Last week we talked about the center of God’s will. We learned that sometimes, the center of God’s will is a great and terrible wilderness. Our journey through that time in the wilderness is not easy. While God is in the process of bringing us to Himself, He is also in the process of separating us from things we have come to depend on other than Him. We acknowledged that there are times when the wilderness is more puzzle than purpose. That is illustrated as we look at another wilderness experience in the lives of God’s people.
22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. 24 So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 Then he cried out to the Lord, and the Lordshowed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet.There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them. 26 And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer.” 27 Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters.Exodus 15:22-27
I want us to take a moment to ponder how these people came to where they were. The waters of the Red Sea divided as they walked across on dry ground. Upon reaching the other side, they praised God for their deliverance. They were in the wilderness, but they were in the very center of God’s will for their lives.
The journey continued the next morning. They left the shores of the Red Sea with a spring in their step and a note of joy in their songs. They went one day’s journey into the wilderness. That day, there were no miracles, and worse, there was no water. One day turned into two hot, tiring days. Then three. There were still no miracles and no water. Although God was with them, the rigors of the wilderness began to obscure their sense of His presence. After three days of disappointment and thirst, they finally came to water at a place called Marah.
While they were delivered from Egypt, it seemed they were delivered to the wilderness. Does it ever seem to you that in your journey of following God as one of His “delivered” people, that you have been relocated to some strange spiritual wilderness?
They were there within the Sovereign will of Almighty God. He knew where they were. He knew what they needed. He had a way to provide what they needed. Where are you? Are you in a spiritual wilderness? Do you find yourself in the middle of a some very bitter experience? Are you there because of your own sin, or because you followed God to a place you thought was the center of His will?
The children of Israel were in the wilderness because they followed God. They went three days without water because they were following God. They came to a place of bitterness because they were following God. God brought them there, but He did not intend to leave them there. Does God, in His wisdom, ever lead us into the wilderness or to a place of bitterness?
What if God leads us into some period of hardship, suffering, or sorrow? What then? How should we respond? They were in the wilderness. They came to a place of bitterness, and some of them became bitter. But one of them looked to God to bring blessing out of bitterness. Can God bring blessing into the midst of your bitterness? How can that happen?
You Must Take Your Bitterness to God In Prayer
In the midst of that bitter experience, Moses cried out to God. He didn’t grumble at God or at others. He cried out to the God who led them there. As a result, the God who led them to that place of bitterness, showed him what to do while he was there.
That place of bitterness in the wilderness was a place of Divine Appointment. For Moses, it became a place of prayer. As the pastor of a group of grumbling people, Moses might have abandoned his assignment. He might have launched out on his own, trusting his forty years of experience in wilderness living. In frustration, he might have stopped following God completely. Instead, Moses prayed!
What are you going to do in your wilderness? Will you make your own decisions? Will you go your own way? Will you sit and grumble about the leaders you have and the God you serve? Moses didn’t! Moses prayed. We don’t know exactly what He prayed, but we know that when he prayed, God showed Him exactly what to do.
You Must Trust God to Make Your Bitter Experience Sweet
I have followed God many times to places and circumstances that made me stop and say: “I didn’t expect it to be this way!” Some of my circumstances were very bitter when I was in the middle of them. But I can also see how God brought me through that bitter place to a sweeter place—the place of His presence.
In the wilderness, at that place of bitterness, Moses prayed.As he prayed, the Bible says that God showed him a tree. The New International Version translates the expression as “a piece of wood.”
Before we go further, I want you to understand that there was nothing whatsoever Moses could doto change his situation. He couldn’t bring water out of the wilderness soil nor could he sweeten the bitter waters where they were. What can you do in the middle of your circumstances? All Moses could do was pray and wait for a word from God. While he waited, he had to trust God to make their bitter experience sweet.
I have learned the hard way that if you act before you pray, you are going to wind up deeper in the wilderness and deeper into bitterness. God was the only one who could do anything about their situation, and He is the only one who can do anything about yours.
God spoke to Moses and showed Him a specific tree. Apparently, Moses understood what God wanted him to do with that tree, because the Bible says that Moses threw the tree into the waters, and the bitter waters became sweet. In other words, in response to Moses’ obedience, God removed the bitterness and brought refreshment to His people in the wilderness.
Some of you have not been following God. As a result, you are in a wilderness of your own making. You brought bitterness into your own life and into the lives of those you love. However, others of you are in a wilderness by design. God led you to that place. He let you be hungry. He let you be lonely. He let you be thirsty so that you would become thirsty for Him. He wants you to cry out to Him from the thirsty wilderness, seeking the refreshment of His presence.
He led you to a place of bitterness that He might teach you that ultimate sweetness and ultimate refreshment is found only from His fellowship.
And yes, there is a tree required to bring refreshment to your wilderness and sweeten the bitterness of your soul. That tree is the cross of Jesus. It takes the blood of Jesus to bring refreshment to a spiritual wilderness. Wherever you are, if you cry out to God in your wilderness, He is going to point you to the cross. On that cross Jesus died for your sin. If your bitterness comes as a result of your own spiritual wandering and failure, all of that can be forgiven at the cross of Jesus. If your bitterness comes as a result of following God to the very center of His will, God will show you that cross, and remind you to consider Jesus and His suffering so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:3
Like Moses, you must trust God to make your bitter experience sweet. Remember, only God can bring refreshment to your wilderness and turn bitter into sweet.t
You Must Allow Your Place of Bitterness to Become a Place Where You Learn to Place Your Trust the Covenant Promises of God.
It was not an accident that they came to a place of bitterness. It was all in God’s plan. God brought them there to teach them a new truth about Himself. The Bible says, and there He tested them. He wanted them to understand that how important it was for them to listen intently to His voice, and do onlywhat was right in His eyes.
If they obediently followed Him through that wilderness, He would continue to prove, that just as He healed the waters, He was also able to heal them. He revealed Himself to them as Jehovah Rapha. I am the Lord who heals you. But to know God in that way, it required passing through a season of bitterness.
Is He still Jehovah Rapha? Is He still able to take away the bitterness of life? Is He still able to mend what is broken whether it be a body or a soul? Can He heal a broken family? Can He heal a broken church? Can He heal a broken heart? Can He turn sorrow into shouting, weeping into laughter, brokenness into blessing, and ashes into beauty? Yes! He can do all of these things! He is still Jehovah Rapha! There is still only one tree that can heal bitterness of soul—it is Calvary’s tree—the cross of Jesus.
Where might you be? Do you find that God has led you into a wilderness? Do you find yourself at a place of bitterness?
Will you trust your God to reveal Himself to you in the middle of your circumstances? Will you trust Him to make your place of bitterness and brokenness a place of blessing?
You Must Wait in Patient Faith Until God Brings You to a Place Of Comfort And Refreshment!
Had they never been blocked by the Red Sea they would not have known their God as a God who could command the sea. Had they never come to Marah they would have never known God as Jehovah Rapha. Likewise, there is something about God that you can only learn by walking through your present wilderness.
The God who led His people to the Red Sea, also led them to Marah, a place of bitterness.God was leading His people—and He was leading them to a place of comfort and refreshment. When they came to Elim there was not one spring of water there were twelve. There was not one fruit tree there was a forest. They camped there beside the waters, and they frolicked in God’s presence.
God has something better for all of us than where we are right now. Our responsibility is to wait in patient faith until God brings us to the oasis of His presence. In the wilderness, Elim was a place.
For us, Elim is His Presence. Jesus calls to all of us who are distressed and dispirited and cries, “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.” He the healing for our bitterness and brokenness. Our times of refreshing come only from the presence of the Lord.