June 14, 2023
When the Israelites wandered in the desert after their escape from Egypt, they became hungry. But the Lord fed them.
Exodus 16: 4, 31 Then the Lord said to Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day." ... The people of Israel called the bread manna.
They were fed daily from the Lord. It was always fresh; mostly because it did not keep, and hence it had to be collected daily. Their physical bodies and spiritual relationship with God were, in effect, refreshed on a daily basis. While I dare say, none of us has wandered in the desert for 40 years, we do have a relationship with God, that needs to be kept fresh. If we are not caring for it, that relationship can become lost in the hubbub of daily tasks and frustrations, or become stale in a sea of complacency. Jeremy Camp is a very successful contemporary Christian singer / songwriter. He has released eleven albums, four of which have gone gold, and tours extensively. His demanding concert and production schedule can be exhausting at times. In an interview last year, he was asked, "How do you stay spiritually fresh?" This was a key question, since it is the nature of his "profession" to be continuously spiritually creative. He said, for him, it began with prayer. And he went on to clarify, not just prayer off by himself - a daily prayer meeting, if you will, with his band mates. While they faced similar goals and pressures from being on tour together, they all had unique perspectives and reactions. Similarly, when one was "down" another was "up," and they could draw strength from each other's support. And they sought God's support and inspiration, not only as individuals, but also as a team. And while any one of them might be overwhelmed by the burdens of the day, often at least one of them could hear God's leading and share it with the team. A second point, he said, was to be open to a change of direction. He said, yes, you had to plan the plan, but then the day of the performance, you let God "order your steps." And He might change the whole thing mid-performance - and you had to be Okay with that.
Psalm 119: 133 Order my steps in thy word.
This willingness to be inspired and go with a new leading from God - new "manna" from God was a key part of keeping their relationship with Him fresh and their Christian music authentic.
Many years ago, I often served as a worship leader - the one who greeted the congregation, read announcements, the Scripture for the day and started the corporate prayers. On such days, I would meet with the pastor just prior to the service to go over the bulletin and spend a few moments in prayer. Almost always, the pastor would mark up the freshly printed bulletin and change some aspect of the service. And then, as the service began, he would be inspired by some new guest in the congregation, something that came up in the prayer time, or just be touched by the special music - and he would change the service on the spot as the spirit moved.
It taught me to never be complacent, and go out to the podium, expecting something fresh every Sunday. More often than not, when I looked to see something fresh, I saw it.
In the newly released movie, Air, Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon's character) goes to get advice from George Raveling. In that meeting George tells Sonny of how he had gone to the 1963 March on Washington and gotten hired as a security guard for the speakers on the podium. One of the speakers that day was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who delivered his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. Meeting him afterwards, George asked for his autograph, which he obliged by pulling out the pre-printed version of his speech, signing it, and handing it to George. George said he was very excited until he looked through the text. There he saw that Dr. King had started his speech, as he had originally written it, but about half-way through, he decided it wasn't right. The whole second half of the speech was inspired / made up on the spot, including all the most famous lines we all remember.
If there ever was a profession, that has the potential to be spiritually draining, I think that of pastor would be somewhere on the list. So, I went and sat down with our pastor, Dr. Russell Willis, and asked him how he finds "new manna" each week? There were probably many contributors, but two things popped to his mind immediately:
from a worship perspective, he said, the discipline of forcing himself to look at the lectionary verses (some of which he may not have read in a while) and "see" something new is a way of intentionally giving God his ear, and saying, "I'm listening." Another verse from the 119th Psalm seems to be relevant here: Psalm 119: 130 The unfolding of your words gives light, it gives understanding to the simple.
from an interpersonal perspective, he said, it is being intentionally empathetic - being present in the interchange, trying to see their situation from their point of view, and in essence saying, "I'm listening."
Listening does not guarantee that you will hear anything new and fresh. But, if you are not listening, you certainly will not hear it.
When I was a young man, not yet a believer, but curious about God, I made a very important decision. I decided that the only way I could satisfy my curiosity about God would be to put myself in a situation where, if He chose to speak to me, I might be in a position to hear Him. I accepted an invitation to attend some church services "to see if God had anything to say."
At this point, let us go back to the original verse that I began this DeacoNote with and notice a peculiar thing. Let me quote the whole verse this time.
Exodus 16: 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions."
The daily bread (manna) was not just for nourishment. The manner in which it was delivered and had to be collected, etc., was a daily test. It would seem that daily testing was part of the process by which their spiritual relationship with God was to be kept fresh. There is an old story that circulates on the East Coast about a company that deep-sea fished in the Atlantic to supply restaurant owners. The live fish were caught and then dropped into a holding tank. The problem was that the fish would tire of swimming in the small tank, eventually become lethargic and settle to the bottom of the tank and die before the ship could get back to port. One day, a sea cat fish accidentally slipped into the tank. Sea cat fish are considered trash fish and not good for human consumption. The captain noticed, however, that whenever the other fish grew lethargic and started to settle toward the bottom of the tank, the cat fish would see them as easy prey and begin to nibble on them. In defending themselves the "lethargic" fish would pop out of their lethargy and try to swim away. When the ship docked, to everyone's amazement, there were no dead fish in the bottom of the tank. In defending themselves from the cat fish, all the other fish remained alert and active and alive, not allowing themselves to settle into lethargy and death. The captain then made it a rule to capture a few cat fish each trip and drop them in the storage tanks to keep the catch fresh and alive - and from his point of view marketable. Patricia Hickman, in her article entitled, Staying Spiritually Fresh In Ministry, notes that this story reminds her of how God uses adversity to keep us spiritually fresh as Christians. She said that she did not always understand this principle.
As a young pastor's wife, she remembered how she longed for the days that ministry would get easier. She said she imagined that one day she would wake up as a spiritual giant, being able to traverse life's difficulties in a single leap of faith. She did not foresee, that even after years of seasoning as a church leader, the little fishes of life would continue to assail and try her. And she also did not realize back then just how important "the cat fish in her tank" were to keeping her own spiritually fresh and alive. Over time she came to understand that without these trying little fish, she is tempted to become complacent in her decisions, believing that whether she chooses A or B, neither is a bad choice. However, when squeezed by the tension of trials, she is more alert, because the "cat fish" have put her on guard. She is more likely to discern the truth behind her convictions. The scrapes with other flawed mortals keeps her decisions bathed in Christ's humility, as well as enabling a continual application of truth from God's word. Human annoyances and crises serve as wake-up calls, alerting her to the fact that the choices she makes are a privilege and a responsibility. It is a part of her high calling to choose wisely. The cat fish in our tank are reminders that we, as Christian leaders, cannot just go to the bottom of life and doze. God wants us to arrive Home, having lived a life fully alert and thriving. We were not made for mediocrity. Just lifting our feet and allowing life to carry us along can leave us vulnerable - spiritual fish bait. This "body of death" (as Paul might term it in Romans 7:24) carries within it the capacity to make us into individuals, who can accomplish much more than daily life implies we might.
I Thessalonians 5: 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.
Amen Your Brother in Christ, Warren Please feel free to share this DeacoNote with a friend, or post a related thought in the comments section below. Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester