Know your thirst!

Know your thirst resizedBy Rosie Moore.

(New Series: Spirit-filled)

It’s like clockwork.

Every evening around 6pm, I have the same blank when I look at the raw food I took out the freezer for dinner. It’s not just that my four kids hover around the kitchen, sniffing nervously at the empty pots. Nor is it a lack of ingredients or equipment. And it’s not that I want to starve my family! No, my problem is lack of inspiration. I don’t have a clue what to do with the pieces of raw chicken staring at me from the chopping board!

But I know that the solution to this daily vacuum is to put on my apron, turn on the oven and take out a colourful cookbook. Within minutes, my mind is ticking with a plan and chewing on delicious ideas. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been cooking every evening for the last 28 years! My mind must still be rebooted and reminded of how much I love good food. My senses must be re-calibrated to see, taste and smell the rich potential in that ordinary chicken carcass…if I just add a little onion, garlic, olive oil to the pan. It’s just as Nigella Lawson says, “I don’t believe you can ever really cook unless you love eating.”

I don’t believe you can really be filled with the Spirit unless you love Jesus!

That’s because, being Spirit-filled is never a mystical experience divorced from the person, work and word of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s nothing like the self-absorbed, mind-body flow of ‘new age’ meditation. The Holy Spirit is an unpretentious member of the trinity who doesn’t seek centre stage. He is more like a spotlight that magnifies Christ as the star actor. Like a director who coaches Christ’s understudies. Or like an optician who sharpens our vision to see Jesus more clearly (John 15:2616:14). Sinclair Ferguson says we should think of the Holy spirit as the “closest companion of the Lord Jesus.”

And so, the more we meditate on what Jesus has done for us, the more his Spirit fills us. And the more we are filled with his Spirit, the more we treasure God and love our neighbour. The fruit results from the filling.

Not a once-off wonder

If the truth be told, who of us can naturally produce the Spirit’s harvest table of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Especially in the everyday kitchen of life, where people drive us crazy; where the media fills us with fear; where people die, lose their jobs and go hungry? Unless we are filled by the Holy Spirit, we cannot produce his fruit.

John Stott describes our ongoing need to be filled by the Spirit as an “invigorating, refreshing, thirst-quenching fullness.” Being Spirit-filled is a continuous, repeated, persistent filling up and flowing out.

To be clear, everyone who belongs to Jesus has been baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39Rom 8:9). The Holy Spirit leads us to see our sin and to repent. He gives life, re-orders our desires, liberates, shepherds and transforms forgiven sinners into the image of Christ. He is a gift to all God’s children (Rom 8:15-16). But he is also not a once-off wonder.

The Corinthian Christians show us this. Even spine-tingling experiences and spectacular gifts are no evidence of being Spirit-filled. In fact, these gifted Christians, with a form of ‘spirituality’, were actually sin-tolerant, loveless and proud. Since they had no fruit, Paul calls them unspiritual babies in Christ (1 Cor 3:1-3). To borrow my husband’s description of some cyclists, it is possible for us to have all the gear, but no idea!

Jesus himself illustrates how the Holy Spirit fills believers.

The Living Water

In John 7, Jesus invites anyone who is thirsty to come to himself and trust in him as their Saviour and Lord. It is not a polite suggestion, nor an invitation to walk along the peaceful riverbank of religion. It is an urgent plea to sinners to recognise their dire need, to bend down and ‘drink’ his water of salvation. Then Christ describes how the Holy Spirit will fill believers, like ‘rivers of living water’:

Rivers of living water

“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:37-39).

So, what’s the water metaphor about?

Jesus’s announcement happened on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:237). Every morning, a priest carrying a golden jar would fetch water from the pool of Siloam and pour it out on the west side of the altar. The jar reminded the Jews that God had faithfully provided water for them in the wilderness. It also pointed to God’s promise that he would one day pour out his Spirit on his people, giving them new hearts and cleansing them of their sins, once and for all (Joel 2:28-29Ezekiel 36:25-27). Water was a powerful symbol of this outpouring of forgiveness and the Spirit.

