The Sufficiency of God in All Circumstances (3)
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“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.
Scripture Reading: Deuteronomy 8:1-20
Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 50 (Psalter 922)
Sermon Title: The Sufficiency of God in All Circumstances
As we have the request before us tonight of “Give us today our daily bread,” I think it is important to be reminded of the Catechism’s general instruction on prayer. Answer 116 says, “Prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us. And…God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them.” Also, answer 118 says that God has commanded us to pray for “Everything we need, spiritually and physically, as embraced in the [Lord’s Prayer].”
Considering the Catechism and what we are going to read in Deuteronomy, I believe there is very little that is outside of what we can petition God for. We focus then tonight on what should be prayed for, and how do we pray about these things. What is our perspective, what does our trust look like in petitioning God, especially for ourselves? And in that, let us examine ourselves to see if we really do trust God to take care of all our physical needs and believe that neither our work nor his gifts do us good without his blessing.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, if you enjoy hiking and spending time in the great outdoors, you may have come across the law of three’s before. The law of three’s is a set of guidelines for avoiding potentially harmful and even fatal circumstances in extreme conditions. It says a person can go three minutes without air, three hours without shelter that maintains your core body temperature, three days without water, and three weeks without food. There are exceptions, but in extreme conditions, these tend to be the normal limitations of our bodies.
Most if not all of us can understand the rationale behind these limits. Our bodies need to stay nourished, to stay hydrated, getting all of the necessary vitamins and nutrients to function. They require a certain level of maintenance and care. Our bodies cannot sustain themselves.
As the law of three’s is meant to help us if we find ourselves in trouble in the elements, it focuses heavily on what we can provide. That mentality though is present not just in extreme conditions, but I think most people, including us, can and do have that focus in normal circumstances. We have the mentality or mindset that we must provide for ourselves. I learned back in high school already that mantra that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If there is food on the table, if bills are being paid, if there is a place for me to live and stay, it is because either I have worked and earned enough for that or someone else has done so. Most, especially in this part of the country, are taught to be self-sufficient—to be able to sustain and provide enough of anything for at least ourselves and our families.
And yet there come times in our lives, much more frequently than we would like to admit or that we actually recognize, that we cannot be completely self-sufficient. We are not able to provide ourselves everything we truly need. Everything we have, everything we consume, everything that we look forward to having one day is actually not first and foremost because of us, but we have these things, usually we call them blessings, because of God. What we have, in large portion or in small, that sustains us or for some of us goes well beyond, is because our God is sufficient and gives sufficiently.
Where prayer comes into this is that prayer is a practice in this understanding. If we could provide all we need or think we could that, then we have no reason to pray. If we could actually be self-sufficient, then there is no reason to look to anyone for help—human or divine. But our practice, how we live, also says something about what we believe. If we do not pray or never truly make time for prayer—that does say something about what we believe God about God. To not take time to pray seems to be telling God we do not need him.
With that in mind, our Lord taught us to pray for something so simple and basic: “Father…give us today our daily bread.” In Jesus’ day and even before that, bread was a basic staple of peoples’ diets. This was a food they could likely assume they would have regularly, and it would be readily available. Yet Jesus says that is worth praying about, that God would give you that. The prayer that we as believers and disciples are taught by our Master and Lord is not just petitioning God when we are in trouble, not just when something is unattainable, but believing that God cares and is providential in even the most basic of our needs. As we said in answer 125, God is the only source of all good provisions.
In our lives, both in the extreme as well as the normal, routine circumstances, God is sufficient. But it is not only about the matter that we are petitioning for, it is the regularity, the frequency. When we are taught to pray using the word “today,” we really are asking that God would take care of us this very day. We do because we trust that he will continue to provide as we have seen him do so in the past and believe him to be faithful for as long as we shall live.
Let’s go back and think about what we read in Deuteronomy 8. This passage is an example of looking at God and trusting him. Moses was giving the Israelites, before they entered the Promised Land, a quick history lesson about their parents. He had them think about their time in the wilderness and what caused that. If we look back to Exodus, it stemmed from what started happening shortly after they left Egypt—the people grumbled and complained.
They had done it before, but Moses here in Deuteronomy highlighted when they grumbled to him and Aaron about food; this was about six-weeks after leaving Egypt. The people lamented, “We had so much food there, are we just here to starve?” Maybe the law of three’s was kicking in for them. They had gone through all the food that they left in haste with and would not narrow down their flocks anymore. We often give the Israelites a hard time, but how many of us in a similar situation, wouldn’t complain? If we were to get stuck in an unknown place without any way of contacting the outside world, without anyone planning to look for us, without any more supplies or comforts, what would our state of mind be? Would our minds think about our cabinets back home filled with food and clean clothes and basic toiletries? Would we be so different?
Maybe some of us would graciously continue in those circumstances to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” I am willing to guess though that there are some of us who would be more prone to joining the Israelites’ behavior. Yet let’s think about their position. God had brought them out of slavery, he caused the Red Sea to be split, he brought the waters down on Pharaoh and his men—and by grumbling and complaining, they were expressing that they did not trust God, their God, was being faithful to them. Moses taught this new generation that, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
God had heard the anxieties, the frustrations, the rumbling stomachs of his hungry people, and he gave his word that bread and quail would come from heaven each day. He instructed the people to take enough only for a day, and not keep leftovers. But some of them still ignored him. Exodus 16:20 says, “Some paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.”
