Exodus 16 & 17 give us great insight into the way the Lord deals with us, his grumbling children :-)
The Israelites are in the desert. The desert is a hard place to be. It is an empty place – dry and lifeless. If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you are familiar with the desert. God seems distant. It is a place of testing.
As we read these chapters in Exodus, we see a pattern develop… The people travel in the desert. The people grumble. God graciously provides either food or water. The people are satisfied and worship. And then the pattern repeats… They travel; they grumble; God provides; they worship.
God is increasing their faith as He tests them with difficult circumstances. We see this in the instructions regarding the manna…
“Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not” (Exodus 16:4).
It’s as if God is a patient parent training his young child to trust Him.
If you are in “the desert” in your spiritual life, it might be that God wants to stretch your faith. We know from His Word that He never leaves or forsakes you… but He loves you so much that He is willing to seem distant – so that as you persevere – your faith is strengthened.
Paul Miller expresses this concept much better than I can in his book, A Praying Life…
When God seems silent and our prayers go unanswered, the overwhelming temptation is to leave the story – to walk out of the desert and attempt to create a normal life. But when we persist in a spiritual vacuum, when we hang in there during the ambiguity, we get to know God. In fact, that is how intimacy grows in all close relationships (Miller, A Praying Life, pg. 192).
In Matthew 19, we see Jesus inviting the rich young man into a relationship with Him, but the man is unwilling to follow Jesus into the desert of ambiguity. You see… the desert is a scary place. Self-sufficiency is scarce in the desert. And as we face impossibilities, our eyes are forced heavenward, and the gospel becomes like manna and water to our souls… The gospel. The good news that even though we are unable to save ourselves, God is not just able to save us; He’s also willing.
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:24-26).
That’s the gospel. That’s good news :-)