The promised outpouring

Now, we know that this was spectacularly fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The long-awaited Holy Spirit was released like a flood on his disciples. Like a river, that broke its banks and spawned many tributaries, the gospel flowed to Israel, Asia, Europe, and the ends of the earth. Salvation was carried by the riptide of the Holy Spirit.

Keep drinking

But, just as God did not provide once-off water to his people in the wilderness, Jesus doesn’t give Christians a once-off outpouring of His Spirit. A drink of water cannot quench our thirst for long. And so, we keep drinking because we keep thirsting.

‘Thirst’, ‘come’, ‘drink’ and ‘believe’ are all present tense verbs. So, being filled with the Spirit is a present continuous process that is never finished. We have never arrived! We can’t live off yesterday’s wonder. We will remain spiritually needy until we finally stand in Christ’s presence, and have no hunger or thirst again. Only then will the sun cease to beat down and scorch us (Rev 7:16).

Know our thirst!

For ordinary Christians, Christ’s picture is quite down-to-earth and practical:

First, we need to know that we are hot, thirsty travellers walking through a desert. We are dehydrated, in urgent need of water that only Christ can give. We need to get up each morning awake to the fact that we will be separated from Jesus, unless we sip continuously from his water supply.

Second, we need to see that our world, with all its internet, TV, pleasures and experts, is an arid desert with no irrigation system. No real solutions can sprout from its hard, hot sand. Our world is thirsty, barren and dead without Christ. If we spend hours under the world’s shower spouts, we needn’t wonder why we soon feel dry and despondent.

But in contrast, Jesus’s ongoing ministry in our lives fulfils God’s wonderful promise to “pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring” (Isa 44:3).

Only Christ can slake our soul’s thirst for communion with God! He is our hydration pack on the ultra marathon of life. And we need his water to fill every cell of our body, every day we spend on this earth.

The Holy Spirit is not a JoJo tank!

But, Christ’s Spirit is also not a JoJo tank that stores stagnant water! He is a vibrant river that keeps filling and spawning smaller rivers. When the Spirit fills us, we cannot only quench our own thirst, as it is impossible to store Christ’s living Spirit. He must spontaneously flow out of us to refresh others. That is how we respond to his filling.

An unremarkable Spirit-filled life

Jesus’s invitation is for the average Christian. What a relief that we don’t have to chase esoteric experiences, or find an anointed man to release the supernatural! Or cajole God into unleashing his Spirit. Indeed, God’s powerful Spirit has been unleashed and is currently moving in thirsty believers in quiet and mysterious ways. We just need to keep coming, drinking and trusting in Jesus.

Today, let’s remember the vital experience of the Holy Spirit we had from the beginning of our Christian life. It all began with an invisible, miraculous new birth of the Spirit, of which we were totally oblivious (John 3:3-8). That miracle should still amaze us.

Let’s also remember that “the Holy Spirit is God the Lord. He is the divine Spirit, the mighty Spirit, the free and sovereign Spirit” (Stott). We cannot limit or control him. And our experiences of him are as diverse as the people he fills. The Holy Spirit cannot be manufactured or contained.

And so, as you go about your day, the Spirit refreshes your sense of God as your ‘Abba’ Father. While listening to a sermon or reading a book, the words grip you so personally, that you look around for a hidden camera in your room! Quite unexpectedly, the Spirit digs up a buried sin that you’ve never owned, flooding you with such sorrow that you instantly get on your knees and turn to Christ for forgiveness.

Or, as you open your Bible, the Spirit spotlights Christ’s kindness in a way you’d never seen before. You find yourself sighing with relief that his love doesn’t hinge on your loveliness. Suddenly, a detail of creation or a song sparks praise for your Creator.

The Holy Spirit may give us words that aren’t our own to share the gospel. He may nudge us to urgently pray, give, or initiate a conversation. Silently, he may enfold us in peace in a terrible situation. Or give us a longing for a country where there is only good news. Or maybe, he is strengthening you right now to press on through another day of a great struggle.

