THE POWER OF PRAYER

Exodus 17:8-15

Bob Weniger

Journey back with me to 1989. It was one of the most significant periods of the twentieth century. In a matter of weeks the world changed in an unbelievable way. Nations were transformed, other nations came into existence, governments that had been entrenched in power for decades collapsed, millions of people who had known only oppression were set free, the whole world order changed. I’m talking, of course, about the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Those of us who remember the Cold War also remember the sense of relief and disbelief we experienced in watching the speed and for the most part peaceful way in which this powerful yet tyrannical system crumbled before the eyes of the world.

One of the most important and symbolic events during that time, and one that proved to be a catalyst for change in other communist countries, took place in Leipzig of the former East Germany. You may recall the prayer meetings that took place every Monday evening in that city. Four different churches hosted the prayer meetings. The congregations would sing traditional Lutheran hymns. The pastors spoke to the people and then led their congregations in rounds of prayer.

Over time the size of the crowds at these prayer meetings began to swell. Political dissidents and ordinary citizens joined the faithful Christians in these churches. When the meetings concluded the people would walk through the dark streets of the city, holding candles and carrying banners. It was a rather benign form of protest, but soon the secret police started surrounding the churches and sometimes would rough up the marchers.

The communist hierarchy debated how to handle the situation. Should they ignore it, hoping it would eventually die out as people lost their enthusiasm. Should they crack down hard, similar to how the communist authorities of Czechoslovakia, under the strong thumb of the Soviet Union, crushed the protests in 1968 and as happened in Hungary in 1956? As they contemplated what to do, the crowds kept growing week by week. I remember watching this unfold on the news. Before long there were 15,000 people at the prayer meetings and in the streets. Then there were 50,000. Soon it became 150,000. And finally 500,000 – almost the entire population of Leipzig.

Then came the evening of October 9th. Everyone knew this would be the biggest crowd yet. And everyone expected some kind of confrontation, for they knew the communist authorities could not just let this continue. In fact, police and army units moved into the streets with instructions from then East German leader Erich Honecker to shoot the demonstrators, to shoot their fellow citizens. The Lutheran bishop of Leipzig warned of a pending massacre. Emergency rooms at the hospitals were cleared out and made ready for the many casualties they anticipated.

And yet, for some reason the violent and bloody clash that everyone expected didn’t take place. It’s not entirely certain why. Egon Krenz, who briefly ruled after Honecker, claimed he rescinded the order to shoot the demonstrators. Some have speculated that Mikhail Gorbachev, who was still the leader of the Soviet Union, telephoned Honecker and warned him not to kill the demonstrators. Others claimed that the police and army units were either intimidated or won over by the huge crowds, which obviously included some of their own friends and family members.

At the human level it is not entirely clear what happened. But at a deeper level everyone agrees that it was the prayer meetings that kindled the process of momentous change. From that moment on there was no way the communist system could continue. The New Republic magazine reported, “Whether or not prayers really move mountains, they certainly mobilized the population of Leipzig.”

It is not an exaggeration to say that the key to what happened that night in Leipzig and the monumental changes that resulted from it – which were not limited to Leipzig or East Germany but spread to other East bloc countries – was prayer. The world changed because people courageously prayed. They persevered in prayer week after week. And God worked through their prayers.

That should not surprise us, for Scripture speaks clearly of the power of prayer. We would probably all have to admit that we do not pray as much as we should. But why? Why do we think we really should pray more? Is it because that is what good Christians do? Or do we pray out of legalistic duty? Or do we pray as a way of staying on God’s good side? It’s for none of these reasons.

Why should we pray? The fact is prayer is a wonderful gift God has given us, and there are several purposes to prayer, several reasons why we pray. One is to enhance the sense of intimacy and deepen the relationship we with have with our Heavenly Father as we abide in His presence and communicate with Him in prayer.

Another purpose of prayer is to help us discern God’s guidance in our lives. If we are facing an important decision, we should pray confident that God will guide us. God may do that simply in our own thinking, or through circumstances, directly through His word, or through the wise counsel of others.

