How the Bitter Things Become Sweet

One of the biggest misunderstandings of the Christian walk is that life will be easy. Saved by the blood of Christ, it feels like we should also be saved from the trials of this life. After all, we’re God’s children. Doesn’t that mean something?

Devotional Scripture: Exodus 15:22-27
Key Verse: “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” Isaiah 41:17

Yes, oh yes, it means my God is for me and no longer against me. It means I have a hope and a future. It means I have an advocate in Heaven and every spiritual blessing. It means I am never alone. It means I am indwelt by His spirit. Able to please my Father. Able to store up treasure in heaven. Able to spend forever with my Savior.

But it does not mean I get an address on Easy Street. That my friend is a lie of the devil. Meant to sabotage the trust we’ve placed in Jesus. (I think our brothers and sisters in Florida and Texas and Montana and Idaho and California and Washington and Oregon would agree. Phew, did I miss anyone?)

Three days into the journey (post Red Sea) it wasn’t Easy Street for the Israelites either. With their tongues sticking to the roof of their mouths, and not a drop of water left in the can (at least that’s how I’m imagining it), they at last spot water up ahead. Oh thank goodness! But when they got to it, they couldn’t drink even the smallest amount, for it was bitter.

Now I’ll be honest, I’ve never been three days in a hot, dry desert with no water. I’m guessing thirsty at that point is an understatement. (Especially considering the giant water bottles we lug around these days. Gotta get in our H2O.) So I get it – they had a problem. Our bodies can only go so long without water.

But to their discredit, just 72 hours before they had witnessed God’s authority over water. (The parting of the Red Sea.) So when they got to Marah (which means bitterness by the way), and the water was bad, they should have been like, “No problem! Our God’s got this!” (Can you imagine how that would have pleased the LORD?) Yet instead, they grumbled against Moses. Or rather against God, since He is the one who led them there.

Dumbfounded at their predicament the Israelites asked Moses, “What shall we drink?” (It sounds so casual but I don’t think they were nice about it.) To which Moses, unsure, went to God. Who showed him a log (or tree) that he could throw into the water to make it sweet.

Right, a log. Sure.

But oh the significance of that log! I can think of another log (or tree) that’s sweetened my life. Can you?  1 Peter 2:24 states, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” Why? So we could enjoy the sweetness of eternal life, instead of the bitterness of death.

Do you see the comparison?

In this life, we’re going to face bitter, hard things. There’s just no way around it. Unimaginable things. Things that don’t seem fair. Things we’re going to question and shake our heads at. And it’s only Jesus who can make it sweet. Because of his death, burial, and resurrection, on the tree, we can still celebrate.

Nothing can sweeten the bitterness of life like Jesus can. He alone can work things together for our good and His glory. Taking what’s messy and making it shine with brilliance and purpose. Using the worst of situations to draw us into the sweet surrender of His presence.

The cup He offers is delightful. It’s not wrath, it’s rest. In Christ, the things that are naturally bitter in this world become sweet to us who seek life in him. Who patiently endure. Who share in his sufferings, but also share in his victory. “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

Take Paul and Silas for example. Beaten with rods and placed in prison, they sang songs of praise to God. The cross (or tree for that matter) sweetening what should have been bitter waters.

But what about when it’s not just bitter waters I’m wading through, but the driest of deserts? What about then? When my marriage is shriveled up. When my patience is dried up. When my job is messed up.

Just turn to Jesus my friend, he’s waiting to provide.

Isaiah 41:17-18 says, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.”

Pools of water! Overflowing fountains! In the driest of places. It’s God who is able. Then look what comes next in that passage: “I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together” (Is. 41:19).

Not only water, but God will give shade in the desert! A place to sit and cool thyself. A place to rest and enjoy.

Consequently, look what came next for the Israelites: “Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water” (Ex. 15:27). Shade! After Marah, came Elim. Water and shade in the desert. Refreshment for the weariest of souls.

Our God is so kind.

In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Not just in eternity, but now, in the sweetness of His presence. In diligent obedience, there is blessing to be had.

In addition, it wasn’t just drinkable water God offered the Israelites. But sweet water. He made that which had been bitter taste good.

So how about it? Are you thirsty? Are you worn out? Are there bitter waters to wade through? Or dry deserts to walk through? Come, taste, and see, that the LORD is good my friend! “Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34:8).

Or as Israel might have said that day…

Blessed is the soul who holds on to Jesus until even the bitter things become sweet.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
Where do you seek for satisfaction? In Jesus or the things of this world?
How have you experienced the sweetness of His presence?
When has Jesus made even the bitter things sweet for you?

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When the Pressure Is On, Do We Remember?

