“Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.” (Ex. 15:22)
My Dear Shepherds,
Now that we also find ourselves in a kind of desert do you wonder just what this “dry and parched” season will reveal about your congregation? One brother wrote me, “I am struggling with anxiety about my congregation’s faith.” Another, discouraged about how few of his people downloaded his first sermon, wrote, “It’s as though they are content to watch their news feeds all day and ignore God, even though they have more time than usual and are facing the biggest crisis in their lifetime.”
If anyone knew that feeling, it was Moses. After shepherding a nation of lost sheep for four decades, Moses said to the new generation of Israelites, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands” (Deut. 8:2). There it is: “to humble and test you.” I suspect God is up to that again now with us and our people because God is prone to such things.
Pilgrims, then and now, need to remember that this trackless wilderness we face is not Godforsaken. Rather, “the Lord your God [leads] you all the way.” You may feel like you’re trying to pastor with your staff tied behind your back but our Good Shepherd leads with sure and certain steps.
“To humble and test.” Judging from what I’ve heard in conversations and on Facebook, God’s people are not complaining as Moses’ flock did. They are reaching for their Bibles. They are singing. They are praying for each other. They are seeking to love their neighbors despite social distancing. They are thinking about the meaning of this desert test. Give them Jesus’ Beatitudes so they have language for their humility. Teach them Scripture’s prayers, like Psalm 63, “You God, are my God, earnestly I seek you. I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you.”
Moses continued in Deut. 8:3, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna …”! The gospel hides in that line. God did that, mercifully, when Israel did nothing but complain. But what God-blessed, heaven-sent food he has for us and for our people who humbly trust and obey him in this wilderness! Jesus, the Bread of Life, is feeding us in this dry time—thousands of us—with basketsful to spare.
I realized something when I preached on Jesus feeding of the 5000: God is in production; we’re in distribution. Stay in your lane.
While some fellow shepherds may be discouraged by their people’s response, many are finding just the opposite. Did you notice what Matt Woodley, the editor of Preaching Today, wrote last week after he preached his first digital sermon into an empty room. He wrote, that to his surprise
By the time I finished the sermon, my phone was blowing up with texts, calls, and emails. People expressed deep emotions about the sermon and the service. In 28 years of preaching, I have never received that much positive feedback on a sermon. So why the extraordinary feedback? I think it’s simple: our people are hungry for the Word of God.
Keep bringing the manna!
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.