A third purpose of prayer is that as we take our requests to God and thank God for His answers it helps us realize our sense of dependency on God and we also grow in our awareness of God’s care and faithfulness to us, that God is the source of every good gift.

But there is another aspect of prayer, and this is what I want to focus on today is that prayer releases God’s power to accomplish His purposes. It’s not that God is holding out on us or that as we pray we have to somehow try to persuade God to act, for God longs to release His power to bring about His good purposes in our lives, in the church, and in the world. But prayer is the means by which God often releases His power.

The all-powerful God, if He wanted, could do anything He desires apart from us; He doesn’t need our prayers to act. But God has chosen to limit the expression or use of His power in at least some areas of life by connecting His power with our prayers. By the means of prayer God has invited us to play a role in His work. What an honor and joy for us that God would give us the privilege of making a difference in this world and in the lives of others as through our prayers He releases His power to bring about His will.

We see a clear example of God releasing His power through prayer in our text for today, which is Exodus 17:8-15. The Israelites are journeying through the desert under the leadership of Moses. They have escaped from Egypt, but now they encounter a new enemy. The text reads like this:

The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”

So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

Then the Lord, said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.

Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord. The Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

This amazing story is not about some kind of magic power Moses had so that whenever he simply held up his hands the Israelites prevailed. The meaning is clearly that Moses was holding up his hands in prayer to God. That’s why toward the end of this passage in celebrating the victory it stated, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord.” As Moses raised his hands he was calling out to God above to release His power and win the victory for the Israelites. Moses knew that victory was not dependent on the strength or ability of the Israelite soldiers but on God and so as he lifted his hands he was beseeching God to win the battle for them.

There are several important lessons for us in this account in addition to what I just mentioned – that God releases His power as we pray, and I should add, as we pray in accordance with His will. For one thing, we must guard ourselves against the attitude of seeing prayer only as a last resort. Sometimes we fall for that lie, don’t we? How many times when faced with overwhelming circumstances have you said, or have heard someone else say, “Well, I guess we’ve done all we can. There’s nothing left to do now but pray”? In other words, we have tried everything we could think of, we have done everything we could do in our own power to no avail. Since nothing else worked, since we’re out of ideas and out of strength, we may as well pray. After all, it couldn’t hurt.

It’s not that we shouldn’t do what we can, for we have our role to play as well. But what would happen if we prayed first rather than as a last resort? What would happen if every time we are faced with a challenging situation we first prayed, asking for God’s intervention and guidance? Maybe we would be spared a lot of discouragement and wasted effort.

For when did Moses pray? He didn’t wait until after the battle started, and then when he saw things weren’t going too well for the Israelites decide that he’d better pray since nothing else was working. No, the day before the battle Moses told Joshua his plan – that Joshua should choose some men to fight and that he would pray. So from the beginning Moses was praying.

That should be our strategy as well. The moment a problem arises, or even before it arises but we see it coming, we pray. We give the situation to God and ask Him to release His power to bring about His will. And then we don’t have to worry or fret about what might happen, and we don’t have to wear ourselves out trying the wrong approach.

For example, we all know that adolescence can by a trying time for our children. They are faced with new temptations. Peer pressure is so strong. They can easily get in with the wrong crowd. They are beginning to develop a sense of independence, which is important, but they don’t always live out that independence in the best way, for their growth in wisdom has not yet matched their growth in independence. When is the time to pray for our children regarding this crucial and vulnerable time? Not when problems begin, but long before they ever hit adolescence. Already God can be working in their lives, helping them lay a strong foundation for themselves that can assist them in navigating the turbulent years of adolescence successfully. So we must begin praying early, not simply as a last resort.

