I’ve always had a heart for missions. Always. A prayer to spend my life in the trenches–albeit slightly glorified trenches–made its way to my lips at a very young age. I wanted to spread the Word. I delighted in the idea of scraping money together and depending solely on the Father for sustenance. This bit alone excited me to no end: working away for the Father while He provided. What could be more fulfilling than that? Testimony of missionaries the world-over had made a life of sacrifice seem ideal, Utopian almost. To my teenage sensibilities, anything but a life of foreign outreach seemed inadequate.
Imagine my shock when, several years later, God handed me a shepherd’s staff and planted me firmly in the church I’d grown up in.
IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA!
Not really the kind of mission-field I had in mind. I thought I’d be in Brazil or Peru. Maybe even Africa. But, at God’s command, suburbia refused to release its grip on me.
My husband and I dug in, determined to be hardworking and support the pastoral team. We weren’t officially on staff, so we struggled to find employment and grow our little family. We refused jobs that would require us to work on Sundays, and God was faithful. We were able to work, to serve, and we were able to eat. But things were tight. We weren’t incredibly careful with our income, and wasted money out of ignorance. There were times when I was overcome with our perceived need, and began to understand just how much faith I was lacking. The idea of suffering for the kingdom in a foreign country was nothing but a romanticized childhood fantasy. I didn’t even have what it took to suffer in Roseville!
The idea of going paycheck-to-paycheck in a town abundant with successful twenty-somethings–buying this house and that car, investing in this boat and that property–was overwhelming. We deserved those things, didn’t we? We were serving people that had them. Surely, God wanted us to have them too. At times, our “disadvantage” made ministry uncomfortable.
It was during these years that God taught me about manna.
You see, there was a time when the nation of Israel was provided just enough sustenance for one day. Every morning, God would rain bread down on the people: manna. And every night, he’d send quail for meat. If the people tried to store the food for later days, it would breed worms and become foul. God would not allow them the comfort of knowing they’d gathered enough to provide for tomorrow. They were dependent solely on Him. Most found this uncomfortable.
And while it sounded an awful lot like what I’d always professed to want, I found it uncomfortable.
I may have fantasized about depending solely on God, but I wasn’t prepared for it. Even in a place where all my needs were met, I found myself wanting. A bigger house for my kids. A better car. Wanting to travel. Wanting to know we’d be taken care of down the road. And there really is nothing wrong with any of those things. But the idea that I deserved it–that God must WANT me to be comfortable–that was very wrong. I don’t even know where it crept in from, to be honest. One minute I’m craving to be a poor missionary happily scraping by, and the next, I’m drooling over my neighbor’s spacious house.
It’s amazing how we learn to covet something we never really wanted.
One night, I stumbled upon this passage in Exodus 16–the passage about manna–and I broke down. Manna symbolizes different things in the Bible, but in that moment, I knew God was speaking to me about my ungrateful, unfaithful attitude. After all, everything I had was His. Everything I’d ever have would come straight from heaven, just like the manna. Instead of being thankful, I was growing bitter. Instead of reveling in the day-to-day excitement of depending on my Father–like I’d always hoped to do–I was grumbling.
God was providing for me both physically and spiritually, but I had been too ungrateful to receive it properly. And this is where I knew that the only real “needs” I had were spiritual. I needed forgiveness. I needed faith. I repented, then and there. I asked God to make me a person who is both unafraid and unashamed to depend on Him for everything. God took me at my word and has continued to refine my faith. He tests me. He instructs me. He uses His Word to illuminate the path before me. And I’m learning to depend more fully on the God who provides, daily.
In a way, I’m learning to appreciate my naive assumptions about the mission-field and ministry. I’m learning that while I was woefully ignorant of all that it would require, it wasn’t wrong of me to desire a life of utter dependence on the Father. And now that I have a better idea of what it takes, I’m better at depending on Him. It seems I have run into a bit of child-like faith. And, like a child, I’m grateful that all I have to do is close my eyes at night and know that the next morning the desert will be covered in spiritual manna. More manna than I could ever want or consume, but nothing that will keep for tomorrow. For that, I’ll have to close my eyes again, and trust that my Father will provide.
And today, with a few years of trusting under my belt, that sounds like something I can do!
At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.–Exodus 16:12