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Yet God provides

By Charles Qualls

“The people complain, and yet God provides.” If I were summing up this week’s lesson in Exodus 16: 2-15, that might be one attempt I would give. If we follow the Israelites’ larger story of deliverance, exodus and settlement — they did a lot of complaining. “Why did you bring us out here to die? We were better off in Egypt.” That mindset is woven into today’s story. “Well, now we’re thirsty!” Or, “We can’t possibly take Canaan. Those people are giants.” These are all complaints that would happen along the way in the larger story.

I wonder how often God is miraculously providing me with a gracious life, but I just don’t see it? So often, we lack the perspective that God has. It seems that all we can see is what we can see.

During seminary, Elizabeth and I used to sit at a yogurt shop and speculate on what our life would be like. Our love was young and our dreams were big. Almost nothing that has unfolded resembles what our dreams were like. I have felt at times like a victim of Baptist timing. I have felt at times as though I came along a generation late and missed out on a golden era of church life. I have wondered why God has let things get like they are in the religious world. Once in a while, though, I wake up. In those times, I look around and notice that life as God has provided is actually pretty great.

I’ll pull the curtain back for you again today: We live in an unprecedented era of ministerial shortages. Younger people have been choosing to enter the ministry at a lesser rate for at least the last couple of decades. Meanwhile, ministers have also left the profession at a higher rate over those same decades. Why? It’s actually not the “big” things that burn most ministers out. The great Carlyle Marney once said, “To be a pastor is to be stoned to death with popcorn.” It’s the day-to-day complaints about what no one wants to hear is actually the little stuff. It’s the petty politics of congregational life that kills one’s spirit.

In next Sunday’s Exodus lesson text, Moses and Aaron will tell God that they legitimately believe the people are about to stone them! They constantly stood between an impatient people and their God. It was a tenuous position to hold. This would not be the end of this serial rebelliousness from the Children of Israel. The prophets would be sent later to tell the people that they simply weren’t letting God be God. For now, let’s notice that bread and meat were not the only things God provided for an ungrateful Israel. God also gave them a patient listening ear for their complaints.

It took Moses and Aaron to point this out, but God actually heard their complaints. God provided, even if not always precisely in the ways they might have hoped. But there is more. God provided one other thing. Sabbath is woven into the rhythm in which they would harvest God’s provision. If you look at Exodus 16 as a whole, and not just the few verses we are assigned here, Sabbath will be built into their lives again. They may not have understood at the moment, but a day of rest and worship may be exactly what they needed most.

Lord, help us to be willing followers. If all we are is impatient consumers of your religious goods and services, we are not a faithful people. Kindle our spirits with your Sabbath, and shape us to be more the way you created us to be.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.