Good words for the overwhelmed: ‘there’s enough manna for today’

sad-woman

There are some days when I feel my energy is fully spent by 8 am, days when the tasks presented to me feel far too great for the strength I have in reserve. On days like this, I’m slowly learning to repeat to myself this little phrase: ‘there’s enough manna for today’.

Ed Welch is one of many who’ve drawn a wonderful parallel between God’s gift of manna to the people of Israel and his provision of daily grace for us as believers in Christ. Grace for each new day is the New Testament equivalent of manna for God’s people.

The more I think through this picture, the more I find it’s enriching my appreciation of how God’s daily provision of grace for us works. Consider for a moment the position of God’s people when they first received manna.

In Exodus 16 having just been set free from slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel find themselves in the wilderness. They’ve seen God do astounding things to achieve their freedom. They’ve watched as their pursuing enemies were swallowed by the Red Sea and now they stand as a liberated nation, able at last to experience freedom after 400 years of tyranny. But on the brink of the journey to their promised home, their immediate attention becomes consumed by the needs of the day ahead.

They’re exhausted. They’ve just fled for their lives taking with them only what they can carry. So now with aching backs and bloodshot eyes they survey their new surroundings. They’re in a wilderness, it’s barren. How on earth will they survive here?

With rumbling bellies they grumble to Moses about their circumstances.

“Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:3)

Forgetting all that God had recently accomplished for them, their attention is focused entirely on the needs of the day before them. ‘We’ve got nothing to eat’, they say, ‘where’s God’s goodness now?’  

In undeserved grace God responds to his peoples moaning with these words to Moses;

 “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)

You may be familiar with the story. For each new day that dawns in the wilderness, with the exception only of the Sabbath – every day – for 40 long years, God gives his people manna in the morning.

This is God enacting a prelude to AmazonFresh. Fresh bread, on the doorstep, every single morning. Imagine what it must have been like to slowly get used to this daily provision. The absence of any other source of food would certainly have made me anxious. The cupboards are empty and a whole nation needs feeding. As each new day dawns the people wake, and the same anxious questions rise in their hearts: ‘what if God forgets us this morning? Will there be enough for everyone? We’ve moved on since yesterday, what if God isn’t tracking us?’

How many mornings of opening the tent flap with an anxious heart do you think it would have taken you and me before we trusted in God’s faithfulness to give us the manna we needed?

This story paints vivid pictures for us of the way God fosters his children’s faith.

As we consider the parallel between God’s gift of manna and New Testament grace, there are three hallmarks of manna that have really fed my appreciation of God’s provision for us as believers in Christ.

1) God gives us manna exactly where we are

The Israelites weren’t stationary, they wandered the wilderness for 40 years, and yet every day, God knew the exact location of his people and gave them manna right there. He gave them precisely enough to meet the needs for the day ahead. This is a tailored provision. God knows where you are today, he knows the season you’re in, the circumstances you’re facing. He knows what you need, and he gives grace generously to those who ask.

2) God gives us manna exactly when we need it

Did you notice how the Israelites aren’t given an enormous pile of manna upfront to see them through the hardships of their 40 years of wandering? God doesn’t give it in advance because he knows that if he did, we’d forget our need of him. Instead, he provides for us in a way which gradually grows our faith. Knowing our fickle hearts, God chooses to give his people exactly what they need for that day. It’s an exercise in daily dependence, a provision which builds our trust and helps us walk in his ways. He gives us what we need for what we’re currently facing and, on the basis of his good character and past faithfulness, asks us to trust him for all we need for tomorrow.  

3) God gives us manna until we reach the promised land

Every single day of their journey God provided the Israelites with all the manna they needed for the tasks they faced. Only when they reached the promised land, only then did the manna stop, and this temporary means of grace was replaced by full-fledged feasting as God’s people rested in God’s place. We don’t know the span of our lives, we’re not meant to. God has designed us to live as dependent creatures, creatures who live their lives with their eyes fixed on their journey’s end. One day our faith will be turned to sight and famished hearts will know the fullness of living with him face to face.

So, what about today? How exactly do we get this manna for the day ahead? Jesus tells us explicitly in John 6.

 “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life”.

It’s Christ who is our manna now, he’s the source of grace and life we need for today.

So as the demands of the day press in, hear Christ say to you: ‘it’s me you need’.

Come to him, speak to him, ask for his help and strength. He won’t prove insufficient, he’s given us his very self and he lacks nothing. So whatever the day brings, if Christ lives within us we can confidently say, ‘there’s enough manna for today’.

