The Bitter Made Sweet

dead tree in water

“So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they [the Israelites] went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them, and said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee. And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters” (Exodus 15:22-27).

Only three days before this, God had miraculously brought Israel across the Red Sea. But they found no water for their desert thirst all three days. Finally at Marah they found some, but it was bitter, unfit to drink. Their first reaction? To “murmur” against Moses, their God-appointed leader. These were the same people that God had just miraculously redeemed! He intentionally brought His children to a time of testing here to bring out what was really in them. Where was that faith that had trusted God to lead them through the Red Sea? Their lack of faith in Him was not hard to expose, unfortunately.

Marah’s bitter waters were the first trying encounter on the path God had marked out for His people in the wilderness. They were a type of what life and its disappointments are like, a foretaste of the path ahead for them. These trials that began in their wilderness journey were examples of our trials in our spiritual journey as the redeemed people of God.

How could these waters be healed of their bitterness so the Israelites could drink from them? When they complained loudly to Moses, he took their complaint straight to God. This is the right way to handle setbacks and disappointments—turn to God at once and pray. He won’t begin to help until we begin to ask for it.

Think about this: if Marah’s waters had been sweet instead of bitter, would Moses have prayed? How could the Israelites have then known that it is in God’s power to make bitter water sweet? And how many of us realize that the Marah experience is normal for God’s children? What would we be like if we had no trials or tribulations? We very likely would be rough and hard-hearted, unable to sympathize with those undergoing suffering.

During a bitter-tasting experience many say, “Why is God allowing this to happen to me?” Know that it is not because God is punishing you for something. “In the world ye shall have tribulation…” (John 16:33). This is all part of your preparation and education for the future God has for you.

Realize that there is always a remedy when God puts us in a trying situation. It is close by, but He will not reveal it until we come to Him in prayer. Years before, God planted the ‘tree’ we would one day need to throw into our ‘bitter waters.’ For those who are willing to pray, the Spirit of God is always ready to lead them to the tree that will sweeten the bitter waters. He knows what we will need, and He provided for it long before we become aware of a problem. He holds back the answer until the time is right, but everything we need here in order to get to Heaven He has already provided.

Why did God provide a tree for this wilderness trial? Was there something about that particular tree that would make the sickening waters sweet? It was not so much the kind of tree, but what it stood for. Moses did not discover the tree and run back and say, “I’ve got the answer!” God specifically provided the tree and made Moses aware of it. The healing of the bitter water was a miracle, and God intended for it to teach His people something. For every trial in this earthly life, a remedy has been provided—although we don’t always see it.

Our first parents ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and made life bitter for themselves and all who came after them. But God has also provided a tree of life, with leaves as the remedy for the healing of the nations.

cross with colored sky

Jesus is a ‘tree of life’ whose branches spread far enough to encompass everyone who wants to come under His outspread limbs. And He reaches high, as high up as Heaven. But this Tree was chopped down at its peak of maturity. Then it was thrown into the bitter waters of our life to sweeten the bitterness that we encounter.

He is the ‘tree’ that is our remedy. His cross is also a tree where He succumbed to the deep, dark waters of death for our sake, thereby making them sweet again.

God used this Marah incident to demonstrate to the Israelites their need of Him to survive the wilderness experience, as much as their need of Him to be delivered from the power of Pharoah and Egypt. After He healed the bitter waters and satisfied the thirst of all the people, He told them to strictly obey every one of His commandments. Then He would make their lives ‘sweet,’ just as He had done with the waters of Marah. This would be their next trial in their journey.

“And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters” [v. 27].

After their ordeal at Marah, God led His children to the oasis of Elim—a place to refresh themselves. When God’s people obey Him, He graciously cares for them. Here they would learn about God and His ways in order to prepare them for the trials ahead. Then He would be able to bring them into His full blessings and promises.

The bitter experiences in your life can be changed by God to become sweet. He allows you to taste the bitter water for a reason—it is for your benefit. Accept God’s will out of your love for Him. Then you will find the secret place of peace in your life in the midst of this bitter world of trouble.

Has grief and suffering embittered your life? Remember that Jesus suffered on the tree for you and still continues to suffer with you. He shares all your woes and has deep sympathy for all you go through. He will never leave you, nor forsake you, nor forget you, especially in your time of trouble.

