Moses and Me
Part 4: When You’re in the Wilderness
Exodus 16 (selected verses)
June 24, 2018
Pastor Morris Brown
As you know we’ve been sharing a worship series this month to help us prepare for Vacation Bible School, which will be taking place this week. Our series is entitled, Moses and Me: Lessons for Life. In this series we’ve been exploring stories from Moses’ life to learn some practical lessons we can apply to own lives.
Last week we explored a story in which Moses and the children of Israel found themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. And from that story we learned several ways our faith can help us navigate situations in our lives that make us feel trapped. Well, this morning we turn to the fourth story in our series. And in today’s story we discover that Moses and the Israelites have “jumped out of the frying pan into the fire.” For after making their way through the Red Sea, the scripture says, “Moses led the people into the wilderness” - a very harsh and barren place – a place where the Israelites quickly run out of provisions.
So, what do the Israelites do? According to the story they start grumbling. They begin to complain to Moses! They say, “Oh, if we could only go back to Egypt. We had plenty of food to eat when we lived there! But you have brought us out into the wilderness. You have brought us to this place where we will die!”
Their complaining reminds me of the story of the monk who joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. And he was only allowed to speak two words every ten years. Well, after the first ten years the abbot of the monastery called him the monk in and asked him what he had to say? The monk replied, “Food bad.”
Another ten years went by and the abbot called the monk in a second time. “Do you have anything to say?”
The monk said, “Bed hard.”
Ten more years go by. The abbot called the monk in a third time. “Do you have anything to say?” the abbot asked.
The monk said, “I quit.”
“That doesn’t surprise me” the abbot replied, “All you’ve done since you got here is complain!”
Well, when the Israelites realized they didn’t have any food in the wilderness, they grumbled and they complained. The scripture says God heard the people complaining and God said to Moses, “Listen, I am going to rain down bread from heaven on the people. Each morning, for six days, I want they people to go out and gather enough for the day. On the sixth day they shall gather twice as much so that they shall have enough for the Sabbath.” And the next morning when the Israelites woke up and left their tents they discovered a fine, flaky substance on the ground that looks like wafers.
They called it, “Manna,” which is a Hebrew word that means, “What is it?” When they taste the strange substance they discover that it tastes like honey. And they gather it in, share it among themselves, and everyone has enough to eat. So, what can we learn from this story? I think we learn five simple, but important lessons.
FIRST LESSON: God does not prevent any of us from having wilderness experiences. One of the things I find interesting in this story is that even though the Israelites are God’s people – they’re not exempt from having a wilderness experience. They are not immune from having to spend time in a dry and barren place. And the truth is, neither are we!
In our lives, we all have wilderness experiences. From time to time we all experience circumstances in life that are harsh and barren. We all find ourselves in situations that make our lives difficult, fill them with adversity. We all experience events in our lives that threaten to starve us to death.
Bruce Springsteen wrote a song entitled, “Waiting on a Sunny Day.” A line in the song says, “Hard times, baby, well they come to tell us all, sure as the ticking of the clock on the wall, sure as the turning of the night into day.” Like our story, this song reminds us that no one’s immune from wilderness experiences!
SECOND LESSON: When we’re in the wilderness it’s perfectly okay for us to let God know exactly how we feel. Think about it. When the Israelites found themselves in the wilderness without provisions, the scripture says they began to grumble, they began to whine, they began to complain to Moses and God. I have to tell you. I’ve always thought the grumbling and complaining of the Israelites in this story was a bad thing. I always thought it was something that would anger God. I mean, how could they grumble and complain when God had just defeated the Egyptian army and brought them safely through the Red Sea?
However, a friend of mine helped me see the grumbling and complaining of the Israelites in a different way. He said, “Yes, the Israelites grumble and complain in this story. But they are just being honest with God about how they feel. And, I want you to notice something. Notice how God responds to the Israelites. God doesn’t get mad at the Israelites. God doesn’t tell them to quit their whining. God doesn’t rain down fire on them and blow them to smithereens! Instead, God responds to their grumbling and complaining, their honest feelings, by saying, ‘Moses, I’m going to rain down bread from heaven on my people!’”
Isn’t that interesting? God’s responds to the complaints of the Israelites with compassion instead of criticism. God responds to the grumbles of God’s people with a gesture of grace. God responds to the honest feelings of God’s people with a promise to provide rather than punish! What does this teach us?
When we’re in the wilderness - feeling hurt, scared, frustrated, even abandoned - it’s okay to be perfectly honest with God about how we feel! God is not going to get mad at us. God is not going to punish us. God is not going to abandon us! Instead, God listens and responds. This is the second lesson we find in this story.
THIRD LESSON: When we are in the wilderness God will provide for our needs. I love the story about a young woman who brought her new fiancé home to meet her parents. While she and her mother were fixing dinner, her father took the opportunity to ask the young man a few important questions he had.
“Young man,” he said, “I understand you want to take my daughter on a nice honeymoon. Do you have the money saved up for one?”
“Well no,” the young man replied. “But I’m sure God will provide.”
“I see,” the father said. “I also understand that you’re are getting ready to graduate from college. Do you have a job lined up?”
“Well no,” the young man said. “But I’m sure God will provide.”
