Yams and Manna

A few evenings ago, I stood in the kitchen peeling a yam. Eileen and I were making dinner, using what we had available.  The previous Saturday, I had taken a friend to a food distribution event sponsored by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Foodbank, where he had received a generous amount of free food including frozen chicken, potatoes, apples and yams.  “I won’t use the yams,” he said, “Do you want them?”

So I stood in our kitchen, peeling a yam for Eileen to roast with some other vegetables on a night when I frankly would have preferred to be at D’s, our favorite local bar and hot dog restaurant.  Eileen and I had just had a conversation about our finances in which I tried to romanticize making do with less. “God is faithful to provide for all we need,” I’d said. As I peeled the yam in the kitchen I realized: This is how God’s providing. It’s not what I wanted or what I’m asking for, but it’s feeding us tonight. That yam was a gift of grace.  But the more I thought about it, the more my thoughts landed on the but it’s not what I wanted part of the sentence, rather than on God’s providing. I felt like one of the Israelites in the wilderness, complaining, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.  But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6 NIV).

Manna was not what the Israelites wanted. And in their grumblings, they blamed God for not meeting their desires. But the problem wasn’t on God’s end. The problem was that they measured the goodness of God’s provision by Egypt’s standards. Today I fear that in an affluent society like America, we don’t even recognize how often we measure God’s goodness by Egypt’s standards. Maybe manna is all we need, but we’re not going to be content with it if our minds are focused on the things the empire tells us we need. To learn to receive God’s provision with gratitude, many of our worldly appetites have to first be put to death.  Back in Egypt we may have lived the high life.  But God has called us out of Egypt.

As Jan at A Church for Starving Artists wrote recently, there is a cost to following the call God has placed on our lives.  Eileen and I are feeling part of the cost of God’s call right now.  We’re not at home in Colorado, not near family, not making much money, not taking much time to rest, and not always happy. But along with the cost also comes a certain joy.  It’s the joy of looking at a yam and realizing that God really is providing for our every need. It’s the joy of seeing the beauty of creation in the daffodils blooming in our yard right now, a sight we’d see less if we went out every time we wanted to.  It’s the joy of having several friends cheer my soul by visiting me at my cafe on a day where our espresso machine was in need of repair and where I’d started my shift by dealing with a leaky milk dispenser. It’s not always what I would have chosen, but there is room for joy in this life.

And I’m finding that the joy increases when I measure the cost by God’s standards rather than Egypt’s. Egypt may tell us our manna is flavorless and that giving up the delicacies of Egypt was a high cost to pay for following this call. But the Lord can gives us eyes to see manna as the “grain of heaven” and “bread of angels” (Psalm 78:24-25), even to seek the Manna which is the “bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33).  Egypt may tell us we need a second car, a new computer, a real vacation, etc., but these are small costs compared to the life of the One who “had no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:21). Egypt may say that the Lord’s provision of yams is laughable, but by the Lord’s standards it was confirmation that he is faithful to provide abundantly more than our daily bread (Matthew 6:11). May the Lord continue to multiply our joy by exposing Egypt’s lies and leading us toward the Promised Land of his goodness and truth.

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