Another important lesson for us from this passage is that some things simply will not happen apart from prayer. And that knowledge should inspire us to pray. The Israelites were winning only when Moses held up his hands in prayer. In other words, apart from Moses’ prayer, the Israelites would have lost the battle. They could not win apart from prayer. God waits for us to pray before He intervenes and at least sometimes God will not act until we pray. Harry Emerson Fosdick, a well-known preacher of several generations ago, made this observation:

We may well consider in how many ways God’s will depends upon man’s cooperation. God Himself cannot do some things unless men think. He never blazons His truth on His sky that men may find it without seeking. Only when men gird the loins of their mind and undiscourageably give themselves to intellectual toil, will God reveal to them the truth even about the physical world. And God Himself cannot do some things unless men work. Will a man say that when God wants bridges and tunnels…and cathedrals built, He will do the work Himself? That is an absurd and idle fatalism. God stores the hills with marble, but He never built a Parthenon; He fills the mountain with ore, but He never made a needle or a locomotive. Only when men work can some things be done….Now if God has left some things contingent on man’s thinking and working, why may He not have left some things contingent on man’s praying? The testimony of the great souls is a clear affirmation of this: Some things never without thinking; some things never without working; some things never without praying.

I wonder what victories have never been won, what accomplishments have never come to pass, what fruit has never been borne, what pain has never been averted because no one prayed. Prayer is God’s gift to us by which God brings about His purposes. We should never underestimate the power, the effectiveness, or the necessity of prayer.

One more lesson for us from this account is that sometimes we must persevere in prayer. The answers may not come instantly or easily. The battle with the Amalekites went on all day, and Moses did not stop praying until sunset when the Israelites prevailed. As the day wore on Moses’ hands grew weary and he could not continue holding them up. So Aaron and Hur placed a rock under Moses so he could sit and then they held up Moses’ hands so he could keep on praying to God above.

Sometimes we need to persevere in prayer for a period of time, and we may become weary; we get tired of praying. Again, the reason we must persevere is not that we must try to persuade God to do something He really is not all that inclined to do, but if we pray long enough maybe we can wear God down and He will give in. Rather it’s that like the Israelites facing the Amalekites; we too are in a battle. The passage of Scripture that describes this most fully is Eph. 6:10-18. There Paul gives these instructions:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Then Paul goes on to list the various components of our spiritual armor to help us fight this spiritual battle: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and so on. And he closes this section on the spiritual battle we are in with these words: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

We are in a spiritual battle for Satan seeks to thwart God’s good purposes for our lives so that we might become discouraged in our faith and so that our witness for God is diminished. So when we pray, we are engaging in battle, for prayer is one of the weapons God has given us for this spiritual warfare. And like the Amalekites, the evil one doesn’t give up easily. So we need to persevere in prayer. As Paul said in this passage on spiritual warfare, we need to “be alert and always keep on praying.” As we do that, God will work through our prayers to defeat the enemy and bring about His good purposes. But we need to beware of giving up too easily, just because we don’t see our desired answer immediately. Some prayers require perseverance.

Paul encouraged us in this passage to pray not only for ourselves, but to “keep on praying for all the saints.” Because this is a command in Scripture, this is part of God’s will for our lives. God wants to use us to make a difference in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, to help them win the battles they are facing, and one way we do that is through prayer. We need to be a congregation that actively and regularly prays for one another.

One person who personally experienced the power of people praying for her is the Russian poet Irina Ruskanskaya. Like the East Germans in Leipzig, she knew well the horrors of political oppression. In fact, she faced the full wrath of the communist system before its fall. Because her writings celebrated Christian faith and human rights rather than the communist regime of the Soviet Union, she was targeted by the police and arrested. She was sentenced to seven years hard labor and seven years internal exile.

All during that time she refused to compromise or back away from her convictions, even though the prison authorities tried to kill her through cold and starvation. Much of the time she was held in solitary confinement. But while there, alone in an ice-cold cell, she sensed something she never did before. In fact, she had this same sensation many times. After her release in 1986, which came about largely because of the outcry from Christians and human rights groups in the West, she discovered that other Christian prisoners had experienced this same phenomenon. She described this experience in one of her poems:

Believe me, it was often thus:

In solitary cells, on winter nights

A sudden sense of joy and warmth

And a resounding note of love.

And then, unsleeping, I would know

A-huddled by an icy wall:

Someone is thinking of me now,

Petitioning the Lord for me. My dear ones, thank you all

Who did not falter, who believed in us!

In the most fearful prison hour

We probably would not have passed

Through everything – from end to end,

Our heads held high, unbowed –

Without your valiant hearts

To light our path.

