It’s a quiet, rainy morning here, and as I sit at our 8’ dining table sipping my coffee and watching the rain, I feel overwhelmed by God’s care in my life.
During the 7 months we lived in our little apartment, I used to dream about sitting at this table. Eric built it for me two years ago as a birthday/anniversary gift. It’s been scuffed up in its various moves, and there are some new cracks in the reclaimed wood surface, but to me those cracks just tell the story of our transitions and God’s provision, first in an apartment and a storage unit and now in a home where our table fits perfectly (something I was concerned about while we were looking for a house).
The image of a table speaks to me of abundance, of provision, of community and of deep conversation. So when I read Psalm 78, my heart clung to the picture the Psalmist presents of a table being “spread in the wilderness.” And as is usual when reading the Old Testament, while my initial reaction is to criticize the Israelites for their inconsistencies and lack of faith, I have to be careful not to criticize them too harshly–I often learn that I am much more like them than I realize.
In the sign of their fathers he performed wonders in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan. He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap. In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light. He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness? He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?” -Psalm 78:12-20
This question “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” has stuck with me.
When it looks like there is no hope, no source of nourishment, can he show up?
Can he provide, even in this place I don’t want to be?
Will he bless, even though I feel a lack?
The Israelites’ need for food was valid. I’m going to guess that there weren’t great hunting opportunities as the Israelites were in the Sinai desert–especially not enough game to feed that many people. However, we find in Exodus that the Israelites were crying out about water and food merely two chapters after the parting of the Red Sea. God had just miraculously parted a huge body of water, allowing them to pass on dry ground, then destroyed their enemies with that same body of water that crashed back together as soon as the last Israelite had stepped away.
Yet even though the Israelites didn’t believe, and even though they came to God from a position of entitlement and God was angry, he provided.
Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power. Yet he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven, and he rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven…. And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved… In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe. -Psalm 78:21-24, 29, 32
This could have been such a gift–an incredible moment of seeing God provide–but the Israelites missed it.
Instead of praising God for how he had shown himself strong, they were consumed with their own selves, their fears and discomforts. They lost sight of what God was doing because they were concentrated on their lack. They set expectations of what they wanted instead of trusting what God was doing.
They were frustrated with the wilderness–but how much more beautiful is the picture of tables in the wilderness, if they would have only readjusted their focus!
To help me consider how I might be missing the gift of God’s hand, I have started by processing this question: What do I think God is withholding from me?
In answering that–whether it’s a baby or guidance for a difficult decision or material things–I have seen that when I don’t get what I want, I doubt God. I doubt his goodness, his care, his willingness to work in my life, and I despair.
But perhaps I am so focused on getting out of the wilderness that I miss the beautiful things the Lord is doing while I am in the wilderness.
The Israelites had seen God provide in miraculous ways; they should have known that he would continue to take care of them. But instead of focusing on truth, on the reality of what God had done up to that point, they only looked at what was missing in front of them.
To help me see the table he has spread in my own experience of the wilderness, I’ve been asking the Lord to cultivate my heart in three areas.
1. Being aware of the attitude of my heart as I come to God with my requests
I don’t think the Israelites’ problem was asking God for food. I think the problem was the attitude with which they approached him: entitled, doubtful, frustrated.
My “why” can be asked out of curiosity or out of criticism. I regularly apologize to others (especially Eric) after saying something in the wrong tone of voice, unaware of the posture of my heart until I spoke that way.
I believe we can come to God with our raw, honest requests, but our attitude can be accusatory or it can be humble as we seek understanding and answers. I am learning to talk to God not just about what I want, but to also ask God to readjust my perspective when I come to him, knowing my tendency to be frustrated with him because I think he is withholding from me.
2. Recognizing of who God is, regardless of my circumstances
I don’t want my circumstances to define how I view God. Instead, I want the truth of who God is to guide how I interpret my circumstances.
The Israelites’ perspective was on the wrong thing in the wilderness. They were hungry, so they assumed that God couldn’t (or wouldn’t) provide. Later, they felt incapable of conquering enemies, so they thought God would abandon them.
I, too, find myself focusing on the wrong things, which leads to a wrong perspective of God. I can look at my lack and presume that God is not faithful, instead of looking to who God is and allowing the truth of his character to define what might feel like a deficiency but can be trusted to his provision.
Some of the things that steal my attention away from God, specifically as I have walked through infertility:
Uncertainty of the future–Will it always be like this?
Confusion on what God could doing–I’ve been on this path a long time. Has he forgotten me?
Entitlement–Isn’t he going to bless me for what I’ve endured?
There’s even a fear of what will change if he does bless us with a pregnancy. This is the space in which I have related to him for so long. How will our relationship be different? And how would that change the plans that Eric and I have made for ourselves?
But I am looking at the wrong thing. When my eyes shift from my circumstances to my Savior, all of those fears and concerns disappear. In light of who God is, my circumstances lose their preeminence. I want to believe that He is the best thing, not the gifts he gives.
“When I don’t see any physical evidence of being treasured, I remember that the best thing that could ever happen to me is being with Jesus.” -Heather Holleman
3. Expecting him to provide in abundance, but trusting the ways that he chooses to provide
God’s unique provision of water from a rock and manna falling from the sky was tangible proof of his care for them , but the Israelites missed out because they wanted something other than what God had deemed as good. They thought God’s goodness would take care of all of their problems, instead of trusting his sufficiency in the moment and thus his ability to provide in the future as well.
How do I see this supposed lack as a gift? I feel raw, sensitive, weak, weary, and yet–God is providing. His provision looks different, as he has stripped away all of my plans, my desires, my control; my dependence can only be on him in the desert. But I seen him provide friends to confide in, other women to walk with through their own journeys, and a sweet depth in my marriage. I have seen him provide his presence and his comfort in ways I never would have otherwise needed.
God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God’s refusals are always merciful–“severe mercies” at times but mercies all the same. God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better. –Elisabeth Elliot
I am convinced that there is beauty in this season. I want to keep my eyes there instead of on what I think I am missing. I know there is a table of abundance in the wilderness, and it is at that table where God satisfies me with himself.