While I see tremendous value in prayer, I've had my own struggles with it. Especially when people talk about their miraculous answers. The ones that happen immediately after they've prayed. For the first time. When I’ve prayed about something 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 refocuses my attention. Immediately I know that these words are for me. "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 as I ponder them.
Were my prayers for deliverance answered with the gift of sustenance? Do I not see that that was 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 this:
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 huge 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. Manna dropped from heaven 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 bread so that they would rely on God and live by His word. But like me, they often disdained it.
Manna was bland, unexciting, monotonous. It wasn’t what they asked for. It wasn’t extraordinary or gloriously victorious like the parting of the Red Sea, the fall of Jericho, the healing of Naaman. It didn’t impress people.
Manna simply provided for their needs. When they were in the desert.
I know how they felt. I often feel that way as well. I don’t appreciate the way God sustains me through the day with His unfailing love. The times He strengthens me when I’m needy and weak. The hope He gives me through His precious Word.
I want miraculous deliverance. Not ordinary 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 have found a supernatural joy beyond all comparison.
A joy not based on my circumstances. Not based on my deliverance. Simply based on His tender presence.
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 God for it.
But after a while, we go back to the business of living. New difficulties come up. And we may even forget about what He's done since we aren’t continuously going back to Him.
Sustaining grace also showcases God’s glory. But with sustaining grace, people can see the miracle He has wrought in us. Our lives are easier because our perspective is different.
With sustaining grace, we must continually go back to God. 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 in the Christian life. 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 deliverance is possible. That our prayers are effective. That our situation can change. Without the possibility of deliverance, we’d lose hope. We might stop praying. We could succumb to total despair.
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 blazing heat. 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. He alone sustains me in the desert.