The tale of the slaves escape from Pharoah and 40 years of wandering has always fascinated me in an interpersonal way. There is so much going on there that really speaks to the nature of people and the nature of God.
First of all, they have major trust issues. They want to go back! As awful as hundreds of years of slavery was, it was still familiar and known. They had homes and something to eat. Several hundred years of slavery has an impact on generations. They had no idea how to do for themselves. They could not just step into the Promised Land and start building, innovating, and providing for themselves because they were owned, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically. They didn’t have personal authority to step into because they still had the mindset of slaves.
God sends manna from heaven, to keep them alive, to keep them fed, but only a small amount, only as much as they needed for a day, and a plain form of nutrition at that. Manna is really cool, a gift from God, but a bit like the 3rd day of eating on a pot of beans, you’ve probably just had enough.
I’ve always been fascinated by the process, by the way God is making them hungry. He is cultivating their appetite. He is teaching them, healing them of generations of slavery. At first they can’t do much but pray and lament, send us back. Later it’s just, feed us, we’re going to starve. They really don’t know what they need, want, or what is best for them, and their prayers are very small, reactionary, tied to their circumstances.
There’s a kind of entitlement that has to happen, the good kind of entitlement, the kind that hungers for something better and steps into the full authority of an inheritance as sons, rather than slaves. It is a long process of learning to identify your needs and learning to ask for what you want. And so eventually they want meat, and quail begin to fall from the sky.
There are a lot of reasons why that journey was so long and took such a circuitous route, but one reason was that they were not ready emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, to step into the Promised Land. They had to become sons rather than slaves.
Many of us are slaves in a different kind of way, slaves to sin, slaves to the world, slaves to our past, slaves to addictions and afflictions, and so coming out from under bondage can be a process. It can take some time. I used to pray small, reactionary prayers, rather desperate and dependent on circumstances. Not only did I have no idea what I really needed, I had trouble even identifying what I might want.
I think a big part of prayer is learning to recognize and identify what you want and need and to ask for it. We need some kind of vision in our lives. God knows what we want and need, He knows the secret desires of our heart, but we often don’t. Often we are just in survival mode, heal me, keep the car running, help me get the rent paid.
It took me a long, long time to get to the point where I was comfortable in a relationship, where I could go, “Lord, what I’d like right now is just a cup of coffee.” That’s entitlement, the good kind, but I had issues, stumbling blocks. All lies, all deceptions like, God’s too busy saving the world, He doesn’t have time to address your petty needs. Or guilt like, there are starving kids in Africa and you want a cup of coffee?
But think about it, He’s a good Father, and a bit like earthly parents, He probably delights in a coffee invitation, in the opportunity to provide for such a simple need, in the relationship that can be built over a cup of tea or a coffee break. Also, God is big, huge, infinite, we aren’t taking Him away from something more important.
Praying for a bigger vision can present even more stumbling blocks. Something I used to do is pray “IF it be your will.” I was always putting that IF in there, as if the Father’s will might not be to hand you the Promised Land. That’s actually kind of disrespectful towards God. The bible says, by His stripes we are healed, that is a done deal. He heals us in this life or in the next life, the point being He heals. His will is our healing, our well-being, life and life abundant. It doesn’t always look precisely like you imagine or you wanted, but there’s no reason to put a caveat on it, as if His will is not clearly laid out for us in the bible. His will is good, always.
Also, prayer is not a transaction or an act of commerce or an exchange. I lack the power to thwart God’s will, He is not going, “Well shoot, I had this all planned out but my favorite daughter said the magic word and now I have to change everything.” (You can be His favorite too, by the way. That’s a relational context, not a limited position. )
Then there is disappointment. Fear of disappointment can be a huge stumbling block. What if I ask for something and He doesn’t give it to me? That’s where spiritual maturity comes in. Sometimes our fear of disappointment can be so great we don’t even ask. We’re afraid of the hurt of broken dreams, of deferred promises, of what we believe are “unanswered prayers. ” But God always answers, our prayers are always productive. Our prayers are about far more than simple cause and effect, they are bigger than the concrete and tangible results we can see in this world before us, in the here and now.
Pray big prayers, ask for big things, find a future and a hope, dream, because a big part of our prayer life really is all about preparing us spiritually for an eternal Promised Land as full sons, as inheritors of a kingdom.