When it feels like God’s unkind

looking-up picture

Some days, what we know to be true simply doesn’t feel true. Normally, if you asked me ‘Is God kind?’ I’d tell you a myriad of truths any Bible believing Christian could about the kindness of God. But if you’re anything like me you have some days when you really struggle to plant your heart in the truth that our God really is kind.

Last month in the space of just a few days my daughter came out in a nasty case of chicken pox, my son had a sickness bug and my husband had to sit his biggest set of exams yet while here at Oak Hill. These few days of carnage came off the back of what was the most pressurised month we’ve ever known. I know in the grand scheme of things that week will pale in insignificance, but at the time it felt, well awful. It all hit at once and to be honest it destabilised me. Amidst the sleep deprivation, vomit and pox creams I felt one particular question snap at my heart – ‘how can this be God’s kindness?’

If God is kind, really kind, then why does he ordain weeks like this? Because the thing is – I can’t just chalk it down to fate, it wasn’t just ‘one of those things’. No, the Bible teaches me very clearly that God is sovereign. He’s over all things and in all things all of the time.

This is where a truth can initially feel more like grit than gold. God is sovereign, and this means I can never say ‘it was just one of those things’ because all things are his things.

A.W. Pink puts it like this

“The Lord God omnipotent reigns…… No revolving of a world, no shining of a star, no storm, no movement of a creature, no actions of men, no errands of angels, no deeds of the Devil—nothing in all the vast universe can come to pass otherwise than God has eternally purposed….It is not blind fate, unbridled evil, man or Devil, but the Lord Almighty who is ruling the world, ruling it according to His own good pleasure and for His own eternal glory”

But if this is true, how do we get out hearts to a place where they trust in both God’s great sovereignty and in his kindness? If he ordains all things, including hard things, is he really good?

It’s an age-old question, and for most of us it’s a personal one. How can God both be kind and ordain hard times? In moments of suffering how do I navigate the minefield of my heart and find a place of rest in the uproar?

The twin truths of God’s sovereignty and his kindness are sometimes a real struggle to hold together. They raise questions and emotions in us. I can’t just swallow these feelings, nor does Scripture ask me to. There are countless examples in the Bible of individuals wrestling with this exact question. How can God be kind, and ordain hard things?

Where should I direct my heart when it flounders? Where do I go when doubts about God’s kindness creep in?

Last week Ed Welch commented in our BCUK lecture that we have a tendency to want to over interpret our sufferings, we want to understand them, we feel as though if we could understand the ‘why’ we would somehow cope better with the ‘what’. This is certainly feels true of me. I love how knowledge helps me feel orientated, so I always want to understand things, especially suffering. But so often we don’t get to. God doesn’t offer us exact explanations for individual moments of hardship. So how do we cope? Ed went on and simply said – in hard times, ‘it is enough for us to know that Christ suffered’.

Christ suffered. This is the key to my suffering. His suffering.

When all I consider is my own hardships, they can consume me. They can turn me inward in self-pity which then breeds anger at my God and my neighbour. So, when sufferings destabilise my heart I need to take my doubts about God’s kindness and journey with them to the foot of the cross, and stand there a while.

Stand still. Look up. What do you see?

At the foot of the cross I come face to face with a dying king, a king who at first glance looks like a failure, rejected and alone. And yet, as I look closer, I see that what appears to be defeat is in fact victory. I see how, through death, comes life. A sovereign hand has penned a plan of redemption that weaved even this greatest miscarriage of justice to be the high point of human history. This king is at work, even in his own death, even when the waves pound us hard, he is Lord of the storm.

Don’t stray from here, plant your feet firmer, look closer.

At the foot of the cross I find the crucified Son of Man, the one who chose to share our humanity and thus knows us perfectly in it. He knows the frailty of our flesh, the weariness of our frame. He knows the nature of my heart, how it’s quick to doubt and slow to hear when trials press in. He draws close, feels our sorrows and counts our tears. This Son of Man suffered, and by his sufferings he’s become truly acquainted with even the depths of our grief. He knows us, he understands us.

Don’t stray from here, reach out to him.

At the foot of the cross, I find a friend, a brother who gave his life for me, who stood abandoned in my place that I might never face trials alone. And this friend now reaches out a nail marked hand to lift my drooping head. He lifts my eyes, that they would fix on him once more. He is with me, even here.

Is our God kind? Yes, he is kind.