These are not spectacular experiences that can be posted on YouTube or shared in a group chat. Nevertheless, God’s living Spirit is filling and flowing through thirsty, responsive Christians. Tomorrow, these Christians will not be quite the same as today.

In reality, most of us are not spiritual giants, just ordinary Christians living unremarkable lives. But, we can all come to Jesus by faith; open up our Bibles and respond to his Spirit. We can all allow the Holy Spirit to carry us in the currents of Christ’s grace and truth. Like living rivers welling up within us.

Now, please excuse me, it’s time to attend to that chicken!


Lord, most days I don’t even know how thirsty my soul is. I long for the day when the sun will stop beating down on us and our thirst will be permanently satisfied. Please forgive the many ways I quench your Spirit when I don’t respond and don’t trust you. Lord, cleanse me from all my sins and idols. Move in me, like a strong current, to follow your ways. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh of me. Melt me, mould me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Further reading:

John RW Stott, Baptism And Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today.


Why Christ’s ascension into heaven matters to us on earth

Ascension resizedDoes Christ’s ascension into heaven make any difference to us on earth? It’s a good question to ask this week as the church remembers the ascension of Christ on 21 May.

Luke describes Christ’s ascension in Acts and his gospel (Luke 24:50-53):

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:8-11)

Here’s the backdrop to the ascension: After Jesus rose from the dead, He spent 40 days speaking to his disciples about the kingdom of God, showing them the Old Testament signposts to his death, resurrection and ascension (Luke 24:25-2732Acts 1:3). We’ve been mimicking that in a tiny way in our “Burning hearts” devotions since Easter.

But now, before their very eyes, Jesus literally, bodily ascends into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. The seated Christ has finished his work of atonement and is taking His place as ruler of the church and the cosmic king, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:21-22). We affirm the ascension every time we say the apostles’ creed, “…he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

“Why”, you may ask, “did Jesus not just vanish like he did many other times? Why this spectacular departure?”

The ascension is a linchpin

A linchpin is a locking pin that holds a wheel in position and stops it sliding off the axle on which it is riding. In many ways, Christ’s ascension does the same thing for the Christian faith. If you think about it, it is the climax of everything Jesus announced about God’s Kingdom coming to earth (Luke 4:17-21438:1). It is Christ’s coronation and this is a big deal if we’re his subjects! As Tim Keller writes, “It is a new enthronement for Jesus, ushering in a new relationship with us and with the whole world… Jesus was tracing out physically what was happening cosmically and spiritually.”

Notice, for example, the impact this final miracle of Jesus had on the disciples who witnessed it. Instantly they worshipped Jesus, not as a man or a friend, but as their King, praising God as they waited for the promised Holy Spirit (Luke 24:52-53). The ascension convinced these disciples to align themselves with the objective, true King of the universe. It gave them the confidence to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth, even though it cost them their lives. Clearly, this was no personal preference or private faith for the witnesses of the ascension. The disciples based their entire lives on the fact that the risen Christ was also the cosmic king who would one day return to rule and reign on earth.

A few days later, we see Peter proclaiming the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ as inseparable elements in the gospel story (Acts 2:22-36). Listen to Peter’s bold conclusion:

“For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35     until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:34-36).


Peter’s testimony was held together by the linchpin of the ascension! If it weren’t for the ascension of Christ, the wheels of Christianity would have surely fallen off shortly after 33AD.

The ascension launches a great mission.

Here’s what I love most in Luke’s account: “Why do you stand here looking up into the sky?!” (Acts 1:11). It’s such a businesslike question for such a surreal setting! Wouldn’t you also be mesmerized by this spectacle? But the two angels order them to get their heads out the clouds and back to earth, “Now’s no time for standing around and staring into space. It’s time to get on with your king’s mission!”

