Friday, January 10, 2014

The Blessings of Daily Bread

            “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  (Phil. 4:12) 

            As I said, we have never had a lot of money.  We’ve always had “just enough,” sometimes even less.  When the economy tanked, my husband thankfully still had a job, but his hours were cut way back.  We had already been living tightly.  But we had to learn to live even tighter. 

            At times, I skipped dinner for myself so there would be left-overs for my husband’s lunch.  I had to learn to humbly accept when my mom gave us food to take home.  It’s one thing to accept it when it’s extra to us, but to accept it because we had to so that we would have some food in the house was humiliating. And any Christmas money that my husband or I got went to paying bills or paying back the money we borrowed from the boys’ piggy banks.  It was a long, hard time.  But so necessary for the journey of being humbled.  (Still on that journey.)

            When we have more than enough - when we are comfortable and able to get what we want, when we want – it’s easy to take God’s providence for granted.  We get accustomed to the “good life.”  But when we have to struggle to make ends meet and when we wonder where the money or food will come from, we learn what it means to be humbled.  We learn what it means to put our faith only in God.  And we become thankful for the little things, for the daily provisions.
            During the Exodus, God provided the Israelites with their daily bread in a most unusual way - the never-before-seen manna.     And what did He ask of them?  All He required was that they gathered just enough for that day, that they had enough faith in Him to provide for tomorrow.  That was their only job; just sit back and eat their fill each day and trust Him.  But the simple things are so hard to do when it means relinquishing the control and stepping out in faith.  And so they gathered more.
            Did you know that when God provided the manna, He was actually testing them?  Deuteronomy 8:16 says “He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you.”  Verse 2 explains why He tested them: “. . . in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”    
            When we worry that God won’t come through for us, we are tempted to take matters into our own hands.  To put our faith in ourselves and our ability and our resources.  By taking it upon themselves to store up for tomorrow’s needs, the Israelites showed God that they trusted in themselves more than in Him.  They basically said to Him, “I will not trust You with the future, the unknown.  You might fail me!”  Oh, sounds so familiar to me!  So understandable!  I’ve been there many, many times! 
            [On a different note, I think that tithing follows this principle, too.  God tells us to tithe.  And yet we are afraid of not having enough money for tomorrow and so we hoard more than we should, when in Proverbs 3:9-10 God tells us to give of the first-fruits. 
            “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” 
            This is more about trust and obedience than it is about finances.  By not tithing as He tells us to, we show God that we choose to rely on ourselves to meet our future needs, instead of relying on Him.  And according to Malachi 3:6-12, we are robbing God.  And when we do this, we cut ourselves off from being blessed by Him, as He promises to bless us when we tithe in trust.  Because, after all, we have chosen to rely on ourselves.   
            But to be clear, even if we tithe, we still might not see an abundance of stuff on this side of eternity.  I know that we haven’t.  But it’s God right to choose to bless us with an abundance now or an abundance in Heaven.  (And the stuff in Heaven will far outlast the stuff on earth anyway.)  Either way, our job is to be faithful and obedient; His job is to bless as He sees fit.] 
            It’s a hard thing to rely on other people – even on God.  We are afraid for our futures, our stability, our ability to get by.  We don’t like to go without, to accept less.  We want assurances that everything will be okay, that we’ll have enough money to meet our “needs” and our wants.
            But God promises that He will give us our daily bread.  Not a storehouse full of bread.  Not tomorrow’s bread today.  He gives us enough for one day only.  Enough resources and wisdom and strength and guidance and peace and mercy for TODAY. 
            He doesn’t do this to mess with us, to play games with us or make us miserable.  He does this to test what is in our hearts.  To see if we will be obedient.  If we will trust Him as Lord.  If we will die to self.  If we will let go of idols we chase.  He does this to strengthen our faith, and to help us remember to store treasures in Heaven, not on earth.    
            We all know Christians who have an abundance of stuff on this planet.  Who are comfortable and get all the fancy new toys and take all the expensive vacations.  Who might not understand the daily struggles of others.  And who probably don’t know what it’s like to be genuinely thankful for the very little things.  But those of us who can’t afford to buy a working dishwasher or to fix the hole in the ceiling or to take our kids to the dentist are in the process of learning to be content with daily bread.   
            And that’s not a bad place to be in.  In fact, I would rather struggle financially all my life and be forced to get on my knees before God daily than get overly comfortable and forget about Him. 
            For years, we have had to go to God daily and ask for His help, to pray that He brings us the money to cover the next bill.  And we’ve even been "scolded" by another Christian (one who has that comfortable, abundant lifestyle) about how it is greedy to pray for more money.  But what she doesn’t realize is that we aren’t praying for an abundance of money because we want it.  We aren’t rolling in dough and yet praying for more.  We are praying that God would bring us the resources that we need for each day because we need it.  We are desperate for His care because we know that apart from Him, we have nothing and can do nothing.
            If I may be so bold, those of us who don’t know what it’s like to live the financially-comfortable life may be in a better place to develop our spiritual lives, to let God test our hearts and weed out anything that may be interfering in our relationship with Him. Because we have had to admit that we have nothing apart from Him.  We have no confidence in ourselves or in money.  We have had to learn to throw ourselves upon His grace and mercy and providence every day.  Not just because we want to, but because we need to. 
            It’s one thing to have the luxury of wanting a relationship with Him, of being able to ask for His help and providence when we want to.  It’s another to desperately need it just to get by.  This is what humbles us like children at His feet.  But we have to learn to be okay with that arrangement.  We have to give up control and our desires for “more” and for immediate answers.  We have to be willing to say, “Okay, God, You provide as You will, and help me be content with it.” 
            If we keep fighting God’s attempts to humble us, to test what is in our hearts, we will only make ourselves miserable.  But once we accept His right to “give” and to “take away” – once we learn to glorify Him whatever the circumstances – we will begin to understand the secret of being content.  (I’m still on that journey, too.)    
            I will admit that I have failed the “manna test” over and over again by being anxious or grumbling or judging God because He wasn’t doing what I thought He “should” be doing.  But I am learning to trust, learning to be content.  And I keep trying to refocus on Him and to be thankful for the things I do have.  These are not easy lessons to learn.  But the older I get, the more thankful I am for these kinds of difficult lessons.  They are making my spiritual life that much deeper and sweeter.  And I’ll take that any day over a comfortable life.