“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.” Deuteronomy 8:2-3, NIV
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the Spring of Living Water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13, NIV
In my last blog, I posed the question, “Does God care about my longings, emotional needs and deeper desires?” It is a question often asked in WGA circles. What could the outcome be if I trusted and believed He cares deeply for me, my needs and desires? Perhaps it would be easier to surrender my sexuality to the sacred boundaries God places around this facet of life. And in doing so, I would thrive and flourish. We also explored scriptures which refer to bodily needs like food, water, hunger and thirst. These can be metaphors of our deep yearnings for love, affirmation, belonging, touch and being known on a soul-ish level. (see Isaiah 55:1-2) The needs are God-created and Jesus often says fulfillment of these longings on the deepest level are in Him alone.
This theme is threaded throughout scripture, so it must matter to God a great deal—that’s good news! But continuing to unpack these metaphors of hungering and thirsting, we have some bad news. We need to look at one of the more disappointing stories in scripture—the Israelite’s wanderings in the desert.
Meanwhile in the Desert
The Ten Commandments is just awesome in all its cheesy 1950’s goodness. As Charlton Heston parts the Red Sea with arms outstretched, I recognize the weariness God’s people must have felt. After all, they had waited 400 years for this moment and now God was answering their anguished cries. They were finally on their way to the Promised Land—I imagine their hopes were very high. But as usual with us humans, it doesn’t take long for our hope to start crashing and burning. The next part of the story makes me cringe with conviction.
As the narrative continues, God is visibly near, leading them through the desert as a pillar of cloud or flame. Eventually His people experience hunger and thirst, which results in a lot of grumbling (and not just in their stomachs). We see a pattern as the story unfolds. God is purposefully bringing them to places where there is no food and water. And what does He do? He sweetens bitter water, rains down quail and pulls water out of a hard rock. He also feeds them from His own hand, creating food which hasn’t been seen before in the form of manna. His provision and care for His people is steadfast.
God isn’t toying with the Israelites (or us), as we see in the above quote from Moses. God seems to be saying what Jesus repeats centuries later. “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides.” “I am the Bread of Life.” John 6:27, 35, The Message
Our Bad News Response
God is attempting to get to something deeper in His people—but how do they respond? Whining, complaining, disbelieving, rebelling, and binging on quail till it’s coming out their noses. They even create and worship a golden calf. Then on the brink of the Promised Land, refuse to enter and scream to go back to slavery in Egypt. Their 400 of years of hope have finally died. I’m sure this resonates with you as it does with me.
There are times when I grow tired of waiting for God’s timing in meeting a need. I begin to think He’s withholding something from me, or I feel emotionally starved in my own desert. What is my response? I tend to do exactly what the Lord is acknowledging in His people from the quote in Jeremiah. Abandoning the Living Water of Christ, I take matters into my own hands. I start reacting and meet my needs in destructive ways—that’s the bad news.
Ways we deal with our desires that are unhelpful or even harmful:
We misdirect our desires–our desires get tangled up and attached to other things: Addictions-substances, pornography, behaviors-binging/purging, unhealthy people, toxic or dependent relationships.
We act as though we have no desires—we shame ourselves for having needs and act as though we are self- reliant. Discounting them, we pretend they don’t matter. We over spiritualize or use cynicism as a self-protective barrier.
We sexualize our desires—we attempt to meet our emotional needs for love, affirmation and attention through some sort of sexual encounter. Or we insist that our needs for touch, belonging and nurture can only be met in a romantic context.
Bad news indeed. So, in the midst of forming a unique covenantal relationship with God, this band of misfit people turned on Him. In the following centuries they did it again and again and we are still in this same story even today. How amazing is God to continue being faithful to us? He never lets our proverbial shoes wear out as we wander our own self-created deserts. Perhaps by orchestrating hunger and thirst on a soul-ish level in our lives, He tries getting to something deeper in us? Is there a way we might manage our desires and cooperate with God better? We’ll chat about that next time—stay tuned.
Personal Note: I’d like to thank our friend Janelle Hallman for her valuable teachings on desire and the Israelites desert wanderings. They have informed this article and my own personal life. Since she first did these teachings in 1994, they have helped me realize God’s value for my emotional needs. Hopefully we can all honor these deep places of need He desires to meet us in.
A staff member since June of 1992, Scott is a key player in the WGA discipleship ministry. He plans, organizes, and implements every aspect of the Thursday night support group. In addition to public speaking, counseling group participants and training leaders, Scott maintains personal contact with many group members and it is to Scott’s credit that many group members feel personally welcomed, cared for and loved.
Although he holds a degree in graphic arts, he attributes his ministry qualifications to the “school of hard knocks.” God’s abundant grace continues to be the instrument of growth in his life, and he desires to be firmly grounded in the forgiveness and freedom of relationship with Jesus Christ.
Scott attends a Presbyterian Church.
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