Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why Hoarding Never Works

To a certain degree, I understand the people who appear on TV shows like A&E's Hoarders. While I crave organization with boxes and labels, I also feel a conflicting urge to save everything.

Toilet paper rolls? Cotton from the tops of vitamin bottles? Creamer containers? They're all great for preschool crafts.

The kitty litter container? Empty peanut butter jars? International Coffee tins? They're so useful containers for sunflower seeds, pasta, and ten penny nails (in that order).

Thriftiness and being a wise steward of what God has given us are both good qualities. But what about those things I really should get rid of, but can't, like those clothes that went out of style in the 80s or that stack of rusted old tin behind the barn.

If I allow myself to dwell on the state of the world, that knot of fear overtakes more than just my gut to the point where I want to hoard large stockpiles "just in case" the world as I know it disappears and is replaced by one where I can't find (or afford) clothes and food.

I get scared. After living through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with weeks of no electricity, no milk or bread, when shopping meant walking through a roped-off section of Wal-mart in small, escorted groups and waiting in long lines at the pump or passing stations with no fuel for days...

I don't want to just trust God. I want to do something, to trust in me and in what I can save up for the rainy day that just might come close to flooding my whole world again in chaos, deep depression, and famine.

This closet desire to hoard is nothing new. The Israelites experienced it when they wandered the wilderness for forty years, fed daily quail and manna by God's daily benevolence, by Jehovah-jireh, our God who provides.

Yet, there were rules to be followed when gathering and consuming God's provision.

First was that the Israelites had to walk outside their tents and actually work to gather the manna from the ground. God provided the sustenance, but the people still had to do their part and gather what God provided. It wouldn't just appear in their pots, ready to eat: "This is what the LORD has commanded, ‘Gather of it every man as much as he should eat" (Ex. 16:16).

Secondly, the Israelites couldn't gather the manna on their own timeline. Scripture records, "They gathered it morning by morning... but when the sun grew hot, it would melt " (v. 21). If someone decided past the cool of morning, she would go hungry.

Finally, the Israelites could not hoard the manna. God had warned through Moses, "Let no man leave any of it until morning” (v.19). But of course, somebody didn't listen. Somebody wanted to hold back a little extra, hoard it just in case God forgot to lay out tomorrow's main course.

The next morning revealed that God would not allow such disobedient hoarding. The first light of morning shone on leftovers "foul" and covered in "worms" (v. 20). God was making a point--He required, not requested His people to trust daily in Him.

In Deuteronomy, God explained why the daily-ness of manna was so important: "He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD" (Deut. 8:3).

God was trying to teach the Israelites what He desires to teach us--humility, our inability to be self-sufficient. But when He provides, we can't just sit back and expect God to spoon-feed the manna in our mouths. We must labor to gather what He provides. That means daily prayer and Bible study, daily labor in the spiritual disciplines.

Also, we don't get to pick and choose how and when God provides. That means we must be in daily relationship with Him so that when He does provide, our hearts are ready to receive it.

In this the week before Easter, such a message may not be quite what you would expect, but Easter Sunday finds people making sure to be in church even though they haven't been regular. These are often hoarders, those who try to fill their tanks with "just enough" God to get by. But hoarders also come in the in-the-pew-every-Sunday variety.

When anyone goes for more than a day, a week, a month without an intimate relationship with God, s/he is attempting to hoard that warm soul feeling he gets in worship, hoard that message God spoke to her.

Living on yesterday's manna will be as healthy as eating worm-laden bread.

And what's more, if we do not have a daily relationship with God, then we will hoard the Word He gives us. We won't be able to share it with others because who knows when we'll step outside our tents, our comfort zones, to go gather another.

It's a serious question to ask ourselves this season of sacrifice: are we hoarding God or are we willingly sharing Him with those around us?

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