I have a colleague who has several farmers in his congregation and some of them have been complaining to him about the lack of rain this season. He empathizes with their plight and graciously listens to their “grumbling.” He prayed for rain, as we all did, but he had to remind them that he has no control over “Mother Nature.”
When people have complaints they frequently take them to their leaders. We pastors are often targets when people have needs. They want us to heal their loved ones, repair their damaged relationships, make their children behave, or make them prosperous. We care, we listen, and we pray, but the outcome is still up to God. My colleague and I can really relate to Moses when his people were “murmuring” in the wilderness. They directed their complaints to Moses and wanted Moses to fix them. Moses felt their pain and fortunately the Lord intervened. “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you.”
Perhaps you recall the movie, “Field of Dreams.” One of the phrases Kevin Costner kept hearing in the story was, “Ease his pain.” It meant he was to forgive his father, who was deceased, for wanting him to play baseball. He could ease his pain by playing catch with him on the field of dreams. That, however was fantasy. It is not possible to go back in time and change the direction of our actions. It is possible though to be grateful for what we have in the present and not be emotionally paralyzed by our past failures or mistakes.
On the other hand we can ease peoples’ pains by listening and caring. I don’t believe church members really expect their pastors to make everything right or even give them what they want. What they want is to be heard. God heard the pain of the Israelites and God responded.
What God promised was bread or manna and meat, in this case, quail. God promised enough food for each day as long as they went out and gathered it for themselves. On the sixth day there would be enough for two days, which meant they didn’t have to work on the Sabbath. In spite of their grumbling, the Lord provided. God gave them just what they needed.
We human beings are never satisfied. We continually want more than we already have. If there is too much rain, we complain. If there isn’t enough rain, we complain. And if we don’t get what we want we believe God doesn’t care about us. When we complain we are saying, “Why me,” or “Life isn’t fair,” or “Where is God when I need God?” This story illustrates that God does care. God has provided for us in the past and will continue to provide for us in the future.
The manna that God gives us is more than just food. It is comfort, blessings, ideas, relationships, hope, peace and love. When we complain, we are blinded to the things God provides because we are so focused on the present moment. We forget what God has done for us in the past. Here are the Israelites, complaining to Moses about food when they were recently liberated from the Egyptians and escaped by walking across the Red Sea. How’s that for gratitude?
One time I had a homebound person who I visited for 10 years. Every quarter I would faithfully visit her in her apartment. She really loved her church and we always had wonderful conversations. One day I was making a routine visit when I discovered she no longer lived there. I discovered later that her family had moved her to a nursing home, but did not notify the church. I continued my visits to her in the nursing home for several months. Finally, she died, but again the church wasn’t notified. Much to my chagrin I learned that another pastor was officiating her funeral. I learned of that through the newspaper and went to the funeral. The other pastor did a fine job but he knew nothing about her, especially her commitment to the church. In fact, he said little about who she was or the life that she lived. I felt badly because I should have been telling her story. After the service I introduced myself to her family, who lived out of town. They immediately apologized for not informing me or asking me to do the service.
How soon we forget! God provides for us in the past, yet we have a tendency to forget since we only live in the moment. This is why the stories of our faith or so critical. We can look back in time and see that just as God provided for the faith community in the past we can expect that God will provide for us in the future.
Why do we fail to see that God provides for us? What God gives us is not what we expect. Manna was a foreign substance to the Israelites. Manna is a substance that falls to the ground in little drops and is gathered up before sunrise. Similar to honey, manna is preserved in leather gourds. It has a dirty yellow color, a pleasant taste, is spicy, but otherwise sweet. The Bedouin view it as the first delicacy which the lands yield. The harvest is usually in June and lasts for six weeks. Manna, or lechem shamayim is also the “bread of heaven (Ps. 105:40), a gift of God. Manna was a substance the Israelites had never eaten. Imagine their skepticism when it was provided as their only source of food while in the wilderness.
We are mistaken if we think that God will provide for us in the present the same way God has provided for us in the past. Times change. Resources change. Our needs change. At my first parish I had a mimeograph machine and an electric typewriter to do my sermons, bulletin and newsletter. Now we have high-speed computers and computerized photocopiers to do the same work, not to mention the internet for reference work. Just as manna was foreign to the Israelites as a resource, 20 years ago, word processing was a foreign resource to me.
God gives us what we need but we aren’t always ready to accept it. The Lord always provides but are we willing to receive it? You may not like spinach or carrots or broccoli, but if that’s all you have to eat they may become a delicacy. You may not like the weather but it’s what God has given us. You may not be happy with your job but it may be just exactly suited for you. You may not like your pastor, but his/her gifts are just what the congregation needs at a particular time. The Lord will provide.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “Dear Dick, I would just like to say how much I appreciate your ministry. I have been retired for 3 years but still preach nearly every week. Your ministry keeps me up to date……. saves me time…… (retirement is just as busy as full time ministry) saves me money…..(how quickly our libraries are dated!)”
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The Lord gave the Israelites just what they needed. What they received was good enough for a single day. We have a tendency to stockpile for the future, for fear of running low or running out. Have you ever observed your community the day before a possible snowstorm? People rush to the grocery, buying milk, bread and supplies, just in case. There’s a communal panic that seems to set in whenever the weather forecast sounds extreme.
This phenomenon happens at Christmas too, especially when there is a popular new toy on the market. People trample over one another trying to purchase the new item for their children. Sometimes it gets ugly.
Its ugly when people complain to God that they don’t have enough. They have forgotten all God has done for them in the past. They have been given new and different resources but they are unwilling to accept them. Rather than live one day at a time, people live in desperation about the future. The dawning of the new millennium should have taught us a valuable lesson. Remember how everyone was worried about the world coming to an end? Remember Y2K? What happened? Nothing. The Lord provided then and the Lord will provide now.
––Copyright, 2002, Dr. Keith Wagner. Used by permission.