I recently found myself in the proverbial desert. I was praying earnestly over a few needs and felt as though I was receiving the answer “No.” My main request was for sleep. I had a sick infant, which meant it had been nearly two months since I had slept for more than an hour at a time. I didn’t think I could function any longer. I was beginning to grow exasperated with God, wondering how He could possibly think that was the right answer to all of my prayers. After all, my requests were fervent, rational and reasonable, right?
In the middle of all this turmoil, I found myself contemplating the plight of some cartoon Israelites. Yes, you read that correctly—cartoon. There they were on my television, broadcasting from some station that I have never before or since watched. My children put them there, and they were totally into it (ok, and maybe I was, too). It was a very familiar story, but for some reason I was hooked.
The animated story portrayed Exodus 15-16, when the Israelites land on dry ground after crossing the Red Sea. They have literally just witnessed the majestic power and provision of the Lord displayed through the miraculous parting of the water. The chapter picks up with the Israelites singing songs of worship and praise to the Lord.
I often imagine what this scene must have been like to experience. I like to think I’d be singing along. I tell myself, “If I could just see something like that, I would never again doubt. I would have total faith in the Lord.”
From Praise to Grumbling
Maybe you, like me, judge the Israelites for what follows. Three days after crossing the Red Sea, three days after singing praises to the Lord for His protection and provision, the Israelites become thirsty. Three days later, when they approach much-needed water, they are no longer singing. They are complaining. The water is undrinkable, and they cannot fathom why God led them to water they can’t drink. Moses then appeals to the Lord who graciously inclines Himself to their request and tells Moses to throw a log into the water, and it becomes sweet, drinkable water.
As if that wasn’t enough, they later come to Elim where there are 12 springs of water, a lavish provision. Good, right? Back to singing those songs? Maybe so—or at least until they become hungry. In fact, they are so hungry that they tell Moses it would have been better had they stayed in Egypt because at least there they had food. Oh, how quickly we forget! Even so, once again the Lord provides for them, and, once again, His provision is lavish. In Exodus 16:11-12, we read, And the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”
Amazing. God gives them quail by evening and manna by morning. Think about that. They don’t have to hunt, leave their camp or make dough. All they have to do is go out and collect what’s already been provided. Yet, because this manna was a provision beyond their finite understanding, they grumbled against the Provider. They grumbled against what they could not comprehend, overlooking that it was an awesome provision from a gracious Provider.
Receiving the Better Thing
Oh, friends. This story is just as much about me as it ever was the Israelites. Could it be that the answer to my prayers wasn’t always “No,” but rather, I was looking for answers that fit into my own understanding? Could it be that I was so busy complaining about the provisions that I was missing the Provider? I wanted sleep, but what I needed more was perseverance. God had been providing endurance that I couldn’t explain for weeks, and I had missed it because I was so sure sleep was the answer.
Sleep did eventually return to my house, just as the Israelites eventually arrived at fertile land capable of satisfying their hunger and thirst. But rather than just gaining rest, I have gained a lesson in perseverance and trust. Thankfully, the Lord’s ways are not our ways. We are finite; He is infinite. Look for the manna in your life. I guarantee you, it won’t look like you imagined, and that’s a beautiful gift.