Great Faith for New Provision
‘And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year’ (Joshua 5:11-12).
One of the most bizarre stories I know is about Elvis Pressley. The shy kid from Tupelo who became larger than life before his untimely death is an almost endless supply of fascinating anecdotes. But one in particular stands out. Apparently, Elvis was a creature of habit. And apparently, he liked meat loaf. And green beans. And mashed potatoes. And apparently, he like them so much that, at some point in his later years, he had this meal, every night, for a year. Meat loaf. Mashed potatoes. Green Beans. Every Night. For a year. Now that’s repetitive. But it’s nothing close to what the Israelites had to endure.
Food from heaven
Manna was great. Apart from having the exact same thing for breakfast, lunch, and supper for 40 years, manna was great. God is a faithful father, and he cared for his children, even in the wilderness. God always provides for his people, but the way he provides is different in different places and different times.
As the people cross the Jordan and came into the land of promise, things changed – God’s provision took a different form. Josh. 5.11 indicates that the manna ceased the day after they at the produce of the land. There is one kind of provision for the wilderness, and another kind of provision for the Promised Land.
The Wilderness generation made a great start - they left Egypt. But they did not finish well; they did not have sufficient faith to possess the promised land (see Numbers 13-14). The wilderness generation preferred the security of Egypt rather than having to trust God every day. They actually said, ‘We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt’. (Number 13.4). They wanted meat pots at the price of slavery than God’s provision of manna and the uncertainty of the wilderness (see Exodus 16).
To sustain the Israelites in their wilderness journeys, God gave them manna. Every morning they would go and get it. Whether or not they had faith – it was there, like the sun rising every morning. No effort, no forethought, no ploughing, no planting. The people would wake up in the morning, and boom – the manna was waiting on them. Though they were far from faithful, the Israelites grew accustomed to supernatural provision.
The problem with manna is that it is an inherently selfish food. It could not be stored; there was only ever enough for one family. Manna did not provide opportunity for practicing generosity or hospitality.
Things were different in the Promised Land. Now they needed faith – and they also need hard work. Rather than trusting God to provide manna directly, they had to trust God to provide food indirectly through the means of sowing and reaping. An entire generation only knew the kind of provision of waking up and finding what they needed. But as they learned how to farm, they discovered a different way God meets needs. And more than that, sowing and reaping gave them an abundance – more than enough – so that they could practice generosity and hospitality.
To possess the promises of God requires us to learn the art of sowing and reaping. To enter into the promised land requires us to move from manna, where God provides directly and supernaturally, to sowing and reaping, where God blesses our efforts and causes crops to grow, seemingly through natural means.
Though this principle applies to many areas of our lives, we must discover God’s new provision in the area of finances. To reach the people God is calling us to reach, to go the cities God is calling us to go to, to plant the churches God is calling us to plant – all of this will take money. And like the Israelites who possessed the Promised Land, we will have to learn how to ‘eat the fruit of the land’.
When we first began planting churches in Ukraine, all of our early church plants – L’viv, Ternopil, Novodnistrovsk – these were funded by the West. In the case of Novodnistrovsk, for example, I raised money in the States for this church plant. I was able to raise enough to pay the pastor (Oleg Savchak) a salary, to pay for his flat, and to pay for the meeting hall rental. In the early days, the church plant was funded from the outside. This is both a good and a bad thing. It was good in that American generosity helped to get things going; it would have been much more difficult to start without this outside funding.
The problem with this model, however, is that it’s not sustainable. Though Americans were very generous, their pockets were not bottomless. But more importantly, if funding only ever comes from the outside, God’s people don’t learn the habit of giving and the beauty of generosity. It was a hard conversation when I had to tell Oleg that the day was coming when the finances would not be available. The transition to ‘living off the land’ was painful, but necessary.
One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. Galatians 6.6-7
But the good news is that Oleg had done a good job teaching his people the bible. They understood Galatians 6, that God is not mocked, that the law of sowing and reaping is true, and that if we tithe, we can trust God to meet our needs and the needs of the church. I was so touched watching the generosity in action. Because of a factory that had shut, many people were unemployed, but they tithed anyway – out of their gardens. I remember watching people bring in big bags of potatoes and cabbage, tithing to the Lord. That church pulled through the momentary crisis, kept growing, and became incredibly generous, eventually able to plant other churches.
And so, like the children of Israel learning how to sow and reap in the Promised Land, sustainable ministry in Ukraine, in Scotland, and in church planting beyond will require ‘living off the land’. That is, we must grow our faith to learn the art of sowing and reaping – learning the art of tithing and generous giving, and watching God multiply it, watching God provide for us generously, watching God use what we give for powerful kingdom advance.
The Bible speaks of three kinds of giving – tithes, offerings, and alms. Tithes are when we give God the first 10% of our income. Offerings are what we give in addition to our first 10% - sometimes for special projects like ministry efforts or building projects. And alms are money given specifically to the poor. This is what I believe: if every person in our church regularly tithes, we will have more than enough to do all the ministry God has called us to do.
For the Israelites, as we read about their time in the Promised Land, this is what we observe: the only time they didn’t have enough was when they forsook God and became idolaters, going after the gods of the region – the Canaanite, Midianite, and Moabite gods. This is what the book of Judges is about – when the people would leave the Lord and worship idols, God would allow them to be dominated until they repented. And this domination usually included financial and economic deprivation. This is what we read in Judges 6.1-4:
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys.
To ‘do evil in the eyes of the Lord’ was to break the first commandment, to have ‘other gods’, to worship idols. How do we do that? By letting the spirit of materialism that marks this age to captivate us so that we care more about stuff than the advance of the gospel.
God wants us to learn the pattern of sowing and reaping – the art of generosity – not only for the advance of the gospel, but also for own blessing. Paul explained it like this to the Philippians: ‘Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit’ (Phil 4.17). It is in this context that we can inhabit this powerful promise: ‘My God will provide all of your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 4.8). This promise comes to a church that participated in the pattern of ‘giving and receiving’ (Phil 4.15). And it comes after they had given sacrificially for gospel advance.
Every generation has to discover God’s abundance. The point is this: manna was great while it lasted, but Promised land living involves provision through different means.God has much fruit and fruitfulness for us, but we will be unable to go where God has called us to go and do what God has called us to do unless we learn the art of living by faith through sowing and reaping.