I walk into Bible study ready to talk about prayer. I’m not sure how honest I want to be. While I know there is inexpressible value in prayer, I've had my own struggles with it, especially when people talk about miraculous answers they have received.
Answers that come moments after they've prayed. For the first time. When I’ve prayed for the same thing. For years. And nothing has changed.
Some of my prayers have remained unanswered for decades.
I share this with my group, tentative about saying it aloud. My disappointment sounds so unspiritual, so faithless, so shallow.
But then Florence says something that grabs my attention. "You never hear anyone in the Bible complaining about the parting of the Red Sea. Everyone loves delivering grace. But the Israelites, like us, were not satisfied with manna. We all complain about sustaining grace."
We all complain about sustaining grace.
Her words hit me hard. I can scarcely pay attention to the rest of the discussion.
Were my prayers for deliverance answered with the gift of sustenance? Do I not see that sustenance is an answer too? And often just as miraculous? Why am I not grateful for manna, the everyday grace of God? When I tell Florence how her words are staying with me, how they are changing everything for me, she writes me an e-mail:
I remember being stunned by the realization of how much I love deliverance and how little I appreciate sustenance. Essentially, saying “Where is the victory in sustenance - it sounds like just getting by.” Wasn't I scorning grace?
Scorning grace. Isn’t that what I’ve been doing?
In waiting for the monumental deliverance- the kind where I can put my issue to bed and never have to pray about it again- I’ve overlooked the grace that keeps drawing me to Him. The prayers that may appear unanswered, but actually are fulfilled in ways that keep me dependent, tethered, needy.
The children of Israel were familiar with the gift of dependence. They were given manna so they wouldn’t starve as they wandered in the wilderness. But they needed God to provide it daily; they weren’t able to hoard it. And thus they couldn’t avoid total dependence on God.
The Israelites were given manna so that they would rely on God and live by His word. But like me, they often scorned it. It was bland, unexciting, and seemed monotonous. It wasn’t what they asked for. It didn’t seem extraordinary or gloriously victorious like the parting of the Red Sea, or the fall of Jericho. It simply provided for their needs.
I know how they felt. I feel that way too often. I don’t appreciate the way God sustains me through the day with His unfailing love. How He gives me strength when I’m weak. How He graces me with His presence.
I want miraculous deliverance. Not boring sustenance.
But as I look back over my life, I see God has delivered me and answered some prayers with a resounding “yes” in jaw-dropping, inexplicable ways. I remember those answers with gratitude and awe. But the answers of “wait” or “no” have done a far deeper work in my soul. They have kept me connected to the Giver and not His gifts. They have forced me to seek Him. And in seeking Him, I realize that I have been given a supernatural joy beyond all comparison.
A joy not based on my circumstances. Not based on my deliverance. Just based on being with Jesus.
Delivering grace or sustaining grace. Which is more precious?
In delivering grace, we see God's glory. Everyone can see the miracle that He has wrought for us. And usually our lives are easier. We have what we asked for. And we thank and bless God for it. But after that, we often go back to the business of living. Sometimes we even forget about what's He's done because we don't need to keep going back to Him.
But sustaining grace. That's different. God's glory is in that too-– but the miracle He works is in us. Our lives are changed because our perspective is different. But we need to ask continually for this grace. This grace is not a one-time thing, like manna was not a one-time event. We need it every day. And it keeps us dependent on God. With sustaining grace, we get more of Jesus. His comfort, His nearness, His very presence.
Both delivering grace and sustaining grace are essential. They are interconnected.
Delivering grace is vital. We need to pray for it. It’s biblical. Life can be relentlessly hard, and we need to know that the situation can change, that our prayers are being heard, that God wants to bless us. Without the possibility of deliverance, we’d lose hope. We might stop praying. We’d wonder if we could go on.
But it is in the asking, even begging, for deliverance and in the subsequent waiting for it, that we get sustaining grace. The grace to press on in the midst of trial. And this grace is accompanied by the intimate presence of the living God.
So when I am sustained but not delivered, God is inviting me to see the miracle I have received. It is a more precious answer to prayer than I ever realized.
Manna, my daily bread, the Bread of Life Himself.