Alone in her cell, Ruskanskaya often had the sense that others were thinking of her and praying for her, as other prisoners experienced as well, and that encouraged her to press on. But what’s interesting is it was only after her release that she learned that thousands of Christians from around the world had heard of her plight and were praying for her. It was not that when she entered prison she already knew that Christians around the world would be praying for her, and then in prison she had some emotional experiences she attributed to the prayers of others. No, she had no idea that people around the world would be praying for her. Yet even though she didn’t know that in any objective way, still she experienced the reality and the power of their prayers thousands of miles away locked in a freezing Russian gulag, and that encouraged her to persevere.

God works through our prayers. This story of Moses is a dramatic example. Probably in our own lives we have never experienced anything quite so obvious as the Israelites winning when Moses held up his hands in prayer but losing when he lowered his hands. But we must remember that the Israelites had just come out of 430 years of being surrounded by the polytheistic Egyptians. That was their model of religious practice. They had just emerged from many generations of slavery. They had no written Scriptures to teach them about God or about prayer. Probably some stories of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been passed down to them but essentially they were starting from scratch in the walk of faith.

That’s why God had Moses raise his hands in prayer. In one sense that wasn’t necessary for there is no one and only correct position of prayer. But if Moses would have simply bowed his head in prayer, the Israelites would have looked up at him and thought he was sleeping. But by seeing Moses raise his hands they could see that he was praying, and they could make the connection between Moses’ prayers and their victory. So God gave them this powerful, easily observed example of how He works through prayer so that in the days and months and years ahead, as they journeyed and encountered other challenges, they would know they had a God who both heard and worked through their prayers. They could be confident that the God who led them out of Egypt would continue to lead them on their way.

And we can have that same confidence. But the degree to which we experience God’s intervention in our lives and in the lives of others will at least in part be determined by our prayers. So let’s make the most of this wonderful gift God has given us so that we can experience the life God longs to give us, and so we can make a difference in the lives of others and in the world.

FELLOWSHIP LUNCH – Sunday, 4th June 2017

Everyone is invited to the lunch and fellowship after the 11.00 am Service. A time to get together and to know our fellow worshipers here in St. Andrew’s. Food and drinks will be provided.
We welcome your freewill contribution.

Fellowship Committee

RECEPTION OF NEW MEMBERS – Sunday 21st May 2017

At the 8.30 am Service on 21 May 2017, we will welcome our new members:
Eric Daumieres
Ken Ng See Khing

We hope you take advantage of the many opportunities to serve the Lord our God in your new spiritual home.

Membership Committee

DAILY WALKING WITH GOD

Exod.15:27 – 16:26

When I was in college I spent several summers working at a church camp. That was a great job. It was in a beautiful setting – the Black Hills of South Dakota. Every Sunday a new group of campers – usually teenagers – would come and throughout the week God would work in their lives, often in powerful ways. Some came to faith in Jesus, and others were strengthened in their relationship with Jesus.

But as the week would come to an end, almost always the campers would express the same fear. They had just had this incredible, mountaintop experience with God. Their faith had taken on new meaning and their lives were changed. But now they had to go home, leaving this Christian environment behind. They would not have the constant support of their Christian friends. The temptations they left behind in their hometowns would be there waiting for them when they returned. They’d come face to face with peer pressure all over again. Their new faith would be put to the test, and it was frightening for many of them.

Perhaps some of you can relate to that. As a teenager you had a life-changing experience at a Christian camp. Maybe that is when you came to faith in Jesus, or your faith was strengthened in a profound way, and you just wished you could stay at that camp with all your Christian friends. That would be so much easier than having to be true to your faith, and keep growing in your faith back home. But of course, you had to come down from the mountaintop and return home.

Or maybe some of you had a similar experience but not as a teenager at camp. Perhaps you went to a weekend retreat as an adult and God moved powerfully in your life. Or maybe you didn’t go anywhere but there was a brief time when God touched your life in an amazing way and God seemed so real to you. You would read your Bible and it was if God was speaking directly to you, and when you prayed there was no doubt that you were in touch with God. You wanted it to go on forever, but of course, it didn’t.

