I have been considering the life of Moses and his leadership over Israel in my recent studies. One thing I want us to see about Moses is just how God made him a gifted leader. He didn't just "get" magically awesome answers from God in the spur of the moment - he spent time in God's presence and this connection is what allowed him to receive the "magically awesome answers" to his prayers! Maybe this seems like it should go without saying, but keep company with God and he will keep company with you. Most of the world doesn't get this, though. They choose to keep company with anything BUT God and wonder why they don't have the answers they need when the times seem to challenge them. All success in life is a matter of this connection - apart from it, there can only be fleeting success. Today we will consider the things God uses to change our world.
Moses led Israel from the Red Sea on to the Wilderness of Shur. They traveled for three days through the wilderness without finding any water. They got to Marah, but they couldn’t drink the water at Marah; it was bitter. That’s why they called the place Marah (Bitter). And the people complained to Moses, “So what are we supposed to drink?” So Moses cried out in prayer to God. God pointed him to a stick of wood. Moses threw it into the water and the water turned sweet. That’s the place where God set up rules and procedures; that’s where he started testing them. God said, “If you listen, listen obediently to how God tells you to live in his presence, obeying his commandments and keeping all his laws, then I won’t strike you with all the diseases that I inflicted on the Egyptians; I am God your healer.” They came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees. They set up camp there by the water. (Exodus 15:22-27 MSG)
Sometimes we come up against some pretty bitter places in our lives. People don't understand us, we are misinterpreted, our paths seem to converge in some place of absolute chaos. We get the sense no one is "for" us and the world is "against" us. In those moments, the bitterness can begin to define us or drive us - the difference is in the choice we make when faced with the "sourness" of our circumstances. Much of the time, the choice of what we will do when we are faced with the "bitter waters" of life is determined by how we handled the last choice we made. If we chose to complain about the last set of circumstances, chances are we will launch right into complaint this time around, too. If we pulled away, like a turtle in a shell, hoping it would all just go away, chances are we will respond to the bitterness with avoidance this time. The only way to change the cycle of our response is to get closer to God's presence in the midst of the circumstance. Bitter waters are a place of choice. Probably one of the hardest places to find ourselves is at the place of bitter waters when we have been "doing everything right". Let me give you a little word of advice here - there is no assurance of refreshing waters just because we are "doing everything right". There is just an assurance of provision - it may not come exactly as we expected it, but it does come!
The bitter waters are one thing - the place of no water is another. These are the seasons where everything in our lives just seems to be dry, dry, dry. No matter how much we try, all comes back dry and barren. These are the seasons where we just want to give up and not even try anymore. At those moments, even bitter water seems better than no water at all! At least there is water - you cannot enjoy it, but it is there! One thing we need to see - even the farmer knows the purpose of the barren seasons. He allows the fields to lay dormant for a while - not because he likes to see them brown and unwatered, but because he knows the "rejuvenation" of the soil comes in allowing the soil to rest a while. No water seems a little harsh, but even the worst of water will grow weeds! Some of us are facing these "down times" when the soil of our lives seem a little dry, parched, and totally barren. In these times, we are tempted to turn to places where we might just find a little water - even the bitter waters. Please know this - God has you in a season of barrenness not to "do you in", but to prepare you for the next phase of what he plans for the "soil" of your life.
In the places of bitter waters and no waters, we often come across folks who will attempt to get us focused on the condition of the "water" in our lives. They will be quick to point out how bitter our circumstances are, or how absolutely unfair it is for us to be so unproductive during this season. The temptation for us is to actually listen to these folks instead of God. The problem comes in their interpretation of the bitter or absent waters. Their response to the bitter waters might be to complain, become angered over the conditions which led to the bitter waters, etc. They have an ability to infect us with their negativity. Those who come alongside to offer their interpretation of the lack of water seem to focus on the inability and unfaithfulness of our God. They just don't see the work of rejuvenation "under the soil" which is preparing us for the good waters which are to come. Be careful who you listen to in the midst of these bitter water and no water places. It will often affect how you interpret these times and can even cause you to get a little bitter or angry yourself!
If you missed the "fix" in the passage above, read it again. The "fix" one piece of wood - not something they brought along with them in their journey, but something prepared for them IN their journey. The wood was there because God caused it to be exactly where they needed it to be in order to accomplish the purpose he had for the wood. Even something as insignificant as a piece of wood in the hands of God can turn the bitterest places into the most refreshing. The thing God wants us to see is his ability to provide even when it looks like all hope is lost. If you missed the second part of the passage, read it again. The bitter waters were the place where God started testing them! Don't get frustrated with the bitter water and no water places. They are really signs of God's careful concern for our development. There may seem to us to be some other way God could bring this development, but trust me, he knows the exact things which brings growth in us. This is really the purpose of these places - nothing else will do what he can accomplish there. Just sayin!