“My prayer is that we would change the culture, our mindset, that we would arm people so that they don’t walk away from Jesus when life gets difficult, but that we arm them with a proper theology of suffering. We actually embrace it as a church because we rejoice in it. So no longer are we surprised, but we expect it, no longer do we complain when it gets difficult, but we rejoice in it, and no longer do we set our lives up so that we avoid suffering at all costs but we actually want some of it so that when Christ returns we go, ‘I am one of yours. Look at my scars; look at my life; I’ve lived the life of Christ.'” – Francis Chan
There is a beautiful passage in Exodus 16 which describes the great love that God has for his people. YHWH has passed-over the homes of his people in Egypt, has freed them from slavery, has parted the red sea, and has brought justice to the Egyptian slave masters. The Israelites sing a song of praise for who God is and what He has done in Exodus 15 and then, just a month and a half later, there it is; grumbling in the desert.
I guess, I shouldn’t say just a month and a half later. I mean, think about it. Forty-five days in the desert? I suppose that would be enough to make most of us grumble. I’ll confess freely to times that I have grumbled when the internet is slow. Now, forty-five days in the desert. I suppose we can understand and give a little empathy to the people of Israel. They’ve been through a lot. More than what most of us have been through. And so, they grumble.
I’m fascinated by this passage for three main reasons:
(1) We have all had rival longings. I’d imagine each of us can point to a time that God was leading us on to freedom in some area, and we have had a rival longing to return to the way things have always been. Addictions, challenges, and just plain comfort. I can point to several times in my life that God was leading me in the direction of freedom and I turned back because it was just easier. Such is the nature of our rival longings. We long for freedom, but long for comfort at the same time. And sometimes, as one pastor said, “We prefer the slavery we know to the freedom we don’t know.” Exodus 16 points to the freedom that God longs to bring in our lives, even in the midst of the desert.
(2) Desert experiences become desert opportunities. At the heart of the Exodus 16 passage is the message that God can use the desert experiences of our lives in order to build our faith and draw us closer to Him. In other words, our desert experiences become desert opportunities. While our tendency is to hide when things get tough, God invites us, as He invited the Israelites, to draw near. It is precisely these times that God uses the difficulty to cause our growth and reveal His glory.
(3) We all have a testimony of what God has done in the desert. As God provided the people of Israel with quail in the evening and manna in the morning, he continues to provide the Bread of Life for his people today. The instruction was for the people to take a jar of manna and keep it in the ark of the testimony for future generations. Generations later, the author of the book of Hebrews notes the faithfulness of God throughout history to provide the way of life for His people. Jesus, who said he was the very Bread of Life has come to be the lasting source of salvation for the world. Just as future generations of Israelites pointed to the desert as a time that they drew near to God, so we can provide a testimony of what God has done the desert opportunities of our lives.
John Piper says, “It is free. Christ died in our place. He rose again from the dead. He lived a life of perfect righteousness. He stands freely available to everyone who will have him and stop working for him and start eating the bread of heaven and finding him to be more precious. Fall in love with him. Fall in love with him now. You need to love him now, know him now, Trust him now. My task on this planet is to eat the bread of heaven and be satisfied and overflow for others.” Whether you are currently in the desert or on the other side, may our satisfaction be ever found in Jesus, the eternal Bread of Life. God can use the desert experiences of our lives to build our faith and give us a closer walk with the Bread of Life.