Lessons from the desert – what does ‘daily bread’ look like?

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In this season of lockdown, a lot of people have been talking about baking. As the supermarkets ran out of bread in the early stages, the supply of flour became precious indeed. It’s certainly reminded me of the value of having daily access to bread, which seems very fitting for this week’s theme. Just what does daily bread look like?

In this lesson from the desert, we find the Israelites just over a month into their journey from Egypt, they are in the inhospitable desert, Moses is leading them on with God’s direction, and the people aren’t responding to the change well. They’re thirsty, they’re tired, they’re hungry, and they’re scared because they don’t know for certain what the future holds. When we meet them at the beginning of chapter 16 their minds have turned to their stomachs.

Back in Egypt, they were farmers, they would have had a reliable supply of food (until God had sent those plagues that was), and they would have some form of routine and comfort. Now, they are in the desert, away from their overbearing overlords, but also away from the comforts and routines that they had grown to rely upon.

Given the fact that they were a people on the move, there’s no time to stop to farm the land, which meant their usual supply of food had been removed. Just what were they to do? It’s into this that God provides one of his most impressive and sustained miracles. He promises to provide their daily bread and meat. God says to Moses “I have heard the Israelites’ complaints. Now tell them, ‘In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will have all the bread you want. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God“.

It’s Daily

The first and foremost thing to recognise is that God promises this miraculous provision daily. It’s not weekly. It’s not monthly. It’s daily. It can be so tempting to want to be comfortable, to want to save up enough to know that we can get through the next few days/months/years, and yet this isn’t what God provides in the desert, and it certainly isn’t what Jesus asks us to pray for in the Lord’s prayer. God is very clear to the Israelites, he will provide the exact food they need for that specific day. No more, no less. He also asks that the miracles provided on that very day will feed their faith to see the miracles for the next.

what does daily bread look like?

Here in the physically challenging desert, the Israelites needed their very basics provided for in water and food, on a daily basis. A daily miracle from God to remind them that he was still with them.

However, when we’re asked to pray for daily bread, it can be so much more than that. Yes, it’s for faith for the daily provision of the basic needs of food and water, but also for our daily energy, our daily faith – everything that we will need for that particular day. God asks us to be in the moment with him, and also to trust Him to provide everything we need for that particular moment. He doesn’t want us to worry about the next, he wants us to lean on him and trust him. In the New Testament, Jesus reminds us that every day has enough worries of its own.

In this particularly concerning time of lockdown, we don’t really know what the next day nor week nor month is going to bring. As the UK (and many other countries across the world) begin to try to plan for some re-opening, there are things that we can start to look ahead to, but it’s in this season that I am particularly reminded that every single day has enough challenges of its own. As the newspaper headlines and social media are so frequently showing us at the moment, speculating about the future will only bring worry and take our focus off this very day. It can be so tempting to want to run ahead, to know what’s next, and yet God asks us to walk with him in each moment, and also to trust him implicitly for the provision that that moment needs.

In this, I’m reminded of the wonderful and challenging quote by Corrie ten Boom “Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

When the miracle manna first arrives

There is something rather wonderful in watching the Israelites respond to the first few days of the daily provision of manna and quail. Even though the story happens thousands of years before our own, there are still so many similarities in the way that we can react to God’s supernatural provision. At first, when the Israelites see the dew on the ground, they wondered what it was – it was something they had never seen before, and the excitement of seeing something new, miraculously provided was paramount.

However, this wonder quickly turns in some to the desire to hoard. The fact that God has provided this miraculous covering once doesn’t give some of the people faith that he will do it again, rather it seems to make them panic that he won’t do it again, and so they try to hold on to more than they need for that day. How easy it can be to be like this! I know from my own life that there have been so many times where God has amazingly provided just enough for the present day, and yet rather than being grateful, it can be tempting to find myself praying that he’ll provide for the safety of the next few too.

In this response, both I and the Israelites in question miss the point entirely. The journey of trusting God for daily bread is not a once-only thing, but a daily need to walk with God, to face the day through his eyes and his strength. He asks us to have faith in him daily. If we hoard, we totally miss the miracles in days to come, and we miss the gratitude that can come from seeing God’s hand of provision daily upon our lives.

Moses’ daily leadership

As with the story last week, and its lessons on leadership, even though the people are grumbling all around him, Moses has the strength in his own faith and God to know that these complaints aren’t personal. He’s able (by relying on God) to see the bigger picture and to have the insight and empathy to see far beyond the personal attacking nature of the people’s comments. He too is relying on God for daily bread, but his bread is not just the physical food that’s needed, but the daily energy, wisdom, and insight to be able to lead well, and not get dragged into the squabbles that his people in their frustrations are starting.

It would have been easy to take the people’s complaining personally – early in the chapter, the Israelites say to Moses “There (Egypt) we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death”. On a number of occasions, he tells the people “your complaints are against the Lord, not against us“. He has enough wisdom to know that the people’s complaints are not personal, but I also suspect that this is because he was leaning on God for his own daily provision.

What does daily bread look like in the current season

In the current COVID-19 time it’s easy to see from the newspaper headlines and social media that people are in a similar place to the one we find the Israelites. People are scared, and the squabbling is rising, as is the blaming. Be that about blame in how the virus has been responded to, opinionated discussions about when schools should start, how to support the increasing number of vulnerable families, how we can best protect the key workers, etc etc. And yet, all of these concerns come from the same place – they come from the same place the Israelites were in just over a month into their desert journey – they were scared. They were scared because they didn’t know the future. They were scared because they didn’t have an obvious way of providing for their families. And they were scared because they felt vulnerable – they had ceased being about to have some control over their surroundings.

This passage certainly challenges me to ask afresh for that daily provision of understanding. To be able to see as Moses did, and to not take things personally – to know that when people may be a little shorter than usual that actually it comes from a place of fear and not of hate. Now, we know from history just what can happen when fear is left unchecked and does turn to hate, but we each have a choice in our daily walk in the role that we play in this. Will we succumb to the squabbles, and get mixed in with the crowd? Or, will we try to walk where we can, with empathy and patience, trusting for our daily provision of faith, and hoping that that will help encourage others to do the same?

What happens when we don’t live on daily bread?

In the week where Jeff Bezos has been announced as on target to be the world’s first trillionaire, it seems fitting to ask this question. In the desert, God ensured that ALL the Israelites were in the same boat – everyone had just enough for their families for that particular day, and everyone had just enough for their families for the two days covering the Sabbath.

This is where our similarities with the story starts to divert. In our current world, we do not have a nation that has the same chance at getting an appropriate and fair dose of manna. Some have more, some have less. What this lesson from the desert also reminds us of, it the importance of helping everyone have an equal chance at facing adverse situations.

If some of the Israelites were to have collected more manna than they needed, and been able to hoard it (rather than it turning to worms the next morning as the bible describes), it would have meant that others over time would have had to go without, creating inequality. The fact that there is so much wealth in the world is a stark reminder that we have been provided with enough for everyone. BUT, unless those with more resist the urge to hoard, and instead share to help their neighbours through the challenges of the present day, then there will be some who have less chance of survival in the next.

A popular phrase that has been shared on social media recently is “We are all in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat”, and it’s made me think what would the manna look like today? Has God already provided enough for everyone’s daily bread, but it’s just some in their desire for safety are holding onto the bread for others?

Just some food for thought.

For other lessons from the desert please read previous the previous leadership thoughts, or dealing with change. There will be a new blog next week.

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