It’s no secret, I have a terrible memory. I’m not sure why. Partly I think it’s my lack of observation skills. You could tear a large building down. One I’ve driven by time and time again, and for the life of me, I’ll not be able to tell you what’s missing. “Well, hmmm, are there more wildflowers than usual?”

Devotional Scripture: Exodus 15:1-21
Key Verse: “The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” Exodus 15:2

But it’s not just scenery I struggle to take note of. Lines from movies? Forget it, they don’t stick. Historical facts? Let’s just say I’m the last person you want on a trivia team. Names of people at church? I really don’t want to go here. Incidents from high school? I’m beginning to wonder if I was even there. (Okay, maybe it’s not that bad. But can we avoid the specifics please?)

I’d like to blame it on pregnancy and lack of sleep and the craziness that comes with being a mother of four. Because let’s be honest, there’s a lot to keep track! Like the last time they each bathed. (Was it Monday? Or was it Saturday? Oh dear, was it Saturday?)

But really, I think I just have a bad memory. And apparently, so did the Israelites.

They’d seen God administer ten miraculous plagues, marched safely away from their captors with the wealth of Egypt on their backs, and crossed the Red Sea with a wall of water on their right and their left. Then they watched as God pummeled one of the strongest military forces in the world (at that time) into the depths of the sea.

To say they’d seen a lot, would be an understatement. Clearly the LORD was on their side and now the entire world knew it. (Or at least all the parts of the world that mattered to Israel.) And the Israelites, safe and free on the other side of the Red Sea, knew it too.

Filled with gratitude and awe for the God who’d just delivered them from captivity, they sang a song of praise, declaring all the things they now knew of the LORD. Let’s look…

Verse 1: Man’s best defense is no match for God’s dominion.  “For he has triumphed gloriously.” Pharaoh’s army was state of the art. With the best equipment, the latest and greatest chariots, the strongest horses – yet they were nothing compared to the LORD. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Ps. 20:7). (The perfect verse for the Israelite’s, don’t you think?)

Verse 3: “The LORD is a man of war.” He doesn’t sit back and let the enemy win. He is a God of justice who fights for his people and delivers them. “The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation” (v.2). (Truly, He had.)

Verse 6: His right hand is “glorious in power,” shattering the enemy. (They watched it happen. They knew He could do it.)

Verse 7: “In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries,” consuming them like stubble. (Remember stubble from Exodus 5? When the Israelite’s were sent out to gather their own straw, they scurried about the land of Egypt gathering stubble for straw.) He is a God who pays attention my friend. He is a God of retribution.

Verse 11: There is no one like the LORD. He is “majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deed, doing wonders.” (He is in the business of doing wonders.)

Verse 13: His love is steadfast. He guides with his great strength, not to a place of forlorn isolation, but unto his “holy abode.” He frees His people to draw them near. (Is that not amazing?)

Verses 14-16: The neighboring nations have heard and tremble at the greatness of God. “All the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.” And they did! Remember what Rahab said to the spies, “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea…and as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted and there was no spirit left in any man because of you” (Josh. 2:10-11). (And that was forty years later.)

Verse 17: God would faithfully bring the people in and plant them on his own mountain. (Israel knew this was God’s plan.)

Verse 18: And there “the LORD will reign forever and ever.” (No one and nothing could change that.)

These are the verses Israel sang loud and proud beside the Red Sea. These are the things they knew to be true of God. They knew there was no God like Him. They knew nothing could stand against Him.

Yet a year later, at the edge of Canaan, faced with a report that the land was good but the people were big and fierce, they forgot the truths they’d sung. They forgot who stood on their side. They forgot the works God had done. They forgot who it was that fought for them.

Oh how quickly we can be a people that forget! And oh how devastating is the result when we don’t take the time to remember! He is God and we are not. Remember when He saved us? Remember when He drew us out of the pit and brought us near? Remember when He filled us with His Spirit? A spirit “not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).

Have we forgotten who He is? Have we forgotten He’s called us to a life of holiness? Have we forgotten the victory we have in Christ? Have we grown fearful and timid at the report of the enemy?

May we always remember who it is we serve and the great and mighty works He has already done. Not to mention the works still to come! Because He who promised is faithful and He will raise us up on the last day to be with Him in the land of promise forever.

So don’t be afraid of the enemy, even when they do look bigger and stronger. For they melt away at the mere thought of Christ. Remember and stand strong, for it’s the LORD who is on our side.

Contemplate and Evaluate:
What truths are you going to focus on today? When the enemy hits, will you remember?
What tactics can you use to remember the truths of God’s Word, not just during a crisis, but in the quiet of day by day?

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