Are you experiencing the bitter waters of Marah yourself right now? Cast the ‘tree’ into the water and cause it to become sweet. The tree makes all the difference. Drink from God’s well deeply. Its water will always be sweet. Remember His mercy and thank Him for His sweet presence. He alone can heal your bitter, troubled waters. He is right there with you.

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What’s Next?

“So now that you have graduated from high school, what are you going to do next?”

“Well, if my scholarship goes through, then I’ll be going to medical school; otherwise, I’m going to scale back my plans and go to the state university and pursue a degree in dentistry.”

“That’ll be quite a challenge, but I’m sure you’ll make it. What’s next?”

“After graduating and fulfilling the necessary internships, I hope to be moving into a career as a dentist. Of course, if the money becomes available in one form or another for med school, then I’d gladly continue on there to become a pediatrician.”

“Good for you! Now after you are established as either a dentist or a pediatrician, what will be next in your pursuits?”

“Naturally as I become set in my career, I’ll most likely get married to someone who’s just as well off as I am and have a bunch of kids, you know, the usual routine.”

“Wow! I’m sure that will keep you extra busy. So what’ll be next?”

“I’ll probably make sure that my kids are all set in life and get them into some big time sports program, or, if possible, maybe an Ivy League university, like Yale or Harvard.”

“Sounds like only the best for them. What’s next after that?”

“Well, I’ve been thinking about maybe following through on the rest of the music lessons I began a few years ago. I’m really good on the piano and guitar, you know.”

“Music, too? You really will be living your life to the fullest by that point. So, then what’s next on the list?”

“Oh, what most do at this point—I’ll move on from my dental or medical practice and probably captivate audiences with my musical ability during the rest of my life. I’m sure by that time I’ll be living in a relaxing cottage near the ocean, and maybe even have a second home that will overlook a gorgeous mountain vista.”

“Well, you certainly have your whole life planned out. I don’t foresee any boring moments in it. So, after all of that, what’s next?”

“After that? Why I will just pass away peacefully in my sleep and give mostly everything to my children and spouse.”

“Sounds like a kind and generous plan, but what is next?”

“What’s next? What more is there? Why I’ll have a memorial service and be placed deep into the earth in a beautiful secluded spot at a cemetery, that’s what’s next!”

“OK, so you are nicely taken care of; now what happens next?”

“Look, I don’t know what you are insinuating now with these ‘what nexts,’ but I die—that is it! Life is over. How should I know what happens next? I’m dead, right? It’s done. Kaput. The end. You may exit the auditorium now. The program has finished.”

****

So is it really over when we die? Does life just quit in the grave? Are we destined to just become a collection of bones buried several feet down in the earth, or a pile of ashes that are either scattered through the air or sitting on someone’s mantle in an urn? Can we really plan our whole life, possibly to the tiniest detail, decades in advance?

Let’s address that last question first. Do we really know what our next year will be like? How about next month, or even tonight? We plan much of our future based on what has already happened to us, or on the present, as if we could see the whole picture ahead of our life in advance. Yet we really don’t know what may happen to us even a few hours from now. The doctor may conclude that everything is fine in our health, and yet we could contract a severe case of food poisoning from a meal on that same afternoon and die several days later.

On the other hand, how certain is it that we will get that job or establish that career we were planning for several weeks or years from now? Suppose that ‘perfect’ job turns out to be a nightmare, or someone on that job becomes jealous and gets us terminated for something we never did? What if a parent or family member dies, and we are forced to leave school to take care of the family? What about a car accident on the way to class that forces us to permanently leave college? Or our grades weren’t anywhere near as good as we planned, and we fail to get our degree or degrees? Do we really know that we will find the right person to marry? What happens if our children turn out the total opposite of the way we raised them, causing us much grief, detriment, and ruin?

We may conclude, based on current trends, that the world is getting better and better—only to have a financial market crash, or a disaster, like a severe flood or a major terrorist attack, occur, sending shockwaves across the global economy. What about those ‘unforeseen events’ that happen to everyone? We make all of these extensive travel plans to some relaxing vista and end up not going because of some ‘unforeseen event’ that occurred at our job or at home.

God already knows our future here, and more importantly, He knows what our ultimate end will be after our death. He mentions this in the Bible: “…it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27).

For many, the idea of judgment of their life may come as a surprise. Sadly, we were born in sin, and carrying it out became inevitable in our lives. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As long as we reject God, and plan out our life without any regard to the possible consequences, while continuing to live in sin, we leave Him no choice but to bring us to judgment after we leave this life. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth [remains] on him” (John 3:36).

