A vivid memory from my childhood comes from an experience where I learned one of my first lessons in faith. My buddies and I were playing baseball in the front yard of my house when someone hit the ball up on the flat roof of our garage. Because the roof was flat the ball didn’t roll back to the ground, so someone had to go up after it. Since it was my house it became my duty to go up on the roof. We had no ladder so one of my taller friends boosted me up on his shoulders and I scrambled up the nine or ten feet on to the garage roof, retrieved the ball, went back to the edge expecting to be helped down by my “friends.” There was no one in sight. They thought it would be funny to leave me on the roof with no way to get down. I began to yell for help, but to no avail. Soon my dad heard all the noise and came outside to see what was up. When he saw my predicament he chuckled, then just held up his arms and said, “Jump.” Immediately I was confronted with a dilemma. Do I trust that my dad and jump into his arms, or do I stay on the roof for the rest of my life? It really was not a big decision. I obeyed … and jumped! Why? Because I had absolute confidence in my dad. I knew that he loved me and wanted to catch me when I jumped into his arms. Furthermore I knew that he was strong and that he could catch me when I jumped into his arms.
That was a traumatic experience for a little guy, and I guess that’s why I’ve never forgotten it. But it has served as a repeated reminder to me of what it means to trust and obey.
Has it occurred to you that every command in the Bible is also an invitation to trust God?
After God powerfully delivered the Israelites through the Red Sea they embarked upon four decades of travelling in the Sinai wilderness. Biblical scholars estimate that the community of Israel numbered in the millions, counting men, women and children. Being in the wilderness, where would that many people find enough food to eat? How did they survive those forty years? By the abundant, miraculous provision of God. But the people were required to trust and obey.
First came the provision of God: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you…’” (Exodus 16:4a). God’s plan was to drop what later is called “manna” from the heavens. When the thin flakes first appeared on the ground the Israelites had never seen anything like it. They asked, “What is it?” (v.15), which in the Hebrew language sounds like “manna.”
Then came the instructions from God. “The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions” (Exodus 16:4b). God was teaching them to trust Him to provide for their needs each day, so they were to only pick up enough for that day. In obeying God’s instruction on this they would demonstrate that they trusted God that He would provide for them in the same way the next day. They did not need to hoard it. Those who doubted God soon found that He meant what He said. If someone picked up more than they needed for a regular day, when they tried to eat it the next day they found that it had rotted.
God did, however, make an exception for the Sabbath, a day on which they were not to do any kind of work. Again they were to trust and obey. If they trusted God enough to obey Him by not working on the Sabbath, He would provide. On the day before the Sabbath the Lord provided enough for two days so they would not have to go out and gather food.
Again the reason God did this was to build the faith of His people, something far more important to Him than anything else in their lives. Would they trust the Lord enough to obey His very specific instructions?
When we obey a command of God we are demonstrating trust in at least three ways.
First, when we obey we trust that God’s ways are always right. For instance, God commands that we should avoid sexual immorality (I Thessalonians 4:3). When we obey that command we are trusting that God is right in demanding that of us. The world says otherwise. The world says that it is perfectly acceptable to do the opposite … to engage in sexual immorality. Which view do I believe is right? When I obey the command of the Lord I am trusting that His Word is true and His ways are right.
Second, when we obey we trust that God loves us. Again, using the example of sexual immorality, it would be easy for us to think that God simply wants to make life miserable for us when he tells us not to go out and enjoy sex outside of marriage. But when we obey His command we are saying to Him that we trust that He has our best interest in mind when He prohibited that behavior.
Third, when we obey we trust that God will reward us for obedience. That reward may not come immediately. But sooner or later we will reap the benefits of doing things God’s way. At the very least we know that one day all that is right will be rewarded: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
When the Israelites trusted God to provide, and followed His instructions they were blessed to awaken every day to find the manna awaiting them. For forty years God taught them to obey, living day by day by faith. And when you and I trust God enough to obey Him completely, we will awaken each day with the assurance of His abundant provision for every need in Christ.