Into the Wilderness Devotional, Day 4: The Wilderness is Where God Teaches Us to Trust His Sustainin
Everyone has their own experience during this pandemic season, and some may feel this more than others. But to one degree or another, we all feel that this year has become a little less cultivated, a little more inhospitable. And we’re all wondering where to find the path through this season. The good news is that there is a well-worn path: the path of the wilderness in Scripture.
Day 4: The Wilderness Is Where God Teaches Us to Trust His Sustaining Grace
Exodus 16 should be a triumph of trust for God’s people. God has rescued his people through miraculous signs and wonders from Egypt, he’s parted the Red Sea, he’s destroyed the army following them. We might think that the natural response from God’s people would be their resounding trust in God no matter what they face next.
But in Exodus 16 we read, “and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
God’s people looked around and saw no resources, no help, no crops, no streams, no big herds of livestock.
They looked around and saw nothing, therefore they assumed they had nothing.
One thing the wilderness does is that it reveals where our trust truly lies. Early on the pandemic it seemed like every day or hour brought news of things being taken away or paused. Trips to the library were cancelled. Eggs were no longer on supermarket shelves. Our ability to even go to the office was halted. And as thing after thing was taken away it revealed where our trust truly was. For some people, the supermarket shortages were hard. For others, the furlough and pause on their paycheck was what made them panic. For still others, the dire financial forecast is what created deep anxiety. And for some, inability to see friends or family is what felt impossible to handle.
Now, many (but not all) of our comforts are back. But it’s worth asking: What makes me panic when it’s taken away from me? Where do I place my trust on a day-to-day basis? What do I fear could be removed in the future?
The people of God in Exodus didn’t see clearly yet, and neither do we. When we look around at the wilderness and see no sources of provision it is not true that we have nothing. Instead, God invites us to look up and see that we have only one thing: God himself. And fortunately for us, God is all we need.
In the wilderness we learn the important skill of learning to trust God for our provision. In the wilderness we find a training ground for placing our trust in him.
Later in Exodus 16 God sends his people something called “manna” supernaturally each night:  When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.  This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’”  And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less.  But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat.  And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.”  But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them.  Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted. (ESV)
Notice what God does here in the wilderness and how he helps them learn to trust him and his sustaining grace: God provides abundantly for their needs. No one in the camp lacks food. In fact, even if they might be a little short in what they gather God makes sure they have enough. Their provision isn’t dependent on what they see around them, it’s not even dependent on their skill in gathering, it’s wholly dependent on God’s provision for them.
But God also refuses to allow them to store the manna. Each day God’s people will eat their dinner, finish their store of food for the day, and go to bed with no food for the next morning. Naturally, they’ll want to have some stored for the morning so that they sleep better at night. But God says no. Why? Because if they gather extra they’ll begin to trust their extra store of manna, not God as provider. And God designs it so that every single day they go through this exercise of going to sleep without food for the morning. But then he generously provides for them in the morning. God is after their hearts. God is aiming to transform a people who cannot trust him to a people who trust him daily.
Later Jesus would call back to this story when he instructs his people to ask God, “Give us today our daily bread…” Jesus’ followers are to live in the rhythm of desert Manna. We are to stop trusting other sources for what we need and depend wholly on God. We are to pray confident that God will provide all we need.
In this season here are a few places I’ve been forced to trust God:
- Financial provision in the future -- I have to trust God to provide a place to live and food to eat for my family, not my paycheck or savings account
- Strength to persevere -- I have to trust God after another exhausting week that God will give me the strength to get up again on Monday and work hard at what he’s called me to do
- Physical health -- I have to trust God that he holds my life and health in his hands and that he will give me what I need to do what he’s called me to do
- Relational love and patience -- When things others say or do reveal my impatience or my disagreement with them I have to ask God for help in loving them and being patient
And for the last few months I’ve seen God’s provision. There have been unexpected expenses but God has helped. There have been emotional lows but God has sustained. There have been physical issues and weaknesses but God has helped me do what he set out for me each day, even when it wasn’t comfortable. There has been help to love people I don’t want to love.
Where is God using this wilderness season to help you learn to trust him? Where is God cultivating a deeper, more unshakeable trust in him?