The cross, not my circumstances, is the measure of his kindness. Even in the hard times the loving kindness of the cross pursues us, chasing away our doubts. Nowhere do I see the kindness of our God clearer than at the foot of the cross.

So, when your heart whispers the lie that God is not kind, don’t stray from the cross.  

My plea to pastors – what women with teaching gifts in your church want you to hear.

women in church

As a woman with a passion for teaching the Bible to other women I’ve been repeatedly struck in recent years with what an enormous challenge it can be for women to grow a Bible teaching gift in the local church. I’m a complementarian by conviction. I think God’s design for men and women is outstanding, thoroughly beautiful. However, when it comes to exercising that conviction whilst trying to grow a teaching gift, I fear that many women regularly face an enormous barrier. Namely, there is often a big discrepancy between our doctrine and our practice in the local church.

There are of course wonderful exceptions to this for which we praise God. My church encourages the development of women’s gifts and I have no particular church in mind when I say this, but I think that, generally, the teaching gift of a woman is not practically valued as of equal worth as the teaching gift of a man.

Our doctrine says that God created us male and female. We’re not the same as one another, we have intentionally designed differences, and yet we are worth the same as one another before God. We are equal, and we are different. So how does this play out when it comes to identifying and training teachers in the church?

Due to our different roles, the identification and establishment of elders takes priority (Titus 1:5). But once this is in place, the biblical expectation is that men and women will be identified and trained to teach what is good to one another (Titus 2:1-3).

The question is then, once men have been identified as elders, are men and women being identified and trained to teach, or are the women more of an afterthought? Is the way they are identified, trained and encouraged reflective of their equality of worth? Are women being given opportunities to publicly teach the Bible to other women?

God gives gifts to his church for its edification and his great glory, and if we don’t intentionally seek out, train and fan those gifts into flame then the reality is that the witness of the church is hampered as a result, and as the church we’re not glorifying God as we should be.

This is the issue: it’s about God’s glory. It’s not about giving ‘the women their turn’ or simply trying to reflect shifts in our culture. The motivation has to be fully and only the glory of God.

With this in mind then, being complementarian, the question remains: how will a godly woman with a desire to grow a teaching gift be responded to in your church? Will what is said, or not said, communicate that her gifts are valued equally? How will she be practically trained? How will her gifts be encouraged so that the church may flourish as every member plays their part?

We have been given a great commission, and gifted as a body for this purpose. It’s not that God has inadequately gifted his church for the task. But could it be, that generally speaking we’re not fanning these gifts into flame as we could be?

I would humbly suggest that if we’re not proactively seeking out and intentionally fanning into flame the teaching gifts of women, the witness of a church is enormously hampered. Could it be that the complementarian church in the UK is trying to run on a twisted ankle?

Ephesians 4 sets a high bar for us.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

We need to consider if some of our supporting ligaments are in fact God given female teachers whose gifts need identifying and training. We want a mature church, a church growing up into Christ, discerning, loving, hardworking for his glory. I would suggest that if our practice better reflected our doctrine, if women’s gifts were equally valued and intentionally trained, it could yield a tremendous harvest of fruit for God’s glory.

I have a real burden to see this. The issue is that most of the time women with teaching gifts lack opportunity, training and feedback. We desperately want to learn, we’re hungry for our Lord, we want to grow and use our gifts for God’s glory, but we fear being met with suspicion, we fear that our attempts to grow will be heard as a desire to usurp. Please believe the best of us, we’re your sisters, please come alongside us, nurture our gifts, encourage us.

And a quick word to other women. We have a responsibility to intentionally encourage our pastors when they seek us out in this way. Let’s display a hunger for solid food, for rigorous engagement with the Scriptures. Let’s be ready and keen to step up when opportunities arise and in our hearts pursue the meeting point between humility and godly ambition in this area.

But here comes the jugular. I’m increasingly convinced that if the gap between our doctrine and practice is to disappear, the instigation of this change needs to primarily come from our male leaders. Why? Not because women can’t do it themselves but because once again our doctrine must shape our practice.

Complementarity champions male headship as the beautiful means by which God has appointed for his bride to flourish. If you’re a man in a position of leadership in your local church, your sisters need you to champion their gifts. We need men who share a vision for the whole body of Christ to be built for God’s glory, for every member ministry, to stand and encourage the gifts of women publicly so that in time the culture of our churches may gradually change and our doctrine and practice better align. There is no neutral position in this, saying nothing – says something! But oh the glory that could be ascribed to our God if our doctrine and practice were married.