In our walk with God from time to time God blesses us with some powerful, life-changing moments in which it is as if God is right beside us and we could reach out and touch Him. Our faith is strengthened and our desire to live for God is renewed. But those times don’t last forever, and soon we find ourselves back in the real world, living out our day-to-day lives in which our tedious routines may discourage us, temptations threaten us, and non-believers challenge us. That sense of intimacy with God is but a faded memory.

If you have had that kind of experience, you are not alone. For none of us can live on the mountaintop with God. Our faith is renewed, and then we are sent back into the world to live by faith and as His witnesses regardless of whether or not we have that deep and intimate sense of God’s presence.

That was the experience of the Israelites in their exodus out of Egypt. They witnessed God’s care for them as He sent the ten plagues to convince Pharaoh to let them leave Egypt. When the chariots of Pharaoh and his army were closing in, they dramatically witnessed God’s power and faithfulness as the waters parted and they crossed the sea on dry ground. They knew God was with them for He led them by the cloud during the day and the pillar of fire at night. After several days of walking through the hot, dry desert, it says in Exod. 15:27, “Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.”

Elim – a wonderful oasis in the desert. Plenty of refreshing water. A bit of shade and some dates from the palm trees. For some ex-slaves in the desert, this was the good life. The God of Moses could be counted on. “He delivered us from slavery. He led us out of Egypt. He parted the sea for us. It’s been just one dramatic encounter with God after another. And now God has led us to the oasis of Elim. God be praised!” they must have been thinking. No point in moving on, for this was as good as it gets.

But moving on is just what God would have them do. The oasis was a place to be refreshed for the journey, but not a place to live. So picking up their story in chapter 16, we read:

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the desert of Sin (not related to the act or concept of sin), which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

The Israelites had trekked through the desert about three days or so between crossing the Red Sea and camping at Elim. Three days of walking through the desert is probably about three days more than any of us would like to spend there. When they arrived at Elim, with its springs of fresh water and palm trees, they were ready to stay put. They had no desire to move on. But God gave them about six weeks there, and that was all. For it says that on the fifteenth day of the second month after leaving Egypt, they set out from Elim. And in no time at all it says the whole community began to grumble against Moses and Aaron. Can’t you just hear them? “Hey, we already spent three days in the desert! What are we doing back here again? We don’t want to spend any more time in the desert! We didn’t leave Egypt just to wander in the desert!”

In the hot desert sun and in their self-pity they began to think of their former days in Egypt. There are two ways of looking at the past. One is helpful and the other is detrimental. The first way is looking back and seeing how God has been faithful to us. We remember the times when God intervened in our lives, when He sustained us, healed us, delivered us, and comforted us. And those memories give us courage and confidence to face whatever circumstances confront us now or in the future.

That’s why later in this chapter, after God had miraculously supplied manna for the Israelites to eat in the desert, God commanded that they take a jar full of manna and save it in the Ark of the Covenant for the sake of generations to come. That jar of manna would be a reminder to them of how God faithfully took care of their ancestors in the desert, and thus they could be assured of God’s faithfulness to them.

That’s part of the reason we celebrate Holy Communion. We do it in remembrance of Jesus. We do it so we can be reminded of the depth of God’s love in forgiving our sins at the cross. And as we remember God’s love we experience it afresh, so that we can be encouraged in our day-to-day lives.

Whenever we face difficult, challenging, or discouraging circumstances, rather than being overwhelmed by those circumstances it is good for us to take a step back and remember God’s goodness and faithfulness to us in the past. Recount the times God has answered your prayers, met your needs, or came through for you at just the right moment. Mountaintop experiences with God don’t last, but we can remember them, reflecting on God’s grace in meeting us. As we do, we will be encouraged and given renewed strength to face those difficult circumstances.