The Lord was gracious. He treated the traveling Israelites in such a way that they should trust him to provide each day. Yet the hearts and minds of some questioned if they really would be able to get more, if God would provide sufficiently; and they were punished. Their punishment was not like us buying a loaf of bread in a bag from the Corner Market or Walmart, which gets spots of mold if it sits a few days too long. But this manna was probably placed on pieces of cloth or in baskets in the open air of their tents. As the overnight hours went by, it decomposed. The tents that were their homes would have smelled rotten. The air would have been filled with the irritating sound and presence of flies. It is in a context like that which we hear the echo of our catechism, “[God’s] gifts cannot do us any good without [his] blessing.”
The Israelites had cause to trust in God: a full reliance that he was sufficient, that he was going to provide for all of their needs. The God was not only faithful in providing them with bread and meat, but Moses called the Israelites to look at the clothes they were wearing. Shouldn’t they be worn out, torn, and disintegrating? Look at their feet. Shouldn’t the wilderness landscape, sun, and daily use have caused them to swell up with blisters making walking impossible? The Israelites did not suffer in ways they should have, and that was because God had blessed what they had.
These Old Testament promises of God are foundational to what Jesus’ desires to communicate in his prayer; “Give us today our daily bread,” is truly a request God will take care of all our physical needs. Brothers and sisters, whether we come in praying this prayer from being content with what we have or from a place of struggling, it is helpful to consider both. I assume that most of us have enough, if not plenty; unlike the Israelites in the desert, we have homes to go to tonight, cars to get us there, a snack or meal is never too far away, clothes and medicine, toiletries and cleaning supplies overflow our cupboards. As hopeful as we are that God gives us gifts and blessings, I wonder if we who presently have an abundance truly grasp the sufficiency of God or if we more often put our trust in creatures, even our own abilities?
But maybe some of us do fit that other category, or we know people close to us that do. People for whom having shelter is not a given, having food for themselves and their family is dependent on the generosity of others, clean water is hard to get, our feet are all we have to get us where we want or need to go. For those that pray “give us today our daily bread” facing these burdens and struggles on a daily basis, on the one hand it may take an extra measure of trust that God does and will provide, that he is sufficient in all circumstances. On the other hand, these people might be quicker and more used to trusting him for even the most basic of needs.
I believe we are living in an exceptionally tough time to pray this request wholeheartedly. I say that because of the technologies that can make predictions in so many different areas of life. Meteorologists work to predict the weather; economists give forecasts of businesses, stocks, and funds. Predictions like these can lure us into thinking we have security in knowing what tomorrow brings. It is wonderful that people have developed gifts in these fields, but we must remember that we can never be of absolutely certain of what is going happen in the future. The only given that we have in this life is that God will be faithful.
My goal isn’t that we go home tonight and toss out all our food away to show that we really depend on God for our physical hunger. It’s not that you quit your job, trusting that checks will come in to pay your bills. I don’t think you have to smash the flat screen TV or the iPad, or tear up the clothes and shoes in your closet that do not get worn that often. If these things own your life, then maybe you should, but I want to encourage all of us to check our priorities, to check our dependence. Jesus, in this prayer, his ministry, and his life intended for his followers to really take to heart that our heavenly Father gives life by way of providing and the Spirit sustains all aspects of work, worry, and faith.
Jesus taught us that we can pray for anything, and he will answer. If he blesses in abundance, giving us full shelves, full harvests, plenty of resources and tools to do our work, let us trust and glorify him all the more. What a comfort it is if we can enjoy plenty, but may we not forget where it is from and may we be willing to share with those in need. If he gives us little in the way of material possessions, small amounts of health, or fragile relationships, I hope even then we can give him thanks, but also remain willing to put our needs before him. At all times, in all circumstances, we pray, and we do so because it is not our hands, or our labors; we are not self-sufficient, as much as we may want that to be, rather we are dependent on God.
So let us find contentment and remain with in trusting communication with the Lord each day. When we think about a beautiful day that he has created, we can be filled with gladness. When we think about the loved ones he has put in our lives, we can experience joy. Whatever material things we may possess, these are blessings that can only be enjoyed right now. In our contentment, may we be sure to not forget that God is the giver. He is faithful, and is sufficient to provide for all of our needs. Amen.
The law of three’s is good, but we need to remember God is also not limited by what we might think the limitations of creation are. We need to remember we have a God who works in powerful and often times miraculous ways, a God who is able to sustain beyond any law of three’s. Whether we are in this type of situation or considering those facing these in-need environments, a mindset shift occurs from seeing this only as a prayer of thanks to remind us that we cannot take what necessities and comforts we have for granted.
God is the only one who can bless us. Hopefully that humbles us: our accomplishments or opportunities, our abilities and skills are not our own. When we are successful, it is only the result of God’s providential care. These details of everyday life are gifts of God’s grace, which he gives to us so that we may use them for his excellence, as well as in service to him, our communities, and this world.
Brothers and sisters, it’s this not-so-ordinary dependence in all circumstances that we as Christians can confess that no law can hold God back. Our God can both wipe everything off the face of the earth with one word, and our God can and has redeemed all things with one name. God cares about each of us so much, that he is willing to give and to bless, and we aren’t to forget to ask for both of those actions. If we have little and struggle to make ends meet, we have a God who offers hope, who will provide for our physical needs, whether that’s by an extraordinary miracle or by using the miracle of people and structures around us. If we have been given an abundance of resources, may we look to God as the one who provided them, rather than claiming them as merely the deserved results of what our hands have done. Our call is not waste but rather to be content with what we have, and that means continuing or maybe even restarting our dependence on God.