The cure for fear

The cure for fear

What’s the most common command God gives his people in scripture?

Do. Not. Fear.

Of all the things God wants to impress upon those who love him, this is the one he repeats most frequently. Why? Because if you’re anything like me, your heart naturally bends towards fear. We don’t have to work at it, it’s self-establishing, self-fuelling. Fear is a future focused emotion that comes instinctively to us because, if we’re honest, we’re attracted to the idea of imagining our worst futures. We play them out on the stage of our mind’s eye: all that could go wrong, everything we could lose or fail to gain. We love to paint our possible tomorrows because envisioning them gives us a tiny sense of control, of knowledge.

I recently heard Ed Welch describe fear as the prediction of a bad future. We know it’s foolishness really, if we think about it logically fearing the future doesn’t change anything. And yet there’s something so enticing to us about imagining the worst that tomorrow could bring. It’s alluring, even addictive.

So how do we stop it? What’s the Biblical cure for fear?

Well, I’m wondering if in fact the cure for fear, is fear.

Track with me a moment. Fearing the future is essentially foolishness, we know it changes nothing and does us no good. We don’t know what tomorrow will hold, nor do we have any ability to control it, and yet we allow the fear of tomorrow to consume us. Fear makes us into fools. And what’s the opposite of foolishness? Wisdom. And where does wisdom begin? With the fear of the Lord. Surely this isn’t a coincidence?  Proverbs 9:10 says:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy one is understanding.

So, there are two kinds of fear, fear that makes us fools and fear that makes us wise. When I indulge in foolish fear I’m allowing myself to envision a future where my good and wise God is largely absent, or where the true God of the Bible has been replaced with the vindictive cruel creator of my nightmares.

When my fears make me a fool I need my knowledge of the true God to fill my eyes so that I stand more in awe of him than my unknown tomorrows. This is the heart of the issue. This is the cure for my fears. Fearing God is the cure for all other fears.

So how does it work? How do I fear God more than an unknown future?

Thomas Chalmers talks about battling sin with ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’. This is essentially the idea that we need to love Christ more than we love sin. If our affection for Christ is stronger than our affection for our sins, we will choose Christ, because we do what we love. I can’t help but think that I need the expulsive power of a new fear.

When the Bible talks about fearing God it’s most often speaking of the sense of holy awe you get when confronted with the bigness of God in comparison to the smallness of you. It’s like a raindrop staring out at the vast ocean and recognising its own insignificance. It’s about orientating yourself. Looking up. Looking out. It’s about recognising who you are, and who God is by vast comparison. He is the creator, I am a creature. He’s all-knowing and stands outside of time. In comparison I am in every way limited by design.

Foolish fear makes me look down and in on myself, what do I think will happen, how will I cope, what will I do?

Wise fear makes me look up and out of myself, who is my God, what has he done, what does he say?

When I wisely fear God, I look at him, I recognise who he is, the all-knowing, unlimited God who stands enthroned outside of time. He’s in my past, my present and my future all at once. He holds it all, and he is doing good to me in it all. My fears for the future retreat when I recognise and respond to the truth of who my God is. I stand in awe of him, I love him, I trust him with my future.

A wise fear of God is the only thing powerful enough to expel foolish fear from my heart. I may have to stare at him a while in order to reach a place where wisdom defeats folly, but the truth of who my God is will always accomplish this. Gaze at him until your awe of him expels your awe of all else.

 

A dawn like no other

 

The rising of the sun is a daily phenomenon that we take entirely for granted. And yet without it our world would remain dark and cold and our days would go so differently. In Luke 1:68-79 Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist) bursts forth from a God imposed silence with a glorious prophecy about the coming Christ. Within it the incarnation is described as a sunrise.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The prophesy speaks of two births, both of which result from divine intervention. John the Baptist is born to the previously barren Elizabeth. Here his father Zechariah describes how his son will be a herald to the way of salvation brought by the coming Messiah, the Messiah whose birth is painted here as a sunrise.

Have you ever watched the moment when day breaks out of darkness? Before light dawns, the world is dark and cold, silent as death. And then, on the horizon breaks the first beam of the dawn, a piercing ray that carves a path through the dark sky. The sun breaks forth and with every passing second the night is pushed back as light and life burst out, beams of hope that cause the shadows to run for cover. The sky is filled with colour, the earth bathed in warmth. It’s no wonder the birth of Jesus is described as a sunrise, is there a more fitting image to help us envision the dawning of salvation?

