Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Determined or Stubborn...A Fine Line

Have you ever considered the words “stubborn” and “determined”? defines “stubborn” as “unreasonably obstinate” and/or “resolute” while “determined” is defined as “resolved or resolute”. Apparently both can mean resolute yet typically “stubborn” has a negative connotation while “determined” is considered to be a positive attribute. Can determinedness become stubbornness? Are there times when you are determined to do something a certain way? Times you want something so badly you become stubbornly focused on it, completely ignoring the roadblocks and warning signs to the point you miss out on God’s desire or plan for your life?

There are two biblical men in the book of Numbers who set perfect examples of what this determined stubbornness looks like. I’m referring to Balaam and king Balak. Their story begins in Number 22. Just to make things really interesting there’s a talking donkey thrown into the mix. Who knew there was a talking donkey in the Bible? Up until a few years ago the only talking donkey I’d ever heard of was the Eddie Murphy-ized character, Donkey, from the movie Shrek. You know the one...he asks annoying questions like, “Are we there yet?” and makes popping noises with his lips irritating enough to make even the most patient saint throttle him!

Balak is king of the land of Moab and terrified the Israelites will wage war on his country. The study notes in the Life Application Study Bible say Balaam is a sorcerer. He worships whichever god happens to be convenient. Balak wants Balaam to curse the people of Israel but Balaam approaches God and asks what he should do. God tells Balaam in no uncertain terms that he is NOT to curse the Israelites. Balak doesn’t like this answer and we glimpse the beginning of stubbornness. Balak tries again and sends important officials to Balaam promising him great riches if he will curse the Israelites. Greed brings out a stubborn, rebellious streak in Balaam and he approaches God one more time, hoping God may change his mind and allow him to get on with the curse. God understands Balaam is motivated by greed and his stubbornness in not accepting God’s direction nearly gets him killed on the journey to see Balak. His life is spared only because of quick action from his donkey who speaks up to save him. Balaam learns that day that obedience to God is much better than stubborn fulfillment of his own desires.

What about Balak? We’ve already seen one example of stubbornness when he refuses to take “No” for an answer. Does he learn from this? Not really! Instead of cursing the Israelites, Balaam blesses them. Balak is not happy but Balaam, having learned his lesson, insists he can only say what God tells him. Balak won’t accept this answer. He takes Balaam to another area overlooking the Israelite camp, telling him to curse them from this spot. Balaam once again blesses the Israelites and Balak can’t believe what he’s hearing! This isn’t what he wants! He wants curses, not blessings! Determined to get his way Balak gives Balaam one more chance, and once again blessings flow like poetry from Balaam’s lips while Balak is left fuming. Balak is so determined to get his way he completely misses the fact that God has other plans for the Israelites.

 I can think of a number of times in my life when I took the road that led away from God’s blessing. Why? Because I wanted to do things my way, not God’s way and because I have a large measure of determination in my character – something that often works in my favour but a trait that quickly turns to shear, pig-headed stubbornness if I lose sight of God. What about you? What blessings has a stubborn heart caused you to miss? The story of Balak and Balaam is a great story. Read it yourself now. You’ll find it in the book of Numbers in the Old Testament, chapters 22-24.

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