The good news is, that we don’t have to be destined to this judgment. In fact, God never wanted or intended for us to be in, or controlled by, sin, and thereby judged in the first place. God loves us more than we could ever imagine. “But God commendeth [presents or shows] his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God is holy and can never allow any sin in His presence ever. That is why he sent Jesus, His only Son, to this Earth, who willfully came to fulfill all of the necessary requirements laid out in the Old Testament of the Bible for the permanent covering of our sins. Only Jesus was fully qualified to do this. We, in our naturally sinful state, could only fulfill these laws on our own to cover our sins temporarily.

He wants us to come before Him, and love Him in return, not reject Him. God has gone to great lengths to make it possible for us to trust in Him for our life. He does not expect or want us to plan and work out our life on our own. This only results in sin, and ultimately, judgment after death.

We need to “believe on the Son.” In other words, we must accept His death and sacrifice on the cross as if they were our own. We need to leave our sinful ways and trust in Him for our future. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten [born] Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). When we die, our natural, physical life comes to an end, whether we end up in the grave or by some other means, but our spiritual life continues on into eternity. Whether it will be eternal life in Heaven, or eternal death in Hell depends on whom we place our trust in: Jesus or our self. Only Jesus can bring real satisfaction and freedom. “If the Son [Jesus] therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). We can’t plan our whole life without God. Our next reply to the question “What’s next?” needs to be “God‘s next.”

For even more information about what’s next, please click here.

“Grace to the Lowly”

kneeling in prayer

“Surely He scorneth the scorners; but he giveth grace unto the lowly” (Proverbs 3:34).

“…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:6-7).

Scorners lift up themselves, refusing to yield to anyone else, always resisting them. They pay no attention to God, as if He did not exist, while boldly continuing in sin. But God will deal with them and their proud ambitions by holding them in everlasting contempt, while blessing those who humbly believe in Him. Humble people don’t mind lowering themselves and walking in the footsteps of Christ. But mockers and scorners are wise in their own thinking. They hate those who are humble and lowly. In our current era, love of self rules, with contempt for all that is good, noble, holy, and true. As we get ever closer to the end of this present age, scorning and mocking are increasing all the time.

“God resisteth the proud” ones who lift themselves up against Him, and whose self-esteem knows no limits. Their nature is having pride in what they own, or are part of, or of anything that applies to them. They have convinced themselves of their supreme excellence and importance. Yet they have nothing to justify their superior attitude. They truly hate others, and even despise the warnings and judgments from God. It is this very attitude that can provoke God to set Himself up to oppose them.

But God is also kind enough to allow those with a humble and contrite spirit into His presence. They don’t covet what others have, or envy them, nor are they consumed with worldly ambitions. But being humble does not come naturally to man. Left to his own ways, he would never have a single humble thought or holy desire on his own. Realizing this alone should be enough to bring us low before God and make us want to be humble.

True humility comes from receiving the grace of God—His unmerited favor—which makes a person humble in the first place. Only by the operation of God’s Holy Spirit in our life can we become humble.

And the humble and poor in spirit have the right to be part of the kingdom of Heaven, which they have been made fit to receive. They will enjoy being there in God’s presence, but the proud and scornful would not. No one who truly mourns for his sin will be turned away by God. And He will not refuse to exalt anyone who comes to Him in humility.

God cannot tolerate the exalting of ‘self’—which is the very nature of sin. Look at Christ as an example. He made Himself of no reputation while here on Earth, although He is the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. How can we justify elevating ourselves, when He did not? Proud people resist God’s laws, truths, and His provision. Do we wonder why God resists the proud? There is great danger in pride, which is why God “resists the proud” in every way. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).

The devil, who is naturally full of pride and completely the opposite of humility, makes it his job to get men swollen with pride in themselves. Then he can easily master and do what he pleases with them. But humble believers who have God living inside them receive more of His grace. Their lowliness doesn’t come from their own strength; it comes from His.

A humble believer knows very well that deep down he is vile and sinful. So he runs to God’s grace and Christ’s blood for his protection. And the devil, in all of his pride, doesn’t know what to think of people like this—how they puzzle and frustrate him!

He is not pleased by the power and strength that come from prayer and faith either. Humble believers like this he leaves alone—in fact, he flees from them!