Luke’s account makes it clear that as soon as Christ is launched into his heavenly throne, the gospel is also launched into all of Israel and all the earth by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’s departure ushers in the age of the Spirit (Acts 1:8). And when the Holy Spirit is unleashed, Jesus is no longer limited by time and place as He was in his earthly body.

That’s exactly what we see happening at Pentecost a few days later, and through the book of Acts. It’s what we still see today, and to the end of the age. Because of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will be with every generation of the church until the harvest is gathered in and the great commission is complete (Matt 28:20).

Actually, without the ascension, Christians would have no purpose beyond ourselves in this world. We would just be living for our little comforts and plans, gripes and groans like everyone else. Building our own little ladders to heaven. Securing our paper kingdoms. Dreaming up our own ideas of the afterlife. But because Jesus has descended to earth as our sacrifice and saviour, and ascended to heaven as our real, objective King, we are part of something much bigger than ourselves (Acts 1:8): His Kingdom, in heaven and on earth.

What’s more, those heavenly messengers remind us that history is not cyclical or arbitrary (Acts 1:11). The world is moving purposefully to a certain point in the future. That fixed point is the physical, visible return of Jesus to rule over the earth, the day when every knee will bow to Him as Judge and King. Once and for all, God will make His enemies a footstool for his Son (1 Thess 5:2Ps 110:1Rev 20:14). So, Christ’s ascension is a warning to those who have not bowed the knee to Him as King. And a reminder to Christians not to just to wander about aimlessly on this earth. We are allies of the cosmic King who has great purposes for his Church on the earth. “To preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations”, in the power of the Holy Spirit, until our King returns (Luke 24:47-48). What a blessing to have a mission beyond ourselves! A mission whose outcome is assured by the King himself!

The ascension is our great assurance

But until our King returns, the ascension secures us a heavenly high priest who always has the ear of God, an advocate who is at God’s right hand.

For me, right now, this is why the ascension is such a precious doctrine. Christ is not a remote monarch or wily politician like our world’s leaders. He is the caring, passionate King we glimpse when Stephen is stoned in Acts 7. For this is what Stephen saw as he faced his executioners:

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56).”

Yes, Stephen saw Jesus standing, not sitting at God’s right hand! Not distant or disinterested, but active and engaged in the lives of those who love him. He is standing in heaven as our great advocate to plead our case before God. To pray for us as we face troubles in this world (John 17:202426). To defend us against Satan’s accusations when we sin (1 John 2:1). To reassure us of His love even when we feel foolish and insecure (Rom 8:34). It’s this vision of Jesus as his heavenly advocate that gave Stephen the serenity to entrust his spirit to the Lord Jesus and forgive his enemies (Acts 7:59-60). It’s this same view of the exalted Jesus that is enabling Ravi Zacharius to face terminal cancer in peace, with the gospel mission still burning in his heart. And it’s why the writer of Hebrews concludes, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them (Heb 7:25).

Because Christ paid for our sins with his life and has ascended into heaven as King, those who have bowed the knee to Him can know that we have a High Priest in heaven. So, we can boldly draw near to God in prayer and always find grace to help us when we need it most (Heb 4:167:1927).

What a difference the objective reality of the ascension makes at this time of crisis and loss! Through this pandemic, let’s not dwell on the gloom of our planet. Let’s lift our eyes to heaven and see Christ the king orchestrating his great redemption mission to the ends of the earth. Let’s see Him building up his church one human heart at a time, guiding all events towards a new heavens and a new earth (Isa 65:17-25). As his subjects, let’s not be so self-absorbed that we miss our part in that grand plan!

Amazingly, two thousand years after Christ’s ascension, we can still know Christ’s intimate presence in Africa, hear his voice powerfully in his word and feel the continuous outpouring of his love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5Rom 8:9-102 Cor 3:17). As Peter wrote to the churches in Asia Minor who had also never met Jesus, “Though you have not seen him, you love him” (1 Peter 1:8). Do we love Him too, and do we really grasp the meaning of his ascension?


