As I wrote last week, I have been reflecting about surviving seasons of hardship. As such, I’ve been taking a closer look at the story of the Israelites who experienced hard times after they left Egypt. God intentionally led them into a desert when they left Egypt, even though there was at least one other shorter route they could have taken to their destination [Exodus 13:18]. God led them to the Red Sea and parted it, but on the other side of that sea was a wilderness [Exodus 15:22]. They spent 40 years in the wilderness. However, throughout their journey, God fed them daily with quail and manna [Deuteronomy 8:3]. Additionally, neither their clothes nor their sandals wore out in the wilderness [Deuteronomy 29:5].
By any standard, the Israelites experienced divine provision in the wilderness. Yet, there is a constant refrain in their story which didn’t please God. They grumbled against God and Moses. Grumbling is usually a sign of ungratefulness and it’s often fueled by improper expectations. God’s promise to the children of Israel was a good and spacious land of their own, flowing with milk and honey [Exodus 3:8]. It wasn’t the wilderness. Manna and quail weren’t the best God could do either, the promise was a whole lot more [see Deuteronomy 28:1-14]. However, obtaining and keeping what was promised was going to hinge on just one thing: obedience to God. That obedience is an act of faith in Him. As someone once said, “you can’t separate obedience and faith”.
Our faith is crucial to managing our expectations. The Israelites knew what God’s promise looked like. Therefore, they could tell the difference between their present hardship and God’s promise. This is true for us as well. We know the difference between what God has promised us and where we are. However, our attitude towards the present will be determined by how much faith we have that God will deliver on His promises [Isaiah 55:10-11]. For some, present hardships may cause them to abandon God and look for alternatives, or even strike out on their own. Others, like the Israelites, will grumble against God for their hardships. But there will be those who like Job will cling to God no matter the hardship [Job 1:20-22]. Have you asked yourself which of these categories you fall into recently?
As we find in Israel’s story, God is faithful. He never left Israel to fend for themselves in the wilderness even when they were unfaithful to Him. I’m struck by the fact that God let them experience hunger and then fed them so that they would know that they can’t live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God [Deuteronomy 8:3]. God will sustain us in hard times but that sustenance might not be what we expect. For instance, in the United Kingdom, many people have been able to take advantage of payment holidays as Covid-19 has taken its toll on the economy. If you’ve lost your job, but you’ve been able to defer your bill payments, do you see that as God’s provision and thank Him for it? Or do you grumble about losing your job, forgetting the source of the job in the first place [Deuteronomy 8:18]?
God made it clear that we will need His word to survive hard times. In times of hardship, we’re tempted to focus on the physical things we lack like money, health, friends and so on. However, spiritual sustenance is just as important as those things, if not more. I have found that in tough seasons, God has led me to books and sermons that have fed and encouraged me spiritually. He has also surrounded me with people who remind me of His promises and offer words of exhortation. That has been spiritual manna for me. I’m not special, I believe the same provision is available to any child of God [Lamentations 3:22-24]. However, like the Israelites, we must gather our spiritual manna daily [Exodus 16:21]. So, do you seek, cherish and feed on the word of God in times of hardship? Or do you treat it with contempt, cynicism or indifference?
As I examine my life, especially this year, I find many examples of God’s provision for my family and me. It’s interesting that when I look into the future, I fret. But when I look at my past, I see multiple reasons to be grateful. It’s as easy to see the hand of God if you’re looking for it as it is to miss it if you aren’t looking. However, a hopeful disposition fueled by a grateful attitude for what God has already done makes all the difference. For as long as I maintain this perspective, I restrain myself from striving unnecessarily for physical provision. I also find the confidence to make hard decisions which I believe will honour God, even if those decisions may worsen my situation. I feel this is a shadow of the rest we are told to enter [Hebrews 3:18-19].
That rest is crucial for the believer in hard times and it stems from recognising God’s provision in the wilderness and accepting it with gratitude. I don’t know if you’ve ever wondered what the difference between thanksgiving and praise is? We offer thanksgiving for what we’ve already received but praise is more of an act of faith. As we’re told, without faith, we cannot please God. So I urge you to praise God irrespective of your situation because God inhabits the praises of His people[Psalm 22:3]. And God’s presence is never in vain. The psalmist tells us that the only requirement for us to praise God is breath in our lungs [Psalm 150:6]. When we truly realise that even that breath is from Him, no other response will suffice.