04(Num 11,04-15) The Question of Manna
“If only” prayers. The danger of such prayers is that you might actually receive the thing you are craving; and then how will you explain your unhappiness?
When the Hebrews left Egypt and began their wilderness journey, they brought with them a group of people the Bible calls rabble. These were the people who were on the journey but were not believers in the journey nor in the God who called the Hebrews to it.
Cecil B. Demill’s Ten Commandments. Edgar G. Robinson’s character was the rabble. “Yeah Moses, where’s your God now?”
The rabble’s toleration for discomfort was low, and their capacity for complaint was high, which is an unfortunate combination in the church.
The complaints of the rabble are so contagious soon everyone in the congregation is all worked up in a lather of anxiety because of the rabble. The dopey thing is the rabble keep threatening to leave. They says things like, “if you don’t get the youth pastor in line, if you don’t do something about the music, we are out of here!” But the rabble never leave.
There are a couple of reasons for this. 1) Someone has said when you become the light of the world you are going to attract some bugs. 2) There are there for the believers’ transformation, not their own.
Read all of Exodus and Numbers and you will see the rabble never are transformed. The cool thing is that near the end of the story, they all get swallowed up in a big hole. That’s God’s doing.
In the mean time, we are to stand between God and the people. Whenever the rabble get the complaining going, it places the pastor and leadership in the awkward position, like Moses, of standing between God and the people, standing between the people and the God they can’t really see. That’s why they are complaining.
The reason this is an awkward position is that frequently the pastor can’t see God either. But the grace in that awkwardness is that it forces you to pray, looking for that which is present, but not apparent. In the pastorate, you pray or you die. That’s the gift of the rabble.
You remember the manna. Flaky substance; every morning; Hebrew word – “what is it?” every morning the kids get a big bowl of what is it.
The rabble ask that question too. “What is it that you are going to do for my family? I came to this church because I was looking for a better marriage, for better behaved kids, to be fulfilled. What is it that you are going to do for my family? I thought you were going to get us to the promised land but we’re just wandering around here in the desert!”
Pastors ask that question too. “What is it, God that you are doing at this moment? What is going on here? I wanted to really make a difference, and it doesn’t look like we’re making that big of a difference.”
This manna question appears all through the Old Testament. “What is it, God, what is it?” it makes its way to the New Testament, and there it is finally answered. The question of the manna is finally answered in the revelation of Jesus Christ.
The better question is, “What is it that Jesus is doing today?”
The trouble with “if only” is it leaves out what Jesus is doing today. “if only I could leave this house and go to college…If only I could get out of college and land a dream job…if only I could get married…if only we could have kids…if only the kids would leave…if only the kids would come back and bring the grandkids…if only I could retire…if only I had something meaningful to do in retirement…(nursing home) if only I’d done it differently.”
Some people are preoccupied with the future…some with the past. “If only I’d married someone else, made different career decisions”.
But any time you’re if only, you’re either in the past or you’re in the future. You’re not in the present, which, by the way, is the only place the manna is found, in the present.
One of the great dangers of our society is that we are losing the present tense. It’s not to be found because things are moving so fast. We complain that it takes four hours to fly across country. Our computers deal in nanoseconds because a second is too long. “Faster, faster, faster.”
In my grandmother’s day, the present stretched out a while, between a very similar past and similar future. But today, the past is less predictive, and the future is less predictable, and the present hardly exists at all. But remember, when the present disappears, so does the manna.
The question of what it is that Jesus is doing in your life today and in family/church is the only thing that keeps you alive in your journey, the present tense work of Jesus Christ. You have the present day ability to choose to follow him today. You have got to make that choice every day; that’s the manna: choosing to see what Jesus, the only Savior, is doing today.
The scary thing about choices is that God will honor your choice. The people chose quail over manna, and God gave them quail, until it came out of their nostrils. They discovered that quail did not realy make them as happy as they thought it would.
Hasn’t it always been that way? When you got the thing you were saying, “if we could only have this,” it didn’t really make you as happy as you thought it would. Because contentment, fulfillment, purpose and ministry are never found in the future tense.
Until you learn how to receive today, you will never be able to receive tomorrow. Until you learn how to take in the daily manna of what Jesus is doing today, you’ve got no business thinking about what Jesus is doing tomorrow. Today is the day.