Lord, we sometimes feel afraid and a little lost at this time of crisis. Help us to truly take to heart all that you said about the Holy Spirit as our counselor, who lives in us, and helps us, and stays with us forever (John 14:16171826). Lord, make your ascension real for us, so we may see you as our active, caring Sovereign and Advocate in heaven, and may be assured of your power, love and presence in our lives, come what may. Come, Lord Jesus.

Further reading:

Timothy Keller, Encounters with Jesus, (chapter 9 titled The Right Hand of the Father).

John Stott, Focus on Christ, (chapter 1 titled Through Christ our mediator.)

John 14-17.


The woman who hid beneath God’s wings

Beneath his wings

By Rosie Moore.

I’m fascinated by the names on my mom’s massive family tree* dating back to King John of England (1119-1296). But the name that intrigues me most is Lady Jane Grey –born 1537, beheaded 1554, “Nine-days Queen” of England. This 17-year old heroine of the Reformation was sent to the gallows at the order of her cousin, Mary (aka. Bloody Mary). Her crime? Being a pawn in a family power struggle. No father or relative came to rescue her in the Tower of London. Neither could her noble title or family name save her. But this is what Jane wrote for her younger sister, Katherine, in the flyleaf of her Greek Bible:

“This is the book, dear sister, of the Law of the Lord. It is his testament and last will, which he bequeathed unto us wretches, which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy. . . . And as touching my death, rejoice as I do, good sister, that I shall be delivered of this corruption, and put on incorruption. For I am assured that I shall for losing of a mortal life, win an immortal life.”**

Although my distant ancestor died young, leaving no descendants, Lady Jane now lives in ‘eternal joy’. She chose to hide herself beneath the wings of Christ and her inheritance remains safe with her Redeemer. But Jane Grey reminds me of another young woman called Ruth. She lived, not in 1550AD but in 1550BC. Not in England but in Israel. Bethlehem was no safe place for a widowed refugee during the time of the judges, a time when almost every man decided for himself what was right, with no regard for God (Judges 2:11-12Judges 17:6). Like Lady Jane Grey, Ruth’s life was hard and dangerous. Both women had little influence over their own destiny. But their legacy led straight to Christ, their ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer (Matt 1:16).

This is the first in a two-part devotion on the book of Ruth. Please read this amazing little book and see for yourself the embryos of the gospel on every page.

Ruth’s risky choice

Ruth replied (to Naomi), “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).

Here is a Moabite widow who chooses to follow her mother-in-law to Bethlehem– hardly a welcome home for a penniless, landless, family-less widow from Moab. Add to that Ruth’s responsibility to care for her despondent mother-in-law, battered by famine, immigration and the loss of a husband and two sons. The Elimilech family was hardly a safe bet.

I can hardly imagine what it was like for Ruth to leave behind her identity, security, community, marriage prospects and childhood gods to become a covenant daughter of Israel. Orpah, her sister-in-law, made the easy choice, but Ruth chose Yahweh’s protection over everything else (Ruth 1:14). “My people, my God…there I will be buried.” There’s nothing abstract about her fierce, action-backed pledge to the God of Israel and His covenant promises. And it cost Ruth everything to take refuge under His wings. It meant becoming a refugee.

Ruth’s refuge and rich reward

11 But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before.12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12).

Isn’t it just like God to use Boaz as the answer to his own blessing over Ruth in verse 12? Boaz himself becomes God’s instrument of protection. A chapter later it’s Ruth who asks Boaz to cover her with his wings as her kinsman-redeemer: “Boaz said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings (garment) over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9).

Wings! What an extraordinary picture of refuge and protection. Listen to what Moses and David wrote about God’s wings in relation to his people:

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex 19:4). “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by….Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!” (Ps 61:4)

And listen to what Malachi says of the coming Messiah that God would send:

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Mal 4:2).

Doesn’t it sound a lot like Jesus calling to the Israelites of his day, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Luke 13:34)?

