A few years ago I was part of a team that traveled around the world. One of the first things we were asked to do as a group was pick a name, and in all our great wisdom we chose Manna.
It sounds all biblical and really great when you think about manna being food from Heaven described as tasting like a delightful honey wafer delicacy (Exodus 16:31) and being provided by God. BUT…
Our first clue should have been that the name manna itself came from people asking, “Man-hu?” or “What is it?” (Exodus 16:15), and from the very beginning I think it is fair to say we looked at our team of seven and felt very much like, “What in the world?”
There were no automatic bestie statuses happening or celebration for this provision; it was more akin to groaning and gnashing of teeth. More than one of us tried to get out, me included. Surely the leadership and God had made some mistake in this Manna.
Recently, I re-read the account of manna in Numbers and just haven’t been able to get away from it. The Israelites seemed to think God had messed up with their manna, too, and didn’t approve of God’s choices in provision.
Listening to the Riffraff
“The riffraff among the people had a craving and soon they had the People of Israel whining, “Why can’t we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt – and got it free! – to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.” (Numbers 11:4-6 MSG)
It was “the riffraff among the people” that started this grumbling. This mixed group was comprised of Egyptians and others that had joined with the Israelites, and God’s people faltered when they began listening to and complaining along with them.
Instead of standing in thankfulness and faith from all they had already experienced of God’s goodness and provision, the Israelites lifted their voices up with the rabble, thereby declaring that what God had given wasn’t good enough. They began to take a rose-colored journey back through the past and suddenly Egypt looked oh so good.
Remembering what God has done for us and where He brought us out of from a place of thankfulness is wisdom, but touring memory lane with a fondness for our place of former bondage leads back to more bondage.
“We ate fish in Egypt – and got it free!” How quickly the Israelites forgot the enslavement of that former land and that nothing there was truly free, because they themselves had no freedom.
Would they really be willing to trade freedom for food? It seems crazy. It is crazy! BUT this isn’t the first time we encounter a trade driven by a food craving.
Remember in Genesis 25:19-34 when Esau gave up his birthright for a bowl of stew? Or back all the way up to Adam and Eve and the fruit off the tree. It seems we have been making decisions with eternal weight based on the cravings of our bellies and the whisperings of discontent since the Garden of Eden.
Cravings can cause us to view even miraculous provision from God as inadequate, and can bring us to a place where we willingly trade our inheritance for a fleeting feeling!
Familiarity and Entitlement
I think the people of Israel began to view their miraculous provision as something they were entitled to. This sustaining bread from Heaven showed up every single day and as the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.”
When I traveled overseas in 2009, I ate so many forms of rice and beans that when I returned home I wouldn’t touch them, and that was just after 11 months. It wasn’t even what I ate every day for every meal, although it sometimes felt that way.
Can you imagine day after day eating the same thing? Manna, manna, manna.
I’m sure I would be there saying, “Give us something different! Come on God, we know you’re more creative than this. How about a buffet of choices that will appeal to everyone? If you truly loved us, God, you would give us more than just this manna.”
With my travel companions, Team Manna, we got to know each other really well over those 11 months. Teammates were always around, even when you didn’t want them to be. It was great sometimes, but other times I wanted something different. It was uncomfortable and simply maddening. Other teams seemed to have it better, and why shouldn’t we get a say in this matter?
I mean, if we believe we are entitled to something, then we also expect it to be what we want, don’t we? It is this entitlement mentality that breeds contempt.
The focus turns to ourselves and our cravings, rather than to God and His best. We reduce the miraculous to just another entitlement, and we treat it as contemptible because it isn’t fulfilling our selfish wants and desires.
The point of the miraculous is never simply just about the miracle and it isn’t about us. Those awe inspiring acts are meant to point us to our amazing, all-powerful, creative, and loving God.
So what keeps us from snubbing our noses at the ways of God?
Giving Thanks Even In The Wilderness
It can be easy to listen to and join with the riffraff. Their doubts and fears about the goodness and trustworthiness of God can often be loud and hard to push past, especially when they echo our own unspoken doubts and fears.
Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. (Hebrews 13:15–16)
Giving thanks can be hard, a sacrifice even. 1 Thessalonians 5:8 tells us we are to “give thanks in all circumstances.” That’s every single circumstance.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some points where it didn’t look like there was a lot to be thankful for and my melancholy Eeyore natural disposition doesn’t make it any easier. That still does not change the fact that we are called to give thanks no matter what.
The wilderness can be tough. The very definition of a wilderness means it’s an uncultivated and inhospitable region. We may have to pass through the wilderness, but we were never supposed to remain in it. We can be thankful because if God is leading us through the wilderness, He will most certainly provide.
The nature of the wilderness requires leaning into God and I dare say even expecting His miraculous provision to make it through. We must remember this provision is never because of our entitlement; it is because of His love and care and what He knows is for the best to glorify Him.
A Choice to Make
With Team Manna, we had to learn to lay down our wants and entitlements. It wasn’t easy and some days were certainly better than others. It definitely doesn’t rank high on my fun scale, but God knew exactly what each of us on that team really needed and He is after our hearts, not our comfort.
After a long struggle, we came together and repented and began to thank God for each other instead of wishing and longing for something or someone different. We learned to choose to love, to be thankful, and to trust God and each other. Team Manna truly became family, and all these years later I find that I miss them and am truly thankful for them.
If we choose to focus on what we perceive is lacking, then we follow the footsteps of those complaining about the manna. And if you read Numbers 11:33-34 you’ll see that didn’t turn out so well.
“But while they were still chewing the quail and had hardly swallowed the first bites, God’s anger blazed out against the people. He hit them with a terrible plague.They ended up calling the place Kibroth Hattaavah (Graves-of-the-Craving). There they buried the people who craved meat.”
I don’t think anyone of us want to treat God or His provision with disdain. Cultivating a thankful heart helps to keep us from doing that.
Instead of letting the riffraff sway people into a place of destruction, let us be the ones who point people to the goodness of God. Just as complaining tends to spread, so does an attitude of gratitude.
Words kill, words give life;
they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.
Proverbs 18:21 (MSG)
Despite what we see, despite what we feel, despite what we think we desire or believe is best, God knows what is up ahead and His provision is never the wrong provision and it is always on time.
We don’t have to be people who live and die by cravings. We can be ones who stand and say, “Thank you God for this provision. I don’t understand, and I don’t have to. I know You are faithful and we can put our trust in You.”
Our God is still a God of miracles. His answer to our needs may not be what we desire. We may look at it and say, “But what is it?!” and that’s okay.
May we choose to look back on the places God has brought us from, the places He parted seas and impossible situations in our life already, and look at this place and if necessary say, “I don’t understand, but thank you for providing. Not my will, but yours be done.”