The Story Chapter 4 (Exodus 1-7; 10-17)
2 Corinthians 9:7-11
On this Thanksgiving Sunday, we’re called to express our gratitude for all that we have, and more importantly, we’re called to remember that it’s all a gift from God: all I have needed, thy hand has provided, right?
But for me, as we go through our second Thanksgiving in a global pandemic, and having read together this weekend the remarkable story of God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt, I have to admit: I’m thinking a little differently about Thanksgiving this year.
It’s easy to preach that Thanksgiving is about the virtue of gratitude. But, I don’t know if it struck you like it struck me and my kids as we read Chapter 4, sometimes we just don’t know how thankful we should be. Sometimes I know I find myself a lot like those Israelites – crying out to God for help, God responds, but instead of thanking Him and trusting in His plan, I find something else to complain about, and, like Jacob’s descendants being led out of Egypt, sometimes I maybe even wish that God hadn’t answered my prayer.
As they say, hindsight is 20/20, and that’s true in the Christian life as well.
Just as the Israelites’ grumbling through the exodus becomes evident as we read it after the fact, self-awareness and recollection are God-given tools to open our eyes to the way He answers prayer.
Unless we stop to see how one prayer has been answered, we end up like those slaves, flip-flopping back and forth, praying for freedom, and then wishing they were slaves again; praying for God to protect and provide, but when He does, they respond by anxiously wondering who will protect and provide next time.
Trusting the God who Delivers
The first, and maybe the biggest point that should be jumping off the page as we read The Story together is this: God will make a way.
What we’re seeing is that God always keeps his promises. The issue, though, is that we too often think his promises are for our personal gain. Now I know some preachers have conned a lot of people and made themselves very rich by saying that God promises health and wealth and prosperity. But you’ve read it: is that what God promises?
God promises to crush the serpent’s head. God promises to provide what we need. God promises to use those who are obedient to His call to bless the whole world and reconcile them to himself.
No, God isn’t in the business of setting us up to depend on ourselves. He told an old childless man squatting on someone else’s land in a tent that he would be the father of kings; he gave a young boy a dream that would protect his entire family, but only after he remained faithful through 20 hard years in a foreign land; and now He has indeed made Abraham’s descendants very numerous, thousands of people, but lest they depend on themselves, they find themselves in a foreign land, oppressed by a fearful king who is scared by how resilient this people is, even as slaves.
In that we see that God will always make a way. But, especially at Thanksgiving, we have to accept that God’s not blessing us for our own benefit. God blesses us to show forth his glory. God blesses us so that all people will see and know that He is the Lord, that the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob is the Creator, who loves us enough to seek us out while we’re still sinful rebels, and desires nothing more than for us to turn from our wickedness and live to his glory.
God will make a way – but it’s always to his glory, and our response must always be to show the world how good he is.
The next thing that leaps off the page, though, is grumbling. And grumbling is a lack of gratitude.
We all knew the Israelites grumbled in the desert, but until you read Chapter 4 this weekend, did you realize just how much they grumbled? Eye opening, isn’t it!
But how often do we fall into the same boat?
They wanted to be free, but they didn’t really want to be free. They wanted their own land, but they missed how easy it was to get food and water when they were slaves. They wanted God to lead them, but complained and wanted to turn back when He didn’t lead them in the direction they wanted to go.
As Paul said in our Epistle today, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work”.
God will provide, but the good works we do with what he gives are up to us.
Will we take what God has given and give glory to his name? Or will we gladly take what he has given, and then grumble because our hearts still aren’t satisfied?
I’ve caught myself this week: for 18 months I’ve prayed daily that God would protect our town from this virus – and he has. I’ve prayed daily that we would work together for the common good. But have I praised him for his protection? Or, instead, have I been quick to express my exhaustion and become a little complacent – which doesn’t serve the common good, and to find myself anxious as our case count begins to climb.
Jesus says, “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about the body, what you will put on”. If God has provided thus far, now’s not the time to question his provision and protection; now’s the time to work together for the common good as much as we did in the beginning, and most importantly, to give God the glory, because it’s in times like these, times when we learn that health and strength are gifts, that God uses you and me to draw our friends, families, and neighbours to Himself, that they too may trust in him and see his glory revealed.
God will make a way, but Grumbling is a lack of gratitude for the ways God has turned the world’s evil into good.
Faith in Action: Gumption
Instead, we need to have Gumption.
Yes, putting our faith into action, whether it’s the exodus from slavery in Egypt, or the second thanksgiving in a pandemic, requires good old-fashioned gumption. Perseverance, endurance, resourcefulness, initiative, imagination, wisdom, understanding, practicality, mettle, nerve, courage – all synonyms for good, old-fashioned gumption.
Four chapters in – and each with a lifetime of experience – we know God is for us. We know God provides, that he will work through whatever mess we’ve found ourselves in, if only we trust that his ways are higher than our ways.
But God expects our commitment. He provides all we need, but then he expects us to follow through, to follow where he leads, whether that’s with a pillar of cloud and fire, a still small voice, or hiss promises patiently tucked away in our hearts.
Exodus tells us that God has a systematic way of dealing with the competition. Those 10 plagues aren’t random – each plague is set against one of the false gods of the Egyptians, as their gods of the Nile, of crops, of livestock, of medicine, of fertility, of the sun, and of procreation are all proven to be subject to God Almighty.
And so, part of our Thanksgiving recollection must be asking ourselves: what false gods do we worship?
Where do we place our trust? In the economy? In our ability to work? In democracy and good government? In self-sufficiency and individual rights and freedoms? In the pride of believing that all that we have comes from our selves?
It’s worth thinking about, because we know God is in the business of casting down false idols, and in my own life, as I wander through this pandemic time, I see God calling me to turn away from all those good things in which I put too much trust, and to instead trust him with gumption, to trust him boldly, knowing he’s going to reveal his glory, and he’s going to provide for my every need, if I follow him in faith.
I want to leave you with this observation. I’ve always limited “thankfulness” to gratitude, to stopping to say “thank you” for what I’ve received.
But as I’ve read chapter 4 this week, I think there’s more to it. Taking a break to say thank you isn’t what God desires.
True thankfulness is expressed as trust.
True thankfulness is trusting that God will make a way, as he has before.
True thankfulness is giving up on grumbling, and trusting that God knows best.
True thankfulness is having the gumption to say “all I have needed, his hand has provided”, so I will go where he leads me, because he will never forsake me, his grace is sufficient for my weakness, and he will finish what he started.
True thankfulness is expressed as trust. And may God give us the grace to be truly thankful. Amen.