And doesn’t Ruth sound a lot like believers who would leave their houses, families and lands for the sake of Christ’s name, but would receive a hundredfold in return and inherit an eternal home? (Matt 19:29)

Surely Ruth’s risky choice is the same choice each of us faces if we’re to take hold of God’s promises and make them our own? Rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, noble or nobody, none of us can save our own lives. And there’s only one way to take refuge under God’s wings: It’s to admit our sin and ask to be covered by Christ’s righteousness. It’s to die to self and trust only in Christ as our Redeemer (Matt 16:14). And it’s to live the rest of our lives for Him, tucked securely beneath His wings of mercy (Matt 16:25). Like Ruth, we’ve got to realise that we’re pilgrims, strangers, exiles in a strange land (1 Peter 2:11-12). For sure, it’s not a safe bet. But if you asked Ruth, she would tell you that it’s worth the risk! For without God’s wings of mercy, we will have no covering for our sin and no protection on God’s day of judgment. We desperately need a Kinsman-redeemer to remain safe on that day.

Although Ruth didn’t know much about Yahweh, and lived 1500 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, she seemed to understand that the God of Israel gives grace to anyone who turns to him and embraces Him by faith. The little she knew about Yahweh gave her enough confidence to abandon every other source of identity and safety, and to cling to Him. Next week we will look at how Ruth’s faith is richly rewarded: From famine to fullness, from rags to royalty, from widowhood to a wedding. The story of Boaz and Ruth is the gospel in seed form. Know for sure that whatever your human heritage or family name, being part of God’s family tree is all that counts in the end.


*A great-uncle spent the better part of his life researching the family genealogy, which features me and my siblings as a mere scribble in the bottom corner. The irony is that a rat has been nibbling at the edges of the massive paper scroll, as if to demonstrate that a human lineage doesn’t ultimately matter!

*You can read about Lady Jane Grey here.

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“If only we had meat to eat!” Seeing Jesus in the wilderness

Wilderness resizedBy Rosie Moore.

“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down. 10 Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. (Numbers 11:4-10).

Selective memory

No one needs an online course on how to complain, as grumbling is second nature to us! The Israelites were no exception in their wilderness journey to the land God promised them—a land flowing with milk and honey.

It’s amazing how quickly God’s people forgot 400 years of misery, only recalling the free food in Egypt. Talk about selective memory! During their forty years in the desert, they grumbled against God, Moses, and even the blanket of manna that God miraculously provided each morning, except the Sabbath (Numbers 21:4-5). Their desire turned to craving for ‘other’ food–food that God hadn’t provided. Even Moses blamed God for giving him the heavy burden of leadership (Num 11:11).

You’d expect the Israelites to remember God’s surprising acts of kindness, like the clear water gushing from the rock and springs (Ex 15:2717:6); the pillars of His presence that led them by day and night (Ex 13:21) and God’s tender mercy in preserving their clothes and shoes for four decades, even shielding their feet from swelling and blistering (Deut 8:4Deut 29:5). Or the Lord’s powerful protection over them during the plagues and crossing the Red Sea. All they had to do in the face of their enemies was to be silent and trust in Him (Ex 14:2117:15-16Ex 14:14).

But instead of depending on God’s provision, protection, power and plan, the Israelites grumbled and forgot His daily gifts. They pleased themselves with idols instead of waiting, and grew impatient with God’s hard route through the desert (Ex 32:11 Cor 10:7-10Heb 3:9-10). Even on Canaan’s border, they listened to the 10 spies instead of Joshua and Caleb’s encouragement, “We can certainly do it…the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Numbers 13:3014:27-28).

The desert displays our idols

The truth is that testing always reveals what we really value and who we worship. It was so for the Israelites, and it’s the same for us.

Paul says that the Israelites’ 40-year pilgrimage was recorded as both a warning and an example for the Christian life (1 Cor 10:69-11), as we too have been set free from sin’s “slavery”. We are travelling through the wilderness of this world to the new heavens and new earth that God has promised us (Rev 21-22). Our wilderness is the testing ground to build our relationship with our Father and prepare us for our future home. The Israelites should rouse us to exercise our faith to the very end (Heb 3:14).

