Resilient Faith

Scripture: Exodus 16:1-21

Title: Resilient Faith

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • What is resilience?
  • Developing resilience
    • Presence (not absence)
    • Nourishment (not neglect)
    • Discipline (not excess)
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Resilience - Elephant

Resilience is the capacity to withstand stress & catastrophe [1]

  • This Volts Wagon is certainly showing some resilience

Please turn with me to Exodus chapter 16 – page 76 in your pew Bibles

  • Today we continue our series in Exodus
  • The people have been camped at Elim – an oasis in the wilderness
  • Now they set out toward Sinai and on the way their resilience is tested and found wanting. From Exodus 16, verse 1, we read…

Read Exodus 16:1-21

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

 

What is resilience?

A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well

  • Diamonds are of course one of the most resilient objects known to man
  • They are formed when carbon is put under extreme heat and pressure

Resilience is not something you’re born with

  • Resilience develops as we grow up – although it doesn’t develop automatically

Some factors that contribute to resilience are:

  • A good support network – including family & friends
  • A positive (and accurate) view of yourself
  • Good problem-solving and communication skills
  • The ability to ask for help and resources
  • Healthy coping strategies – including the ability to celebrate & enjoy life
  • An outward focus – by which I mean a mind-set which considers the needs and well-being of others
  • And most importantly, in my view, faith in a loving God

All these things give us the basic materials for resilience – but we don’t really know how resilient we are until we face some kind of crisis

  • Pressure and stress reveal the diamond in our charcoal

People who are resilient have the ability to pick themselves up and carry on

  • They don’t see themselves as victims – they see themselves as survivors
  • Those with resilience are able to find positive meaning in the difficult circumstances of their lives
  • And they have the strength to manage strong feelings and impulses

Moses provides a good example of someone with resilience

  • The people of Israel? – Not so much

In Exodus 16 the people have left the oasis at Elim and followed Moses into the desert of Sin

  • It has been somewhere between 4 and 6 weeks since the Israelites left Egypt (depending on how you interpret verse 1)
  • For not the first time the people complain to Moses & Aaron, saying…
  • “We wish the Lord had killed us in Egypt. There we could at least sit down and eat meat and as much other food as we wanted. But you have brought us out into this desert to starve us all to death”

Wow – that’s messed up

  • The people who said that didn’t have their heads screwed on right
  • It hasn’t been two months yet and already they seem to have forgotten what God has done for them

The good old days are never as good as people remember them

  • In actual fact the Israelites were slaves in Egypt – they were badly mistreated – they didn’t always have meat or enough to eat
  • Pharaoh was trying to kill them
  • But God delivered them from their suffering in a miraculous way

The people weren’t starving yet – they were just worried that they might run out of food – what happens then?

  • They were getting ahead of themselves and thinking the worst

One of the things you notice when you watch interviews with the All Blacks for this world cup is that they are very careful not to get ahead of themselves

  • The tournament is just getting underway
  • They’re not thinking about the final
  • They’re thinking about what’s happening now
  • They’re thinking about the practice that morning
  • Or the pool game that afternoon
  • One day at a time sweet Jesus, one day at a time

Not getting ahead of yourself – not thinking the worst – takes mental discipline

  • Sadly it was a discipline the Israelites hadn’t learned at that point
  • They accuse Moses of wanting to starve them which just shows how fearful they were – and how little control they had over their thoughts
  • They weren’t calm on the inside – their minds were racing
  • The food crisis has led to a faith crisis [2]

Moses shows resilience in the face of this accusation

  • Like the Volts Wagon under the elephant he doesn’t crumple
  • He isn’t defeated by the weight of the people’s criticism
  • Nor does he spit the dummy and walk off
  • Moses waits for God

So where does Moses’ resilience come from?

  • Well, I think there are a number of pillars to his resilience

If we look at Moses’ upbringing we note that he had a loving and supportive family network

  • His sister Miriam watched over him as a baby when he was put in a basket and floated down the Nile
  • His biological mother spent lots of face to face time with him as an infant, so he learned basic trust from that consistent attachment
  • His adopted mother was a princess in Egypt and so Moses never wanted for anything growing up
  • His basic assumption as a child was one of abundance not scarcity

But Moses didn’t live his whole life in an ivory tower

  • After 40 years living in the wilderness as a shepherd he was well acquainted with the realities of survival
  • His adult life experience had taught him resilience in harsh environments

Aaron was another string to Moses’ bow of resilience – although it was only a matter of time before Aaron became a thorn in Moses’ side

