“I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.” – Deuteronomy 29:5
The last couple years have caused to reconsider everything I thought I knew about provision. The phrase “God provides” makes for a lovely cross-stitch and a pat Christian saying, but what does it even mean? What does God’s provision look like in real life?
The Israelites wandering in the wilderness were hungry. And God provided a strange and unfamiliar food to satisfy them – manna, a flaky grain that dotted the morning dew at the start of each day. “Bread from Heaven.” The people must have been so thrown off my God’s chosen provision; they certainly grew tired of their simple diet and eventually let their displeasure be known. It wasn’t what they envisioned; it wasn’t the food they were accustomed to; it didn’t match up with their idea of God coming through for them.
But it fed them. It sustained them. There is so much manna in my life, it’s everywhere. Just like the Israelites, I am invited to collect it, to be satisfied by it daily. For reasons we don’t know, the Lord has not provided my husband with a ministry job. But he did recently provide me with a great job. He did provide my in-laws who just up and gave us their car. He did provide a landlord who allows us to rent a house in a great neighborhood at below-market value. He did provide precious friends who are just THERE, who do not depart, Ruths to our Naomis. Manna may not be a house free of mice but darn it, it’s ACE Hardware around the corner, and a husband who sets and cleans up the Tootise-Roll-ladden mouse traps. Manna is dinner on the table. It may be spaghetti, or chicken and rice, or soup AGAIN, but it’s calories and it’s nourishment. My belly is continually full. The manna keeps coming. It’s simple but it’s sufficient.
God’s provision is not fancy. It’s not customized to my preferences. It’s not everything I want. But it has been and continues to be everything I need, which is crazy for me to say and crazier for me to believe. Like deep-down believe, not just “churchy supposed-to” believe. It’s wild because I’ve spent so many days and cried so many tears over what God has given (and withheld). I have been incensed – no, angry – about my family’s circumstances the last couple years. But by some turns of faith and small miracles, I must admit it’s true. I’m arriving at a place of belief. God truly supplies all our needs.
These last few years I have been seeking God’s provision. Actually that’s a lie. I have been seeking God’s hand. Trying to pry open cosmic fingers and nab treasures God withholds from me. A bigger house. A second bathroom. Better insurance. Cushier bank account. No mice in the kitchen. Nicer date nights. (Basically anything and everything I can complain about). And above all: that elusive great job for my husband. God, this isn’t enough. You are holding out on us. We deserve more.
It can be a poisonous word, “deserve.” I’m learning that when there are things I think I must have, it necessarily creates limitations on what God’s goodness looks like. If I “deserve” a big house, a padded bank account, and a generally comfortable life, then it follows that as long as God withholds those things from me, he is not good. God isn’t giving me what I am due! God isn’t granting me all I have a right to possess! The entitlement runs deep.
It’s not that we shouldn’t grieve things we have lost or nurse hurts we have sustained. It’s clear that the Bible instructs us to cry out to God, to be quite honest with him, even to complain. Christians love to rag on the Israelities, to talk about what whiners they were, how they couldn’t hack it in the wilderness for forty years despite God’s obvious faithfulness to them. Well I think we’ve got a lot of gall. God’s faithfulness to the Israelities is only obvious to us because we’ve got the whole story in front of us to inform our arrogant opinions. We can flip forward a few chapters or a few books in the Bible and gain a perspective the Israelities could not. Certainly we are not able to do this with the story of our own lives and in a similar situation of limited perspective, we behave the same way the Israelities did. We doubt. We whine. We complain. We try and take matters into our own hands and “make things happen.” In essence we’re just as human as they were. And thankfully God is just as much God.
The text in Exodus 16 specifies that God provided just enough manna for each day and therefore the people were to collect manna daily, except on the Sabbath, when they were to rest and their portion from the day prior would be sufficient to sustain them until the following morning. God provided the manna in this daily fashion as a way to test the faith of his people. Moses instructed the Israelities not to save any of their manna in reserve but to consume everything they obtained (those who tried to conserve a portion discovered it became worm-infested by morning). It makes sense to me that God instituted this method of provision in order to teach his people to rely on him daily, to trust that he would come through for them again and again. God does love proving his faithfulness. But what I just think is remarkable is that God desired for the Israelities to eat up EVERY BIT of that sweet bread anointing the dew. Yes, don’t save it because you ought to trust God to provide again tomorrow, but also don’t save it because you don’t have to. God isn’t the type to be stingy! I’m learning that his blessings aren’t always (or often) what I had in mind, but they are not ungenerous. It’s all for today, it’s all for my filling. Eat up. His mercies are new every morning. His goodness is always given in full.
God’s word actually says it’s sweet, manna (Exodus 16:31). Tastes like honey apparently. This weird grain-like “bread” stuff. It’s not what I wanted. It’s not what I’ve been asking for. But it’s sweet nonetheless. Canaan was the land of milk and honey. The destination at the end of the forty-year journey through the wilderness for God’s people. Isn’t it curious that the manna itself, the simple food for the Israelites for those grueling four decades, tasted like honey? A foretaste of the glory to come. What a beautiful gesture from our God! Provisions may be meager at times, in actuality or in our perceptions, but they point to the future; they point to Heaven; they point to Jesus Himself, the most extravagant provision there ever could be.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
–– “Blessed Assurance,” hymn published 1873, lyrics by Frances Crosby, music by Phoebe Knapp