TRUST: scary and uncomfortable and yet real and wonderful….
We start Chapter 8 in a familiar place –
Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Deuteronomy 8:2
Really? We’re going through all of that again? Surely they must have got the message by now!
But of course, no two speeches are ever the same and this one goes off in a new perspective and includes one of the most quoted Old Testament verses – Jesus himself quoted it in his time in the wilderness –
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Deuteronomy 8:2-5
God needed to know what these people were made of. He needed to know how much they really trusted him and believed that he would provide for them. It’s easy to talk about God’s provision in theory, but when we are actually in need, then that is when we have to show our faith and trust in action. Hunger is a difficult one. Most of us have not had to go hungry, to make that choice whether we eat or our children, to not know where and when the next meal will come. I cannot begin to understand how that feels.
I have seen first hand what a primal instinct hunger is. When Courtney came to us at eight months, she had not been fed regularly. She never knew when the next food or drink would come. She has experienced real hunger and the desperation of not being able to meet her own needs and having to rely on unreliable providers. She had cried and no one had come. She had expressed her need and it had not been met.
So when she came to us, she didn’t bother crying. And I can still vividly remember that first day. Feeding her beans – and more beans – and more beans….waiting for her to slow down and stop and she never did….a whole can of beans made its way into a tiny eight month old!
And even now, she has never been able to learn to trust in her providers. She always has taken far more than she needs. If she has not been given free access to the fridge, then she has stolen food and hoarded it in her room. If we haven’t jumped to it when she expresses hunger, then she accuses us of starving our child and hating her and what kind of parents does that make us? [so don’t ever tell me that she can’t have been damaged by those initial eight months and she was only eight months when she came and how can that eight months have made any difference to the rest of her life?]
So God humbled the Israelites by returning them to a childlike dependence on him. Thy hadn’t had it good in Egypt, but they had worked and been able to provide (even in a small way) for themselves and their families. Now they had to rely entirely on God for their next meal – and the next and the next and the next………at times, their hunger and desperation led them to take matters into their own hands, not able to trust day in day out that God would and could provide. And yet God did provide. And their clothes did not wear out or their feet swell either. This was all to teach them that ‘man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.’ That physical needs and spiritual needs are intrinsically linked. That trusting God for all our needs, physical and emotional and spiritual, is the most vital thing.
So when Jesus has gone without food in the desert and is tempted to turn stones to bread, he quotes this verse. Of course, God can turn stones to bread through him, he knows that. But he trusts God enough to wait for his command to do that. This is his opportunity to prove his trust in God.
That’s how I have come to see difficult times too. I struggle with the idea of God testing us and disciplining us – although as a parent, I have more understanding of the need to discipline as a parent and when my kinds say ‘You’re so mean. If you won’t let me do this, it proves that you don’t love me.’, I say ‘Actually no, it’s the opposite. Being firm over this proves that I do love you. If I didn’t care, you could get on with doing just what you want but because I care and love you and want the best for you, then I am prepared to say no here.’
Anyway, I like to see difficult times as a way of being able to prove my trust in God. Not that I’m that great at it, but I see it in the lives of those around me too. People who have experienced God’s provision in the toughest times. Individuals who have had to rely on God’s strength one day at a time. You know the quote –
– sometimes not being able to do it all on our own and provide for our own needs leads us into a place of blessing, where God and others can minister to us in ways that wouldn’t have been possible when we were all self-confident and Little Miss ‘it’s OK, I’ve got this. I can do it on my own’.
Depending on God and the people he sends into our lives is hard. It makes us vulnerable. It keeps us humble. It’s uncomfortable and unpredictable and scary. But it leads us into a depth of relationship and trust and interdependency that we would never have dreamed of. Allowing God and others to be there for us and meet our needs can be overwhelmingly moving and strangely liberating.
I used to believe that to be a good Christian witness, I had to be strong and always hold it together. People used to look up to me and I felt I had to keep it that way. Then one day, Courntey pushed me so hard in the hallway that I fell back and hit my arm and hand hard on the doorpost. I felt shocked and humiliated and helpless. I felt broken. I texted my friend Yvonne who lives round the corner and she came immediately. I was in too bad a place to keep this hidden from her. I needed someone. I couldn’t get through the next minutes on my own. I was sobbing and couldn’t lift my head from the kitchen table to acknowledge her coming in. She got ice from the freezer to put on the bruises. Then she just sat with me. She had nothing useful to say. She had no solutions. She was just there. Sharing in my grief and pain. Exactly what I needed.
I’ve come to realise that being real is far more powerful than appearing strong to the outside world. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Showing vulnerability requires trust. Admitting failure requires trust. Expressing need requires trust. Depending on someone else requires trust.
Trust like this leads to a new depth of relationship and honesty. Trusting God sometimes (often) involves trusting others, because he sometimes (often) uses other people to meet our needs.
It all comes down to trust. Again.
God is God whatever our situation happens to be.
Nothing proves that God is God.
Good times and success do not prove that God is God.
Bad times and suffering do not prove that God is not God.
He is always God. He will always be there. He will always provide.
That’s what this song is all about – ‘Blessed be your name’ –
You give and take away,
You give and take away,
My heart will choose to say
‘Lord, blessed be your name’