But when I look at my own Christian life, I see that my record of obedience and trust is at best fluctuating, and my faith often gives way to fear. Everything I read about the Israelites has been true of me, and still is.

If we don’t see Jesus in our wilderness, we will end our journey in a ditch of despair.

‘Manna’ from heaven

When Jesus turned to the books of Moses, He saw every story pointing to himself and trained his disciples to do likewise (John 3:9-15Luke 24:27). Matthew took great care to point out that Christ was everything Israel was meant to be…and everything we can never be: Jesus did for us what we cannot do ourselves, and blazed a trail for us to follow too.

In Christ’s 40-days of testing in the wilderness, He also experienced severe hunger and thirst. Yet, Jesus remained dependent on His Father for his provision (Matt 4:2-3). Each time He responded to Satan, He showed that God’s word is the best ‘food’ and protection in times of temptation (Matt 4:4). Even in His dying hours, it was Scripture that came out of Jesus’ mouth, not cursing (Ps 22:1Matt 27:46). Jesus leaned on God’s word right to the end. He was both the perfect Adam and the perfect Israelite.

Like the Israelites, Jesus was tempted to misuse God’s power and protection, even in the desolate wilderness of the cross (Matt 4:5-7Matt 27:3942). Yet, Jesus waited until God’s appointed time and trusted God’s purposes (Matt 26:39), even when God’s plan led Him up Calvary.

Jesus too was tempted to take a different route to become King (Matt 4:9-10). Yet, the Son of God left the milk and honey of heaven to journey through our wilderness. His life was poured out in the desert, so that we could drink His pure, living water of salvation (Heb 4:15John 7:38Isa 12:3).

The cross was surely the most wretched wilderness that any man could endure, but Jesus pressed on, so that you and I would not die in the desert apart from God’s blessing. The joy of leading us into the Promised land was what kept him going (Heb 12:2):

‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water’ (Rev 7:16-17).”

Jesus Himself is the Bread of heaven, better than any manna that God provided in the desert. He is the ‘bread’ that was broken for us  and God’s gracious ‘manna’ for our own journey through the wilderness (Luke 22:19-20John 6:51-58).

Is the Lord’s arm too short? (Num 11:23)

“The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you” (Num 11:23).”

God showed grace to the complaining Israelites and gave them meat to eat (quails). He also showed his righteous anger for their grumblings, because discontent is a serious rejection of the Lord Himself. Their craving ended up consuming them (Numbers 11:2031-35).

It’s easy to wonder why the Israelites refused to trust in God’s providence when He’d proved Himself so merciful and faithful. But don’t we also crave ‘other food’ in our lives? Other provision, protection, plans, power and promises that are not from the Lord? In our dissatisfaction, isn’t it easy to overlook God’s daily gifts and to think that the Lord’s arm is too short… and ours is longer than it really is? Isn’t it easy to overlook the simple privilege of having the Bible, prioritising what we put in our mouths over ‘every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’? (Matt 4:4)

We don’t know exactly how God will provide and protect His people from the financial impact of COVID-19, but we do know that we must ask our loving Father for our daily needs and give without fanfare to those in need (Matt 6:6811Matt 6:2-4). We can be sure that knowing and being known by Christ is the key to contentment, as He will never leave us to fend for ourselves (Phil 4:1119Rom 8:32-37). We also know that we mustn’t worry about tomorrow, as each day has enough worries of its own (Matt 6:34). Perhaps that’s all we need to know.


Father, thank you for pursuing me when I wanted nothing to do with you and for your kindness that led me to repentance. Thank you for your new mercies every morning. Thank you that you fight on our behalf and provide everything we need in Jesus. Thank you that our wilderness is not aimless wanderings, but that your providence always leads us from ahead and behind. Thank you that you walk with us by your Spirit, even through the worst of the wilderness. Lord, make us quick to say thank you and slow to crave what you haven’t given us. We trust that you will lead us safely to our promised home. Amen.