But there is another way of remembering the past, and this is the way the Israelites chose as they found themselves again in the desert. Instead of looking back on God’s faithfulness in delivering them out of slavery and leading them through the Red Sea, they chose instead to enhance their past, thinking it was better than it really was, as a way of highlighting how bad their present circumstances were. As a result they complained to Moses and Aaron, “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

The Israelites thought back on the good ol’ days. But of course, the good ol’ days were never as good as we remember them. As slaves they did not have pots full of meat and all the food they wanted. That’s why when God first called Moses, He said (Exod. 3:7), “I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” As the Israelites sat on that hot desert sand, their memory was distorted. They forgot how they suffered under the slave drivers.

Whenever we remember the past in this sense, contrasting it with our present difficulties, we end up misconstruing the past, imagining that it was better than it really way. “If only we wouldn’t have moved because it was so much better before. If only I hadn’t changed jobs because my previous job was a lot more enjoyable.” And then like the Israelites, we grumble about our circumstances, thinking we had it so much better before. That is deceiving ourselves, for it likely wasn’t as good as we remember it, and the truth is we have no way of knowing if things would be good now if we remained in our past circumstances.

But as the Israelites grumbled about being out in the desert, not only to Moses and Aaron but really to God, here we see the amazing patience and grace of God. For how did God respond to their grumbling? God didn’t dismiss their complaints. God didn’t judge them for their grumbling. Not that God doesn’t care about such behavior, for elsewhere in Scripture we are warned against grumbling. In fact, later in their journey the Israelites faced some severe consequences for their continued grumbling. But in this case, God knew the Israelites were just beginning their life of faith. Furthermore, Scripture was not written yet, so the Israelites couldn’t read of God’s faithfulness.

One of the wonderful things about God is that He takes us where we are. God doesn’t expect us to be mature followers of Jesus just a few weeks into our walk of faith. God knows that when we first place our faith in Christ, we bring a lot of baggage from our old life with us – sinful habits, patterns of selfishness, flawed character traits, and unhealthy ways of relating to others.

Transformation is a process. Over time, as we regularly surrender to the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, our faith matures, our understanding of God and His ways grows, our character is transformed, our obedience increases, and our love for God and others deepens.

This doesn’t mean we should be content with where we are, but God takes us where we are. As we daily surrender, letting the truth of Scripture shape us and the Holy Spirit transform us, over time we become mature followers of Jesus. As we will see in a moment, it is crucial that we daily attend to that.

And so when the Israelites complained about not having food to eat in the desert, knowing that their life of faith and trusting in Him was new for the Israelites, God said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you.”

God assured the Israelites that He would provide for them. And God did by supplying manna every morning. But it’s interesting that with this expression of God’s grace and provision there also came a test for the Israelites. The Israelites were to gather only enough for each day, while gathering a double portion on the sixth day to last them through the Sabbath when there would be no manna. Regarding this, God said, “In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.”

The purpose of this test, as with whenever God tests us, was that the Israelites would grow in their faith and learn that they could depend on God, and as a result of that obey God. Not all the Israelites passed this test, for later in the chapter it says that some gathered more than they needed for the day. But the next morning they discovered that what they had tried to hoard for themselves had gone bad and was full of maggots. In a similar way, some went out on the Sabbath to collect manna only to discover that there wasn’t any.

Having led the Israelites out of Egypt, God wasn’t going to abandon them in the desert. But in order for the Israelites to learn that God is completely faithful, they had to be placed in a situation where they had no choice but to depend on God. There was no food for them naturally in the desert. And they had no control over the appearance of the manna. All they could do was depend on God day by day. That’s why God instructed them to gather only enough manna for the day, so that daily they would experience God’s faithfulness.

The temptation, of course, being out in the desert where there was no source of food would be to collect and stash as much as you could. That’s sort of our default mode, isn’t it? It’s what we naturally resort to. When we find ourselves in a threatening or stretching situation, we immediately try to take control rather than believing and trusting God. That’s what some of the Israelites did. They were in the desert with no food around. One morning they discovered the manna and thought they needed to take control by gathering as much as they could. For who knows if there will be manna tomorrow? But if God would have let them get away with that, then the Israelites would have ended trusting in themselves and in their stockpiles of manna instead of trusting in God and His faithfulness day by day.