Don’t go along with the devil’s proposals and temptations. Consider him an enemy and oppose him. How can the devil conquer someone who continually resists him? Even though he is stronger than man, God will never allow him to conquer His people who continually resist him. Stand therefore, by faith in God, and put all the spiritual armor of Ephesians 6 to use. Depend on the Lord to help you, and continue to resist the devil at all times. Remember that, to those who have faith, the devil is already defeated.

Fight against the devil by refusing to yield to him and the fleshly lusts he proposes. Submit to God instead, as Head and Ruler of us all. The devil will run if we continue to resist him. But he will also return again and again to try to tempt us to sin. We will not be conquered as long as we don’t give in. And our heavenly Father will not allow him to force the human will to give in to his temptations (if we continue to stand and resist his onslaughts). Continue to be ‘resistance-fighters’ and we will have the victory!

God favors the humble who feel the need for His help, welcome His teaching, and desire Him as a friend. He will give them the grace they need so they can be saved. But who can teach someone who is so full of himself that he thinks he knows it all? If he feels no need for grace, he will receive no grace. The heart has to be humble before it can be saved. God favors and honors those who are lowly in their own opinion. But He also gives them enough grace to overtake and destroy their worldly lusts and corruptions.

The heavenly Father invites all who are humble to come boldly before His throne, where they will find grace for help in time of need. But they must come with a lowly spirit, knowing that He resists the proud.

If we judge ourself first, He will freely give us His grace. He gives more grace to the humble because they recognize their need for it. We need to conduct ourselves in a way that will glorify God, the One we belong to and should always serve. He stands ready to give us the strength we need to resist and rise above the attraction of the world.

Why should we want to humble ourselves? Reflect for a moment on what our sin and failure cost God and His Son. He had to die on the cross to free us from both. He had to offer Himself up as a sacrifice to the judgment of God because of our iniquity. Is there really anything for any of us to boast about in comparison with what He had to go through to set us free? God calls us to humble ourself before Him; then He will exalt us. Do this once and for all, as a done-deed, not an ongoing process.

So continually watch and pray. Remain ready to submit to God, who will calm our spirit and give us His grace. If we humble ourselves before Him, we will never be left ashamed. We need to rid ourselves of the fighting attitude that is intent on putting other people down in order to lift itself up. The humble ones in the end will inherit true glory, long after worldly fame has tarnished. Let’s freely submit ourselves therefore to God, humbly obeying His commands, with a sense of how empty, weak, and in need of His grace we really are. Let’s bow ourselves before Him and yield totally to His will. Then we will find the path to peace and joy forevermore.

Are Pieces Missing in Your Puzzle?

missing puzzle piece

Have you ever felt like your life is one big puzzle—like you were born as a thousand-piece puzzle—and each year, thousands more pieces have been added?

Even though your parents might have assembled some of this puzzle for you as you were growing up, does it seem like you have had to figure out the rest by yourself? Have you tried really hard to put your puzzle together, only to have a major event, or even a tragedy, come and break apart hundreds of the assembled pieces, like a large puzzle on a table that has been pushed partially over the edge? Or did you ever feel like someone put all of your pieces into a box abruptly, and then shelved them out of sight for several months, or even years?

Maybe you feel like you aren’t able to figure out where many of the pieces belong, and everybody you ask for help doesn’t want to be bothered. Or, even worse, they do ‘help’ by forcing pieces of your puzzle into the wrong place! Maybe it seems like someone slips in and steals the very pieces you need when you aren’t looking.

Have you reached a point in your life where you just can’t seem to find the final pieces that would make your puzzle complete? In fact, do you even know what the finished puzzle of your life is supposed to look like? Does anybody know?

closeup of incomplete puzzle

There is someone who does know you and the way your puzzle will turn out, even better than you know yourself. This ‘someone’ is God. He knew you before you were even conceived. “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee…” (Jeremiah 1:5), the Bible tells us. When God created human beings, it was never His intention for them to function solely on their own. God wants you to be dependent on Him. The problem often is that, knowingly or unknowingly, you left Him at some point; but He will never willingly leave you. “And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8). If He ever does withdraw from you, it is only because you do not want Him. This means that you want to do it your way, or do it by yourself, instead.

missing piece of puzzle

When you look at your life as a complex puzzle that you can’t totally assemble, you are looking at it from the angle of your own strength and understanding.All of your struggles and fears or worries and confusion come from trying to solve a situation that you can’t possibly solve by yourself.