The main stay of Moses’ resilience is his relationship with Yahweh

  • Moses is not acting or speaking on his own
  • He is following God’s instructions and so he is able to say…
  • ‘When you complain against us you are really complaining against the Lord’, verse 8
  • When we know we are in God’s will for us, when we know we are doing what God wants us to do, nothing can shake us
  •  “If God is for us, who can be against us?” [3]
  • The Lord is Moses’ support network, his resilience, his strength

To be fair the people of Israel did not enjoy the same advantages that Moses did

  • They didn’t have the raw materials needed for resilience
  • They didn’t have a princess looking after them
  • They had the sting of the slave driver’s whip instead
  • They didn’t know abundance – they only knew hard work & poverty
  • Years of brutal oppression & slavery had all but wiped out their resilience

Suffering and stress may reveal resilience – like sandpaper reveals the wood grain under paint

  • But when suffering and stress is all you’ve known then pain and fear is all you’ve got
  • If you keep sanding the wood too long it will wear thin and break
  • Suffering by itself doesn’t make you stronger – it makes you less resilient
  • Faith – learning to trust – that is what makes a person stronger

Developing resilience:

It seems to me that God wanted to develop a resilient faith among His people

  • The sort of faith that wouldn’t fall to pieces every time they found themselves in a stressful situation

And to develop this resilience the Lord gave the people three things…

  • His presence, nourishment and discipline
  • These three things are (coincidentally) what a parent needs to give their child for resilience

Presence – not absence

C.S. Lewis once wrote…

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always easy to penetrate. The real labour is to remember to attend. In fact to come awake. Still more to remain awake.”

 

This has been my experience

  • God is not absent or aloof – He is everywhere, but He’s in disguise

Personally I see God most clearly in my circumstances

  • I tend to be more aware of Him out there (in the world) than I am of Him in here (in church)
  • I love it when God puts me in just the right place, at just the right time, with just the right resources to help just the right person
  • That’s when I’m most aware of God’s presence

I remember on our honeymoon, Robyn and I were near Russell, in the Bay of Islands

  • We were driving along in our burnt orange Mark 2 Ford Escort, coming over the hill from Tapeka Point, and this lady waved us down
  • So I pulled over to the side of the road and she quickly opened the door and jumped in the back
  • She was scared out of her wits because a dog had been chasing her
  • We gave her a lift down the hill into Russell township – she got out and we never saw her again

It was a small thing for us to do – no inconvenience really – but I saw God in that situation

  • He put us in the right place, at the right time, with the right resources to help a stranger in need
  • If we had come over the hill one minute earlier we would probably have missed her
  • And if we had come one minute later, who knows – maybe she would have been bitten or worse
  • It was a God moment

In Exodus 16, verse 10, we read how God makes is presence visible to the people of Israel in the form of a dazzling light inside a cloud

  • The people were scared and insecure – they needed to see God’s presence in a tangible way
  • Nothing is more convincing than presence

If you want to develop or maintain a resilient faith, then stay alert to the signs of God’s presence, whatever form He may meet you in, whether that’s through:

  • Reading the Bible
  • Or singing worship songs
  • Or helping people
  • Or experiencing dreams and visions
  • Or whatever – just look for His presence

Nourishment – not neglect

The second thing God does in Exodus 16, to help the people develop resilient faith, is He feeds them

  • God provides nourishment (He does not neglect His people)

The nourishment comes in the form of meat and bread – protein and carbs

  • God sends quail in the evening and manna in the morning

Quail are known to migrate across the Sinai Peninsula at certain times of the year

  • They stop to rest on the ground in the evening and would be easy for the people to catch
  • Although quail are naturally occurring, their provision in this situation, is extraordinary – God must be behind it
  • Because the quail arrive every night for 40 years and they never run out
  • In the ordinary course of events you wouldn’t expect that sort of frequency or quantity

The manna which appeared in the morning could also be a naturally occurring food source

  • There is an insect in that part of the world which feeds off the tamarisk tree and it secretes a white yellowy substance which is sweet to eat
  • It is rich in carbohydrates & sugar and it’s still gathered by people living in that area today
  • At night, when it’s cold, the substance congeals, but then, when the sun comes out, it melts in the heat of the day
  • It is a food which normally decays quickly and it attracts ants

Whatever you want to call this stuff it fits the description of manna in Exodus

The provision of manna, in this situation, is extraordinary – God must be behind it

  • Because the manna is there every morning for 40 years, enough to feed well over 1 million people each day
  • And on Friday’s it lasts for two days without going bad
  • In the normal course of events you wouldn’t expect that kind of frequency or quantity – nor would you expect that kind of shelf life

The way God consistently provides quail & manna shows the people He can be relied on – they can trust Him

