Not Knowing but Still Following

I know a young couple who moved back to the area recently and bought a house with the great expectations that normally accompany new things God is doing. It meant new jobs, starting a family and fixing up a house of their own the way they wanted it. What caught my attention, however, is how the husband has struggled to find and have steady work, tough enough by itself in a poor economy, but compounded by other trials and tribulations that have made his life even harder. The reason it caught my attention is that much of the past three decades of my life has been characterized by the same chronic struggles.

And then on Fox & Friends the other morning I watched a profile of a Florida man who lives by donning his scuba gear and retrieving golf balls from the water hazards of the state's golf courses. He makes upwards of $10,000 a month exploiting the vanity of countless duffers and hackers who think they know how to play golf.

You wouldn't be human if you never had the passing thought, Now why can't I find something like that? I could have the things I want, support my family comfortably and I could still give generously to the church, to world missions, etc. Why indeed?

Instead my life has been filled with twists and turns, regular episodes of three-steps-forward-and-two-back and paths I went down confidently by faith but turned out to be dead ends that I still don't understand, years later. At my lowest points, I've been tempted to think of my life as like the old rag doll you let the dog play with, clamped in his mouth, shaking it back and forth.

That is, until I open the Bible again. When you read the Psalms, for example, you find numerous examples of persons who don't understand what's happening to them (or why) to the point of desperation. It's an interesting thought, isn't it? God's hymnbook populated by desperate people who still turn to God as sparks fly upward from the flame. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." [1]

Because the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, sometimes the flesh needs discipline to find its bearings in God all over again. Paradoxical as it may sound, it needs to go hungry.

And so Moses reminded the people of this: "He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers 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." [2]

You've probably been taught "my God shall supply all my needs." But God makes us hungry, too.

And if your Bible has notes, you probably know that manna sounds like the words "What is it?" (cf. "which neither you nor your fathers had known"). If you have a study Bible or a good commentary you probably also know that interpreters have tried to explain manna in various naturalistic ways, all of which come up short on some aspect of its availability, abundance or subsequent disappearance ("they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan," Exod. 16:35).

In other words, like it or not, we still don't know what it is, other than to say it came from God ("feeding you with manna") and the supply of it never disappointed so long as the Israelites stuck to the rules. "And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed." [3]

The problem of course is that not every bill gets paid on time, not every person gets healed, not every plan and hope and dream gets fulfilled miraculously at the eleventh hour. That doesn't mean you're less spiritual if you come by your job, your promotions, your nice house and your modestly prosperous life without too much trouble. The point is that those who don't are no less spiritual if it looks like there's always something going wrong.

The reason we are both humbled and confounded by things we can't control and, for the most part, don't understand, is to train us to live by something other than "conform[ing] any longer to the pattern of this world." [4] The any longer part means we've been delivered from the world, its expectations, its conventional wisdom and its imperatives.

If you've seen movies like Lawrence of Arabia, especially on the big screen, you've gotten a sense of how desolate and daunting the desert can appear. Yes, there are oases, but for the most part there is a lot empty space which seems suitable only for snakes and brush. It's no place to live, that's for sure.

And it was never intended to be.You've probably heard it preached or taught that the Lord may have delivered the people from Egypt, but in the wilderness, he removed Egypt from the people. The desert is for transformation. They may have been the people of God by virtue of the blood on their doorposts on the night of the first Passover, but in the desert they learned how to live like the people of God.

Transformation is what needs to take place instead of being conformed any longer to the world's pattern. "But be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." [5]

Think about that carefully, because it offers the prospect of an enlarged understanding. "Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is." Then you will "get it."

When is then? After you're transformed by the renewing of your mind. Or more to the point, when you learn what he wants to teach you, "that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."

I am amazed at the number of Christians who know very little about faith applied to everyday life. Faith is more like the generator they fire up when the lights go out, to keep the pump and the refrigerator going. It's for emergencies, like car accidents, serious illness or financial crises.

But this isn't the faith of the Bible. "The righteous will live by his faith." [6] All the time.

Think for a moment how Jesus led his disciples into situations that were beyond their understanding—what we call our comfort zone—and then filled the gaps in their knowledge.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Those were the only possibilities they could conceive of, limited as they were by religious conventional wisdom. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." [7]

Like the people following the pillar of cloud or fire, we must train our eyes on what the Lord is saying and doing right now. We must order our lives around the known commands of God and the specific guidance of the Spirit in our present circumstances. To put it plainly, it's who is leading us that takes precedence over how things are working out (or appearing not to, as the case may be). The prospects for getting through your present trials may be as daunting as facing the Red Sea with chariots pursuing you, or crossing the Jordan at flood stage and "giants" on the other side to be conquered.

But if you are faithful, when you come out on the other side of this—and you will—you will have a greater spiritual capacity. You will be truly changed. Then you will understand things you've never known. "Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Author Bio David Taylor, former teacher/elder, has been blogging on discipleship since 2004. He lives in Salisbury, Maryland.