they loved God, but only because of their distaste and hatred for Pharaoh.

The rabble were not committed to Jehovah or His people; they only wanted to be free from Egypt. Because this was their motive, they lived on the edges of the camp. Worship was the farthest thing from their mind. How ironic that the whining began there.

This is also where negativity usually begins in a leader’s life … at the meaningless edges and the peripheral trivialities of life and leadership. It is the lazy edge of a leader’s heart where he is most vulnerable. The enemy wants to undo the leader’s fruitfulness and body slam his momentum by tempting him into patterns of negativity.

We slide into this pattern as leaders by whining about casual things. We do not realize that left unchecked, whining may well conclude with a bout of leadership leprosy.

Satan loves to trap leaders at their negative edges. And once established, those edges will chew away at their inner Kingdom life.

Ministers can be the worst offenders. Sometimes we act no different from the rabble of the Old Testament. We critique the other guy’s sermon and suit. We take shots at the church board … our neighbor’s lawn. All the light edges of life that really have no bearing on the Kingdom. After all, it’s just a lazy edge. Yet, God holds a leader accountable for his personal edges where the trivial things of life exist. This is the most common way a leader allows for the deterioration of his influence — wasting his energies and words on the unimportant matters of life.

We find the next stage where a leader sabotages his sustainability in leadership in Miriam’s actions. On the heels of the fallen edges of Israel, the core relationships within Israel’s leadership structure soured. This holds true today; we just have a tough time recognizing it. For some reason, many leaders, like Miriam, feel a freedom to criticize those closest to them in leadership. But the Holy Spirit holds us accountable, as He did Miriam, for speaking against those we love and those we lead alongside.

God wants our edges clean, but He also demands we succeed at the core relationships in our lives. God struck Miriam with leprosy because she allowed herself to become negative with familiar relationships.

For some reason, leaders tend to follow the same pattern. We whine about unimportant things and then whine just as easily about the most valuable things.

There is an unspoken rule in leadership that seems to give credence to this kind of pattern. A quick glance at Numbers 14 tells us that suddenly the whole nation of Israel began to complain. This is the natural consequence when our edge and our core become corrupt with negative feelings and words. Everything between goes bad.

This is a powerful leadership reality: The whole is the result of the edge and the core.

Optimistic leaders seem to lead for a lifetime. Leaders who whine, no matter how trivial it may look in their book, usually fade with time. People have no use for negativity, especially in their leaders. They want to be inspired upward.

Ministry is much like manna; at times it feels bland and repetitive. There is a ton of room to get that lazy edge. There is also tremendous pressure in our executive relationships — those we go shoulder to shoulder with in battle. It is far too easy to become lax and casual and find offense with those we love most.

Sustainable leaders keep their hearts clean in both spectrums — the edge and the core. They realize there is too much at stake … that the whole will either remain healthy or be overtaken by the whining that presses against them from the edge and the core.

It is time to abstain from whine.

SCOTT HAGAN is senior pastor, Real Life Church, of the Assemblies of God, Sacramento, California.

Note

1. Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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