Recently my wife and I have been reading through Exodus and Deuteronomy. As is our habit, we both spend time alone in that day’s passage and then talk about what we are gleaning over breakfast. It’s the highlight of my day. What we talk about almost always pours out into our ministry conversations that week.
This week we were reading in Deuteronomy 11 where we see God promising the blessings of the Promised Land. The promises were directly related to God, himself, being the source of those blessings. There would be rain in abundance to grow the food they needed. The fields would produce grass and food for their livestock. God himself would bless them with water, grain, and meat. In fact so much so that they would be able to have a ribeye steak whenever the desire hit them. Conversely, God warns them that there is testing in the times of blessing. They are to be careful to turn to him alone for their worship; He alone is their hope. In theory, we all get this. Yet it is easy to slip into pride and indifference or to live in functional agnosticism in times of abundance (functional agnosticism is professing one thing in our beliefs, yet living in a way that is inconsistent with those beliefs, as though we didn’t need God). As I was meditating on this, the Israelites’ wilderness experience came to mind. While their provision looked different (for example, manna from heaven in the wilderness instead of productive fields and gardens in the Promised Land), the Israelites received similar promises and faced similar trials.
The Israelites faced testing from the Lord as well in the wilderness. They find themselves hungry and wanting bread to eat. On another occasion, they find themselves in need of water. I can imagine that their kids are crying, their cows are mooing at them, they have been walking a long, long way and it is scorching hot on top of it all. It must have been a really hard place to be, and they seemed very overwhelmed. As a result, they bear the fruit of pride, indifference, and functional agnosticism: they complain. They complain and blame Moses for leading them into the wilderness.
Again, at another point in their journey through the wilderness they have a desire for meat. The same pattern follows in their hearts, bearing the fruit of grumbling and complaining. Though God is literally present with them and leading them in the pillar of cloud and fire they don’t look to him for help and hope. They are tempted to think that their circumstances are a hindrance to turning to God, when in fact their circumstances are the vehicle that He has designed by which they are to turn to him.
What did they miss out on by grumbling and complaining? In one sense, despite their grumbling and complaining, they still had everything they needed because God gave them bread, water, and meat. While they were still fed and cared for, they missed out on turning to God and growing in faith. Had the Israelites cried out to God, they would have seen him more clearly and known his faithfulness more deeply, growing their faith in him and encouraging them to turn to him in the next time of testing.
I was struck by how God provided the same for them in the wilderness as he did in the Promised Land. Careful reading reveals that there was an abundance of manna, water, and meat so much so that God told them not to horde it, for he would keep providing. I am hoping as you read this and think about your own life, that you and I see that it did not matter where they were located. God provided for them just as well in the wilderness as in the land of plenty.
On this side of the new heavens and new earth (the ultimate Promised Land!), life is more akin to the wilderness than the land of plenty. Jesus often leads his disciples into dangerous and difficult situations (testing) so they would turn to him and know him more fully. He leads you and I in the same way. How might you be tempted to think your circumstances are a hindrance to turning to God? How might you tempted to grumble and complain, believing that God has forsaken you rather than richly provided for you?
Our hope is not simply that we do not face wilderness experiences. Our hope is that God, himself, is present with us and wants to abundantly provide all that we need.
What hardships are you currently facing? In the midst of these hardships, take a few minutes to consider how God has been providing for you. How has he met your needs over the last week, month, year? And what promises from Scripture have been helpful reminders to you that he is faithful, and he will care for you?