  • Even when the people complain or disobey, God still keeps feeding them

Feeding children is one of the core responsibilities of parents

  • That routine of providing regular meals is actually one of the things that contributes to a child’s resilience
  • It helps them to feel safe and secure so they learn to trust and not worry about where their next meal is coming from

God provides the ingredients for a resilient faith by the gift of His presence and by feeding His people regularly

  • He also develops resilience through discipline

Discipline – not excess

Discipline is a misunderstood word these days

  • We often associate discipline with punishment – six of the best or time out or being grounded or some other negative consequence

But discipline isn’t really about punishment – discipline is about learning

  • To discipline someone is to teach them

So for example, teaching your child how to use a knife and fork so they can eat their dinner independently – that is discipline

  • Or teaching them how to bake a cake or sew on a button – these are also examples of disciplining your children

God’s gift of manna & quail comes with certain instructions

  • These instructions are designed to help the people get the most out of God’s gifts and to teach the people faith or trust in God

So when God says, ‘only gather as much as you need and don’t try and hoard it’, this is teaching the people both to practice self-restraint and to trust the Lord to provide some more tomorrow

  • Give us this day our daily bread

And when the Lord says, ‘gather a double portion on Friday and don’t gather any on Saturday’, this is teaching the people to rest

  • It is showing them their life does not depend on work and endless activity – it depends on God
  • Learning to rest, to celebrate, to enjoy life, to find a healthy distraction from work, this is a significant contributor to resilience also

Another thing you notice if you watch interviews with the All Blacks, leading up to this world cup, is the way they are keeping the conversation light

  • They’re not intensely focused on rugby all the time and I think this helps to preserve their resilience
  • I saw an interview in which Luke Romano was talking about how he and Sam Whitelock had been feeding the hotel nuts to a squirrel
  • It’s a healthy distraction – something else to think about – it helps them stay relaxed so they are better able to handle the pressure when it comes

God loves the people of Israel enough to discipline them

  • He doesn’t spoil the Israelites with excess
  • He teaches them resilience by giving them boundaries

We human beings need certain boundaries (especially when we are young)

  • The discipline or the teaching of what is good for us, and what is harmful, actually gives us a sense of security and strength in adulthood

Boxing - footpath

Discipline (teaching right from wrong) is like setting up the boxing when you are pouring concrete

  • If you want the concrete to hold its shape you need to make sure the boxing is in place beforehand
  • Without the boxing the wet concrete runs everywhere
  • But with the firm boundary provided by the boxing the concrete stays in place and then once it is set you can take the boxing away
  • Once the child has learned you don’t have to stay on their back all the time

Bicycle-Training-Wheels

Or to use another metaphor, teaching resilient faith is like teaching someone to ride a bike

  • When we start out in the faith God may give us training wheels
  • By training wheels I mean special supports like miracles perhaps, or a warm glow, or enthusiasm for reading the Bible or something else that makes believing in Him a bit easier
  • These training wheels give us the feel of faith and help us to build up some confidence

But ultimately God wants to teach us to ride without the training wheels

  • Because the picture of an adult riding with kiddy wheels is disturbing

 

And so, as we progress in the Christian faith, God may take away the supports

  • We might not experience miracles anymore or we may go through a real dry time in our devotional life or we may struggle with doubt
  • When God removes the training wheels it might feel like He has abandoned us – but actually He hasn’t – He’s still right there beside us
  • It’s just that we are having to learn to ride a two wheeler now
  • It feels a bit wobbly to begin with and we may fall over & skin our knees
  • But if we pick ourselves up again and carry on we eventually get the hang of it – we learn resilient faith

Conclusion:

I’m conscious that we are not all the same when it comes to resilience

  • Some people have been given all they need for resilience
  • They have grown up in a functional family and are surrounded by people who love and support them
  • They are able to take time off to enjoy life and have really good communication skills and so on

Then there are others who have suffered loss repeatedly and actually feel quite fragile most of the time

  • Or those who didn’t have a happy childhood
  • Those whose experience was one of neglect or excess or even abuse
  • And others who are having to work three jobs just to make ends meet, so they don’t have time to rest and enjoy life
  • Resilience in these cases seems like an unattainable goal
  • Let me say to you, Jesus understands – He is all compassion
  • “A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.”

Whatever your situation – Jesus is our security

  • His resurrection from the dead is our hope of eternal resilience.
  • Whether we feel bullet proof or paper thin – strong or weak…
  • We need to keep looking to Christ for His presence, His nourishment and His discipline
  • And we shouldn’t be afraid or surprised when the training wheels come off – it’s really a compliment when God does that – a sign of His love and trust in us

[1] http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/topic/resilience/what-resilience

[2] Terence Fretheim, Exodus, page 181.

[3] Romans 8:31

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