Even if you go to someone else to help solve your puzzle, you are still sidestepping God. The only way to achieve complete satisfaction—real and lasting happiness and victory over life’s situations—is to surrender your life and all of your attempts to solve this puzzle by yourself over to God.

photo puzzle missing pieces

God is the only One who knows what the picture on the puzzle of your life will look like when it is complete. When He first formed you, He did not include the final ‘missing’ pieces of your puzzle. He did this because He wants to be the One to complete your puzzle. He wants to fill that void in your heart that nothing else can fill.

No matter what you try to do on your own to make your puzzle complete, without Him, it will never work.

You might try to cut up a piece from another puzzle and force it in, or you may try to make your own pieces. Either way, improper replacements will only leave you feeling empty inside in the end. Let Him complete your puzzle in the way that He knows is best. No other way will satisfy.

If you are interested more about completing your life’s puzzle with God, click here.

Ritual or Relationship?

 

Do you ever felt like you are making great efforts to do all of the right things (or at least what you were told were the right things) to please God, yet He still seems distant or unreachable to you? Do you feel like a sense of guilt comes over you if you don’t pray or read the Bible? Or have you stopped praying and reading the Bible because you can’t seem to get anywhere, and everything you did read seemed so confusing and dull? Maybe you go to church because this is what you were told do, but you have never felt any real enthusiasm in being there. Or, are you doing as much as you can for your church, yet you still don’t seem to have any reward from God—or even worse—you just feel used by your church? Have you often asked yourself, just where is the fulfillment, the satisfaction and the real joy in following Jesus that others have told you about?

On the other hand, maybe you are one who really does find excitement and satisfaction with God and what He has done for you, but only after you attend church or various religious events and entertainment, thereby necessitating repeat visits to maintain this enthusiasm. All of these are common ploys of Satan to prevent you from having true intimacy with God. He tries to keep you in a mindset where you feel that you have to continually do works to be right with, or accepted by, God. When you left Satan’s domain and entered the domain of Jesus by getting saved, it certainly did not go unnoticed by Satan. And, in revenge for leaving him, he will persist in trying to keep you from having complete peace in Jesus. His goal is to turn your focus off of Jesus Christ and onto yourself (and ultimately onto him alone).

He wants you to wear yourself out in trying to be right with God on your own, to the point where you become bitter or discouraged and turn back to him. Actually, Satan would really like for you to hate God just like he does, and to never want to even try to follow the Lord again.

Since he has had thousands of years to observe others like you, he knows just what technique works to keep you from truly following Jesus.

What Satan tries to do here is to turn all of these ‘good’ efforts into a ritual. Jesus does not want rituals or your ‘works’; He wants a personal relationship with you. He wants yourcross worship trust and faith in Him alone. Religions have rituals, but they add up to nothing in God’s view. When Jesus died on the cross on your behalf, it was a complete work. There are no works, no rituals—there is nothing that you can do to improve on this or make yourself more acceptable to God on your own. Every time you try to do something to make yourself more holy before God, you are, in essence, canceling out the sacrifice that His Son made on your behalf. He already did everything necessary to make you acceptable to God.

You may now be thinking that reading the Bible, praying, or attending church are wrong. Each of these in themselves is right, and God expects them of you. But when doing them becomes your motive behind being accepted or becoming right before God, then doing them becomes just as wrong as worshiping idols. And you also enter the area of self-righteousness, which is just as sinful before God as idolatry or any other sin.

couple on bench

When you accept Jesus Christ into your heart, you are entering into a personal relationship with Him. In our human relationships, one person does not work to make the other accept him or her; instead, each accepts the other for who he or she is, by faith in him or her. They no longer have to prove themselves; they now have established trust between them.

If you have just become married, and you constantly do things to make your spouse love you, then you have entered into marriage for all of the wrong motives (and your spouse will really begin to wonder about you).

Your marriage partner should love you for who you are, not so much for what you do. What you do is a by-product of love, a way of expressing it.

Similarly, Jesus wants you to have trust, and simple, child-like faith in Him. He never set up a complicated set of rules and requirements that you must follow to improve your standing with woman worshipingHim. These only lead to things like favoritism, jealousy, regression, and failure. If you yield your self (or will) to Him in a loving personal relationship, you will soon find that you will want to pray, you will want to read His Word, and you will want to be in a fellowship of other believers who also want to do the same thing. You will also find that that all of these efforts to please Him before will now be the by-product of a relationship with Him now. It is only in a true relationship, not in a ritual, that will you find real peace in God.