Before the incarnation our world was gripped by sin’s darkness, and all of life was shrouded in death. We couldn’t escape the curse or find a path out of fear. Deliverance had been promised, but the wait had been long. Abraham and David were just two of God’s servants who pointed forwards as generation after generation fixed their eyes on the horizon, awaiting the promised dawn.

And then, finally, the Son of God steps down, fully flesh yet purest light, a baby born in the dead of night. Divine hope dawns in the birth of a boy. A baby of king David’s line, heir to the promises of old. And at his birth the cosmic shadows tremble, for the visiting of God’s mercy sets in motion the destruction of death itself. Sin’s bondage over the human heart begins to unravel as this dawn brings the birth of redemption.

On Bethlehem’s hills this sunrise from heaven is accompanied by a dawn chorus of angels heralding the birth of this long-awaited day. He has come. The tender mercy of God has visited us.

This is a dawn like no other, for this sunrise shouts salvation from the enemy of sin, it speaks forgiveness to all who turn and whispers freedom to those encased by fear. As light breaks forth from the manger night begins to flee, for this sunrise illuminates a path, a way of escape, a way to peace.

Long ago Isaiah spoke of a day when light would dawn ‘on those living in the land of deep darkness’. The incarnation is this long-awaited sunrise from heaven. This birth brings mercy into our mess and extends forgiveness and peace to those bound by sin and fear. May we join his dawn chorus and with loosened lips accompany Zechariah in blessing God for his risen Son.

Why I’ve given up trying to ‘just trust God’.

As someone who struggles with anxiety I’ve often been given the advice to ‘just trust God’ with my worries. But if I’m honest when I try to do this, I flounder. In moments of anxiety my mind is clouded by a thousand different thoughts and my heart becomes a frenzy of fear. When I try to ‘just trust God’ what I functionally do is attempt to muster up a sense of abstract trust in a distant deity, and, more often than not, it doesn’t work. I know I should trust God – that surely is the answer, so why doesn’t it work?

The skipped step – trust requires a transaction.

We love immediate results, the instant satisfaction of a ‘buy now’ feature. But real relationships don’t work like Amazon Prime. I can’t ‘just trust God’ with one easy click. To trust someone, I have to know them, to communicate with them, to transact with them. Trusting in God when I feel anxious requires a transaction between him and me to take place in that moment of fear. This is how meaningful change happens.

So what does this look like?

1)      Slow down – hit pause on the carnage. Step back, stand still and ask God to help you talk to him.

2)      Acknowledge your fear – there is something powerful about coming before God and naming exactly what it is you’re afraid of. Identifying what we’re afraid of often helps us see where exactly our hearts have derailed. Name your fear before God.

For me this morning it was ‘Lord I’m afraid of not knowing the details of my future, I’m afraid of things being out of my grasp, out of my control’.

3)      Acknowledge your Sin – we are commanded to not be anxious about anything, occasionally our concerns are good, but most often when we find ourselves fearful, we do not have God in his rightful place. What or who has taken his place? What are you fighting for? What are you functionally believing would bring you peace if you could only achieve it? What lie have you believed about who God is or who you are? Name your sin before God, then seek his forgiveness.

For me it went like this: ‘Lord I’m sorry, I’ve believed the lie that I’m in the postion of Creator, not creature. I tried to be something you never designed me to be, I’ve tried to be all knowing (I know – stupid right?). I craved sovereignty over the details of my future, and when that proved impossible I grew fearful at my lack of control and I lashed out at others in my frustration. Father, forgive me.

4)      Apply a specific truth – counter your fear with a concrete truth about who our God is. Don’t go for something too vague or general. Pick an particular aspect of his character which directly relates to where you are right now. What about his person speaks stillness to your soul? What about his work in Christ brings you the comfort you crave? Replace your fear of XYZ with the fear of God. Fill your eyes with him, stand in awe of him. Pray for his help to believe the truth. Then praise him for that truth.

Today for me I clung to the truth of Acts 17:26. ‘And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place’.

My God is perfect in his knowledge of this earth, perfect in his knowledge of me and my future and this means there will be no mistakes, nothing will get overlooked because the details belong to him. He even knows the house we’ll live in. He is good, and I can trust him.

Fear is the absence of trust in God, and meaningful trust that results in change requires transaction. For more worked examples of what transacting with God can look like see Psalms 51 and 73.

____________________

The concept of transacting with God is one taught by David Powlison amongst others at CCEF.