“I see,” the father said. “My daughter is accustomed to living in a nice house. Do you have plans for a nice place where the two of you can to live?”
“Well no,” the young man said. “But I’m sure God will provide.”
A little later the man’s wife walked up and asked, “What did you learn about our future son-in-law?” The father frowned and said, “I learned he has no money, no job, no plans, and he thinks I am God!”
Well, fortunately, even though the Israelites in the wilderness had no food, they did have God. And when they honestly cried out to God, God responded. “I will rain down manna from heaven!” In other words, “I will provide you with what you need!” And early the next morning when the Israelites emerged from their tents and went out into they’re camp there on the ground was fine, flaky substance that looked like wafers. “What is it?” they said to one another. They picked it up, put it in their mouths, and discovered that it had the sweet taste like honey.
Now, there is something interesting happening here. What’s interesting is that here in the desert, in the wilderness, in this barren, death-filled place where there shouldn’t be food or nourishment, God provides it. There is no place, no situation, no wilderness we can experience in life where God will not provide for us, give what we need. Exactly what we need to not only to survive but also thrive! God will provide for us in the wilderness places of our life. This is the third lesson from this story. And it leads us to the final lesson!
FINAL LESSON: To receive what we need in the wilderness we must participate. God provided manna for the children of Israel in the wilderness. But, in order to receive it there is some things they have to do. Each day they had to look for the manna, gather the manna, and they had to share it throughout the camp. To receive the manna the Israelites had to do something, they had to participate with God. And the truth is, if we are going to receive God’s manna if we are going to receive God’s provision in the wilderness places of our lives we must participate. There are some things we must do as well. Let me suggest three of them.
First, to receive manna in the wilderness we must PRAY for it daily. “The Israelites became hungry in the wilderness,” the story tells us, “so they cried out to God!” If they were going to receive the nourishment they needed in the wilderness, the Israelites knew that they had to pray to God for help. And we must to!
Jesus must have been thinking about this when he taught us how to pray. Remember what he said? He said we should ask God to “Give us this day our daily bread!” Jesus knows that if we are going to receive the manna, the strength we need to thrive in the wilderness, we must ask for it, pray for it - each and every day.
A couple of years ago I was talking with a friend of mine who broke her hip and had to spend several months in a rehabilitation center. Now, if you’ve ever been in rehab center you know it’s not the most fun place to be. In fact, sometimes it can be a downright wilderness experience. But, my friend had a fantastic attitude! So, I asked her how she had been able to stay so positive.
“Well,” she said, “One way I’ve been able to have a positive attitude is to pray each day. Each morning I invite God to help me, to strengthen me, to help me have the attitude I need to face the challenges of the day. And each day I find that God answers my prayer and helps.”
Did you hear it? If we want to receive manna in the wilderness, we must pray for it each and every day! We must ask God for the strength, the resources, the encouragement we need to face the challenges, the difficulties and obstacles we face. As we do this God will respond and begin to provide what we need when we need it.
Second, if we want to receive manna in the wilderness we must look for its’ PRESENCE in our lives. In other words, once we have prayed for manna we must begin to look for it! The story says that “the Israelites cried out to God. And when the morning dew lifted the Israelites saw manna on the ground.” To receive manna in the wilderness the Israelites had to “look” for it, “see” it, “perceive” that it was there. If we want to receive manna in our wilderness we must do the same. We must approach each day with an attitude that says, “I’m going to intentionally look for the ways God is providing for me in this difficult time.”
Some days we will see God providing for us in big and powerful ways. Some days we will see God providing for us in small ways that might go unnoticed. But, if we will look for God’s provision, if we will look for manna, we’ll see it! If we want to receive manna in the wilderness we must first pray for it. Then, look for it!
Finally, to receive manna in the wilderness we must accept help from PEOPLE God places in our lives. When the Israelites went out in the morning they saw the manna. Then they gathered it. Finally, they shared it with other people. The people received manna in the wilderness by accepting it from each other!
A friend of mine shared an experience that reminded me of this. A few years ago, her car broke down and she didn’t have all the money she needed to get it fixed. In a casual conversation, she shared that with her sister. Her sister said, “Oh, that sounds like an expensive repair.”
And my friend said, “Yeah, it’s gonna be.”
A few days later my friend got a call from her sister. She asked her if she’d gotten her car fixed, yet. My friend said, “I wish, but I still don’t have the money.”
“Well,” her sister said, “I discussed it with my husband and we’d like to help you with the bill.” My friend said, “That’s so sweet, but I know God’s going to take care of it.”
Her sister said, “Sweetheart, God’s trying to!”
How do we receive manna when we are in the wilderness? We receive it by praying for it. We receive it by perceiving it. But, most importantly we receive it by accepting it from the people God places in our lives. People God is using to nourish us in our wilderness time.
So, do you find yourself in the wilderness today? Are you hungry, famishing, feeling like you are going to starve to death? Then I’d invite you to apply the lessons we’ve learned from today’s story to your situation.
First, remember that you’re not alone. God doesn’t prevent any of us from having wilderness experiences. Second, remember it’s okay to be honest with God about your feelings in the wilderness. Third, trust that God will provide for you. And finally, be willing to participate with God in obtaining the manna you need by: praying for it daily, looking for its presence in your life, and by accepting it from the people God places in your path!