Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Manna



            Many of us struggle at times with trying to make God answer our prayers our way.  We try to get the life we want or make things happen as we want them to happen.  I know I have over the years.  And while He has been very good to us and answered many prayers as I hoped He would, there are still many that He hasn’t.  For His own reasons.
 
            And for many of us, it’s hard to learn to accept “less” than we want, to learn to go without, and to have to live with long-term problems or issues that we wish we didn’t have.  And this can mess with our faith and our self-image. 
            There have been times when I desperately wanted an answer from Him that wasn’t coming and when I wanted to feel His presence yet I felt nothing.  And it brought up doubts and fears inside of me.  And in frustration with His silence and in exhaustion with the long wait, I found myself wanting to give up on God.  To take matters into my own hands or walk on ahead without Him. 
            The thing is, I think sometimes God allows extended, lingering trials in our lives in order to test our faith this way.  To see what is really in our hearts.  The Israelites were tested this way with the manna while they wandered around the desert. 
            Most of the sermons we hear about God providing manna focus on God’s miraculous provision.  And while that’s definitely a main point of the story, the other main point is that it was also a trial.  God intended the manna not just to be a blessing but to be a disappointment.  Day after day, they were given the same boring manna for food.  Nothing exciting, nothing flavorful, nothing more special than manna.  And God did this not just to provide for their physical need for food, but also to test what was in their hearts.
            Deuteronomy 8:16:  “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.”  (And verse 2 explains why He tested them: “. . . in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”)
            Not only were they wandering around a wide, dry, lifeless desert waiting for God to bring the blessing He promised, but now they had to eat manna every day.  Imagine going through the frustrating and painful “desert times” in your life and having only Corn Flakes to eat all day, every day. 
            God provided a blessing to them – manna – which was also a disappointment.  On purpose.  It was to test the strength of their faith and to see if they were really committed to Him, even when life wasn’t exciting and didn’t feel super blessed.  Even when the trials were long and life was discouraging and His blessings were bland.  Would they still trust Him and believe in Him even when things didn’t go their way?
            Doesn’t that feel like life, sometimes?  Like we are just existing instead of thriving?  Like we are getting things we don’t want and not getting things we do want?  Like God is letting us down?  Maybe it’s a boring job or financial struggles or health concerns or loneliness.  Anything can be your “manna.”  And many of us have eaten manna for years, while other people appear to get mountains of delectable food every day. 
            There are many people in the world who are living life for themselves.  They get what they want, do what they want, and seem to enjoy a certain “freedom” that comes with saying, “Leave me alone, God.  I don’t want You in my life.”  Even Christians can turn their faces from God or their backs to Him when things don’t go the way they want, when God says “no” about a prayer request, or when they want to pursue their own desires and plans.  And they say, “Turn Your face from me, God, and don’t look at what I’m doing.” 
            I think most nice, everyday people don’t even realize that they are asking God to “Leave me alone.”  But they are.  When they choose to ignore God’s knock on the door of their hearts . . . when they think they don’t need God as a “crutch” like all the “weak-minded Christians” . . . when they think it doesn’t matter what they believe, that all roads lead to God and all faith is the same as long as it is sincere . . . when they refuse to accept the Bible as God’s Word . . . when they would rather believe that Jesus was just a “good, moral teacher” and not the Son of God  (Yet how could Jesus be “good” if He wasn’t God?  Because a “good, moral teacher” wouldn’t deceive everyone into believing He was God and the only way to salvation.  That doesn’t make Him “good.”  It would make Him crazy or an evil liar.  He cannot be a “good, moral teacher” without being God also.  Crazy, a Liar, or God.  It’s only one of the three.)  . . . when they fail to see that they are a sinner in need of a Savior and forgiveness . . . then they are saying, “I don’t want You in my life, God.  Leave me alone.”  And they are living it up in pleasure, while we go through times where God makes us eat manna every day.    
            If we are God’s children, we will end up eating manna at some point in our lives.  We will end up with some sort of long, lingering trial.  But it’s not that God doesn’t care or that He’s being stingy or that He’s not answering or that He’s absent.  It’s that He’s testing us to see if we are really committed to Him.  We get to a point where we have to make a decision.  We have to decide if we will trust Him anyway and cling to Him (even in the pain and silence) or if we will turn our faces or bodies from Him and pursue what we want like others have done.  At some point in all of our lives, He draws a line in the sand and says, “Will you cross over and trust Me anyway?  Or will you give up on Me?  What are you putting your faith in?”
            Of course, we will not enjoy these trials, but I think God has to test all of His children like this at some point.  Because it reveals what’s really in our hearts.  It makes us choose who or what we will really trust in.  It forces us to examine our hearts, our obedience, our priorities, our thoughts and feelings.  It helps us uncover fears, doubts, sins, and idols in our hearts.  It challenges us to pursue God for Who He is and not for what He can do for us or give us.  It strengthens and purifies and grows our faith in Him, if we let it.  It matures us as believers.  And this growth and purification builds up our eternity, as we learn to store our treasures in Heaven, to seek God and His kingdom above all else, and to bring Him glory no matter what is going on in our lives. 
            The sad thing about those who say, “Go away, God.  I don’t want You in my life” is that they will get what they want.  Not just on earth, but eternally.  They will get an eternity apart from God.  And Christians who say, “Turn away, God.  Leave me alone” will get some space from Him, for a time.  But it will be bitter because they will be living in their own puny strength and wisdom, making selfish and unwise choices that may hurt them in the end, and there will constantly be a deep, gnawing, longing ache in their hearts for more, for their Heavenly Father.  And eternity for them will be “less than” what it would have been if they had walked closely with the Lord while on earth.  (Of course, God pursues all people – lost and wayward – but He allows us to make the final decision about how close we let Him come.) 
            So while those who are pursuing whatever they want in life may seem to enjoy a certain “freedom” from God right now (as long as they keep ignoring that ache for something more than what this life has to offer, the ache that only God can fill), we children of God will get manna at some point and we may not like it very much.  But when it comes to the effect it has on eternity, which one would you prefer?
            Honestly, I’ll take the manna.   
 

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