As a child, I was pretty naïve about life. I grew up in a carefree, upper middle class, suburban family, not much different from Ozzie and Harriet or Leave it to Beaver. I always assumed I would have a fairly easy life, accomplishing just about anything I wanted, and accomplishing it in my own strength.
When I became a Christian at age 18, I was pretty naïve about the life awaiting me on my journey of faith. Surely the Lord would guide me to a wonderful life, full of His provision and free from any serious trials or conflicts.
But a funny thing happened on my way to the Celestial City. To my surprise, the highway to the abundant life contained some potholes and speed bumps. My trip to the Promised Land turned out to be a hazardous journey, somewhat akin to an obstacle course.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had a great life. But “easy” wouldn’t be the first adjective I’d use to describe it.
I’ve experienced times of financial lack, as well as times of prosperity. I’ve been blessed with excellent health, but have also had a few physical trials to overcome. I’ve been known as a visionary, but sometimes have felt deep discouragement and even depression. And although I’ve had many great relationships, I’ve also known my share of conflicts, some of which are chronicled in my new e-book, The Complete Guide to Church Splits (www.ChurchSplits.com).
Perhaps you can relate to what I’m describing. Like the Israelites, God has delivered us from Egypt and set us on a pathway to the Promised Land. Yes, we’ve come to some roadblocks—like the time when the Israelites’ journey was blocked by the Red Sea—but now we can look back and see great victories.
Yet if you’re like me, you probably aren’t as naïve anymore. You’ve had some experiences you wish had never happened…some things you would like to forget.
After the Israelites’ triumph over the Egyptians at the Red Sea, they faced a trial of another kind:
Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea…And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah.And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” So he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet…
…Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there by the waters (Exodus 15:22-27).
What a fascinating story. God’s people had escaped from captivity in Egypt and had seen the Lord part the Red Sea and miraculously deliver them from Pharaoh’s army. But then they found themselves in a desolate wilderness, where there was no water. Finally, they discovered abundant water at Marah—but the water was bitter.
Maybe you’ve found yourself in a similar place. Despite your sincere attempts to follow God’s leading, you’ve sometimes found yourself in a barren spiritual desert. And right when you think there’s some hope, the water turns out to be bitter.
We live in tough economic times in America, and many believers are finding their faith and their relationships severely tested. They feel frustrated at themselves, their boss (if they still have a boss), their spouse, their church, and perhaps toward the entire Christian life. To compound the frustration, they see a federal government that is increasingly hostile to their beliefs and values. It’s a baffling time if you’ve always had an idealistic view of life.
The truth is, we’ve all encountered the bitter waters of Marah at one time or another. However, there’s good news in this remarkable story: Bitter waters can be turned sweet.
How can this transformation occur? By applying the cross (the tree) to the situation. This requires something more than passive doctrinal assent, however. Yes, “the LORD showed [Moses] a tree,” but nothing significant happened until “he cast it into the waters.”
When applied by faith, the cross provides everything we need to reverse our toxic situations or attitudes. Through the cross…
- We receive forgiveness from God and are reconciled into an intimate relationship with Him.
- We forgive each other, as He has forgiven us.
- We die to ourselves, making it possible to obey God and serve others.
- We see our unfair and toxic circumstances from the vantage point of God’s love and His ability to triumph over evil with good.
Perhaps you’re saying in your heart at this point, “But Jim, what if I’m the only one trying to apply the cross to a toxic situation? How can it possibly work, if everyone else isn’t on board?”
Well, you are partially correct. You might not be able to transform the whole world around you into an oasis of sweet waters. Yet whenever you touch the bitter waters you face with the power of the cross, two things automatically happen: Your own attitudes change, and God is free to bring transformation to others around you as well.
But if you’ve been waiting for GOD to turn your bitter waters sweet, He may be waiting for YOU to embrace the cross and apply it to your circumstances. And instead of waiting for someone else to initiate the healing process, you may need to take the first step. Are you ready?
The story ends with an incredible message of encouragement. When you embrace the cross and die to yourself, you’ll soon be transported from a desert wilderness to a whole new land of blessing—to “Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees.”