Last year, I became impatient. The church plant was progressing much more slowly than I wanted it to. As a “type A,” I planned for, and expected, results. Of course, the coronavirus crisis in Ontario, which came with a lockdown and multiple levels of restrictions, complicated things. But we were able to have a really good and successful summer. I expected to capitalize on that summer work and build into something greater.
Imagine my frustration as I saw summer slipping into fall and then into early winter with less and less to show for things.
I had time on my hands because there wasn’t really anything else to do as December came around. It was too cold to meet outside, restaurants were largely closed to the public, and it was obvious we were heading towards another lockdown.
So I did what I should have done from the beginning -- I turned to God. I doubled down on reflective Bible reading and listening prayer. And those exercises reminded me to trust God. Rather, God showed me the value and simplicity of listening to him, of waiting upon him for direction and answers.
It reminded me of the experience of the Israelites as they wandered the wilderness. (The secular culture of Canada can feel like quite a wilderness!) They became hungry and thirsty and complained to God. They became impatient. But the lesson for me was this -- God always provided for them.
In Exodus 16, there is a story about hunger. The people were hungry. They complained to God. They didn’t trust that he would provide as they needed. But God did provide. Through Moses, he gathered the people and instructed them that he would provide for them -- daily, even!
These daily provisions, however, would come with a caveat -- they were to gather enough manna for each day, and for each day only. If they gathered too much (i.e., to hoard, perhaps because they didn’t trust that God would provide daily), the manna spoiled overnight. And it didn’t matter how much they gathered, because each one ended up gathering all that they needed (16:18).
What a wonderful thing -- God providing sustenance in the wilderness where it didn’t naturally occur.
I began to see this as a word for me. If I would trust God, and seek him each day, he would provide everything I needed for that day (i.e., my daily bread; Matthew 6:11). But if I raced ahead of God, accumulating plans and gathering ideas without seeking him, those plans would “spoil” and become useless.
And then I noticed that God provided one additional measure for the Israelites. Although they were only to gather manna one day at a time, God made a provision for them so they could worship him. They could gather twice as much as they needed ahead of the Sabbath so that they would not have to gather on the Sabbath and could leave the day for God. If they gathered too much on any other day, it spoiled, but if they gathered twice as much before the Sabbath, it kept, so they could keep the day for God.
I believe this story provides an image and a metaphor for mission work in the secular wilderness. We must proceed with daily trust in God, letting him provide what we need as we need it, without “spoiling” ourselves by rushing ahead with our plans. We must also take care to make provision for ourselves to hold God distinctly before us in ways that honour a worshipful relationship with him.