Grace Like Manna

I learned an unforgettable lesson about grace on a beach.

Ready to go to my job at Wendy’s while on the summer project in 1986!

It was the summer of 1986, and I was on a summer missions project in North Myrtle Beach. About halfway through the summer, a strange and amazing thing happened in my heart.  This rising senior who had played “office” as a child (I was the president of the company my dad worked for and my little sister was my secretary) and who loved her accounting major suddenly had the desire to be in vocational ministry.  The way I describe it was that God took my heart and made it do a 180 in my chest.  The change was massive, exciting, and scary!

Since I had been involved in Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) for half of my Christian life, I naturally considered joining the staff of the ministry.  The kicker, though, was that you had to raise your own financial support to do it.  Daunting for anyone, but especially for someone whose parents had moved three times in the last 5 years.

One week a woman with Cru came to visit the project to speak to the women and make herself available to talk to us one-on-one.  I don’t remember her name, but I still remember part of our conversation as we walked on the beach.  When I talked to her about my fears about raising my own financial support, she taught me about God’s grace.  She said that God hadn’t given me the grace right now to take that step of faith because I wasn’t raising support right now.  But she assured me that when I reached that point, God’s grace would be there then.  In other words, God doesn’t give us the grace ahead of time – He gives it to use when we need it.  (She was right, by the way!)

This conversation came to mind recently when I was teaching a Bible study on grace using the study guide to Jerry Bridges’ book Transforming Grace.  In Chapter 10, Bridges compares grace to manna.  The story of how manna started is in Exodus 16.  God provided so that each person had exactly the amount of manna that they needed for each day, but one of the rules of manna was that you couldn’t hoard it overnight.  Of course some of the Israelites tried – only to find it full of maggots the next morning!  The way God set up manna meant that the Israelites had to go to bed each night with an empty bowl trusting that God would provide food for them the next day.  Think about doing that every night!

Bridges says, “God’s distribution of the manna illustrates the way He distributes grace.  There is always an ample supply; no one ever need go without.  But there is only as much as we need – and even that is on a day-to-day basis.  God doesn’t permit us to ‘store up’ grace.  We must look to Him anew each day for a new supply.  Sometimes we must look for a new supply each hour!”  (Transforming Grace, pg 146)

The lesson the Cru staff woman taught me on the beach that summer turned out to not just be one for me to raise my own financial support as a 22-year-old.  It’s actually one I have to go back to over and over again.  Because following Christ – and, honestly, just living life – often means doing things that I don’t think I can possibly do.  How can I have that hard conversation I know I need to have?  How can I face the person who hurt me so badly?  How can I add one more thing to my schedule even if I sense that God is calling me to do it?  How can I share Christ with my co-worker?  How will I transition to the empty nest?  How can I get through the pile of work on my desk that never seems to shrink?  How can I keep responding patiently to that difficult co-worker day after day?  The list goes on and on.

Thankfully “God’s grace” is the answer to each question.  Maybe not the only answer to the question, but it is an answer to each and every one of those questions and anything else that seems impossible or overwhelming.  His grace is always sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9), and He even gives an abundance for every good deed (2 Corinthians 9:8).  So be encouraged and be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1) in all that you face – today and every day.

My Mantra for Life

In the capital of Slovakia in 1994.  I'm on the right.  I wore that green fanny pack every day!

In the capital of Slovakia in 1994. I’m on the right. I wore that green fanny pack every day!

In the summer of 1994, I developed a fear of flying.  I know exactly when it was and what caused it.  I was with a group flying in from a missions project to Slovakia, and we flew into the Charlotte, NC airport on US Air exactly 23 hours after one of their planes had crashed there killing 32 people.  The fact that I flew in on the identical airline to the identical airport less than 24 hours after the identical time freaked me out a little.  Then I made the mistake of reading the stories about it in the Charlotte newspaper over the next week as I stayed with my parents.  The articles every day told the stories of the individuals who died and made the crash much more personal.  Thus my fear of flying began.

Because I was working with a missions organization, there were plenty of times when I had to fly or great opportunities that required flying.  I decided that I feared disobeying God more than I feared flying, so I refused to say “no” to anything He called me to do even if it involved an airplane.  But it didn’t mean I didn’t have a panic attack now and then.

Eventually, I developed a little mantra to get me through a flight.  It went like this: “God is sovereign and God is good.”  I decided that God is sovereign and so He was in control of the plane and whether it crashed or not.  And He is good and so if He chose to take me to heaven in a plane crash, it must be what He deemed to be good.  It’s not really the way I want to go to be with Him, but if it happened that way, it would be good because He declared it to be good.  It may have been a morbid thought process, but it was rooted in good theology and so it got me through flights.

It wasn’t too long before I realized that my mantra was helpful for all kinds of challenges in life, not just plane flights.  I began to cling to God’s goodness and the truths that He has a good plan for me (Jeremiah 29:11), that He gives good gifts (Matthew 7:7-11), and that He withholds no good thing from those who seek Him and walk uprightly (Psalm 34:10, 84:11).  The main area where I applied this was my singleness.  I didn’t get married until I was 44 years old and, honestly, it was often difficult to wait and trust the Lord with my dreams and the desires of my heart.  But I chose to believe that He is sovereign and good.  I clung to the promise that He would withhold no good thing from me and reasoned that if marriage was a good thing for me today, then I would have it.  Of course marriage is a good thing.  But if I was still single, then it must not have been a good thing for me that day.

Just because I am married now, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still need my mantra.  In the last few years some incredibly difficult things happened that have changed my whole ministry and trajectory.  They are confusing and painful and leave me wondering why God would have this happen.  But I kept going back to His sovereignty and goodness.  In His perfect wisdom, He allowed it to happen, and His good plan for me is not over yet.  I just have the adventure of watching it unfold!

when life and beliefs collideIn the summer of 2001, I was reading a book given to me by my boss called When Life and Beliefs Collide by Carolyn James.  Chapter 3 is an incredible explanation of my mantra and actually brought me to tears as I read it the first time.  I wish I could quote all of it, but here are a couple of sentences that resonated deeply with me:

“His plan for you and for me always remains intact, always is purposeful, always proceeds at the rate he intended, always remains a priority with him.”  (pg 78)

“The promise of God’s glory is the guarantee that no story will put God to shame; they all will only add to the mounting evidence of His great goodness.” (pg 79)

I really believe that.  I really believe that His path for my life provides “evidence of His great goodness.”  Of course, I don’t always feel like that.  But I believe it and so when life is hard and not what I planned, I start looking for the evidence of His goodness because it is there.  It is.  For example, when I was single, He prompted me one morning to do this, and the goodness I focused on were all the things He had done so that I got to enjoy being Aunt Ali to my sister’s two sons.  Here are a few things from that list:

  • I live just a few hours from them so I get to see them often.
  • I have a good relationship with my sister.
  • I have a great brother-in-law who says “yes” when one of the boys asks if “Aunt Ali can spend the night at our house”.
  • They included me in their family beach vacation for 7 years in a row. I was able to experience a family vacation without a family.

That is just one small example but a significant one in my life.  Where is His goodness evident in your life?  Thank Him for it and worship Him as your sovereign and good Heavenly Father.

(This blog entry was first posted on the Global Service Network website in January, 2015.)