In a similar fashion Jesus instructed us to pray, “Father, give us this day our daily bread.” We don’t get a whole year’s supply every January 1st. For if we did we would soon forget about God and His faithfulness – at least, until next January 1st when we needed to be re-supplied. As was true for the Israelites back then, so we too must depend on God on a daily basis.

Seen from another angle, God’s instructions that the manna was to be collected everyday but only enough for the day reminds us that some things cannot be stored up for a later time. They must be tended to daily, or at least regularly.

Obviously our walk with God is like that. Once in a while, as I mentioned earlier, we have some kind of mountaintop experience with God that refreshes our faith, which was symbolized by the Israelites at the Oasis of Elim, but soon we are sent out into the desert of day-to-day living. And there, with jobs that are all consuming, family responsibilities that are demanding, health that wavers, finances that don’t stretch far enough, neighbors that are irritating, temptations that lure us, loneliness that haunts us and dreams that don’t come true, there God invites us to experience His presence day by day.

There God tests us to see if we will stick with Him – not only on the refreshing mountaintop but also in the wearisome valley. If that is our desire, God will sustain us by giving us what we need – one day at a time for God’s mercies are new every morning. And through that our faith is strengthened as we experience God’s faithfulness day by day. As the Israelites needed to gather manna every day, so we need to nurture our soul every day if we are to maintain a sense of God’s presence and faithfulness.

If our relationship with God is to be fresh and vital, it needs regular maintenance. While we don’t want to become legalistic by suggesting everyone must spend a certain amount of time with God in prayer and Bible study everyday, nevertheless if that is not a regular part of our lives our relationship with God will fizzle out. God will seem distant.

We can go to a retreat or a conference every few years or even every year and we may have a mountaintop experience. And while the aftereffects of that may last a few days or even a few weeks, that won’t last until next year. True, we can look back and remember what God did and be encouraged by that, but we can’t store up that experience and then draw on it a little at a time.

The Israelites needed to be nurtured by the manna every day. In Jn. 6 Jesus said He was the true bread that came down from heaven to give life to the world. He came to nurture our souls, fill us hope, satisfy us with joy, and encourage us with His love. As the Israelites had to gather manna every day to be nourished physically, so we need to regularly meet with Jesus if we are to be nurtured and strengthened in faith, if our relationship with Jesus is to be meaningful and life-giving.

Again, we should never see this as a legalistic obligation like a rule we must keep. Rather this is a gift from God. Just think – the God of all creation invites us into His presence. What an honor! And that is the means by which we experience personal growth, deepening faith, and the assurance of God’s love and faithfulness.

This shouldn’t be surprising, for the same principle is true in all the important relationships of our lives. If we are married, that relationship needs regular nurture. It’s great to have some special times of celebration, such as an anniversary getaway. Many couples have benefited from attending a “Marriage Enrichment” weekend. Such experiences can give a real boost to your marriage. But as wonderful as those experiences are, you can’t store them up like a bank account and draw a little bit out in the months and years ahead. After awhile, they are only a memory – no doubt a pleasant memory, but just a memory nonetheless. In the end the quality of your marriage will be determined by the regular maintenance you give it, constantly doing the little things that nurture it day by day.

So it is with our relationship with God. How refreshing it is to our faith when we have some kind of mountaintop experience with God. But as wonderful as those experiences are, they are not what sustain us in our day-to-day routines. They are like the oasis at Elim, providing times of refreshment. We come away re-energized. We can remember them and be encouraged. But then, like the Israelites gathering fresh manna every morning while in the desert, the real key is the regular attention we give to our relationship with God, feeding daily on the true bread that came from heaven, Jesus our Lord.

If we do that, we will discover that even the desert, even the sometimes dull routine of day-to-day life can be a place of nourishment, growth, and fulfillment. The Israelites learned that the path to the Promised Land was through the desert, but God faithfully provided manna for them there. For us, the path to wholeness and maturity in Christ is along that same route. We may go through some desert times, but Jesus, the bread of life, promised to never leave or forsake us. He will be there to feed our souls, nurture our spirits, give us hope, shape our character, and encourage us with His love, for He is faithful. But it’s up to us to meet Him every day.

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