From The Wilderness
Can you imagine one day in the desert without water and having nothing for your children to drink? As one day became three days, the Israelites were passing out, falling over, and unable to go any farther. Their thirst consumed their every thought in every moment. Angry, bitter, and resentful – the people began to complain to the leader, “Why is this happening if God is with us? Why did God bring us into the desert to die of thirst?”
I (Brian) can remember one long day in the Darien jungle of Panama when I had nothing to drink. I had left the village to hunt wild pigs with the men without taking any water. We hadn’t crossed any stream or rivers for hours, and I was thirsty! What a stupid thing to do! During the hunt, the young men of our village smelled the pigs and began to chase them. I ran and ran, but I couldn’t get my gringo legs moving fast enough to catch up with the guys. Now I was lost in the jungle, like a scene right out of a movie. But it wasn’t a comedy!
I would have to wait and hope the men would circle back around to see what had happened to me, or I could try to find my way back on my own. Maybe you can guess which one I chose. My male ego kicked in, and I didn’t even stop to ask for directions. With no map or GPS, it wouldn’t be easy, but I had an idea – if only I could find a stream, it would lead me back to the Pucuro River, where I could hopefully get my bearings. After hours of searching and praying for water, I’ll never forget hearing the sound of the river. I was so thirsty – I’d never known a thirst like that before!
Jumping into the river, all I could do was drink and drink until the thirst vanished. And this was the result of only one day without water in the wilderness! What would it be like to go without water for three days in a desert?
Instead of striving with the critics of God’s ways, Moses went before the Lord as a true servant of God and mediator. As an intercessor, Moses cried out to God for the people. God’s miracle was found in a tree. Moses threw the tree into the water, and the water became sweet! Has the Lord shown you his tree, the one that makes your bitter waters sweet? Jesus is truly that flourishing tree spoken of in Psalm 1.
He is the “tree planted by God’s design, deeply rooted by the brooks of bliss.” A tree thrown into the water made the water sweet. What a clear picture this is of “the tree” upon which Jesus was crucified and how it can make the bitter things of our lives sweet. Jesus is the sweetener that is not artificial!
So Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord opened his eyes to see a tree. When Moses threw the branch of the tree into the water, the water became good to drink. (Exodus 15:25)
This we know: the cross has the power to turn sweet what once brought bitterness to our lives. The sweetness of his cross is stronger than the bitterness of abuse, pain, rejection, misunderstanding, or grief. The cross has yielded the most powerful sweetness known on Earth. By virtue of his sufferings, Jesus is now dispensing power to take away our pain, turn our sorrow to joy, and make our bitter experience sweet. There is honey for us and healing for our pain. Throughout our “dark night of the soul,” we must hold to our hearts the cross of Christ like “a sachet of myrrh,” (Song of Songs 1:13). The sufferings of Christ actually become a fragrant sweetness to a tender heart. If we will cry out like Moses did, we will see the crucified Christ as our healer.
There is another story in the Bible that shows how our difficulties can become something sweet as we allow God to work in our lives. It’s the story of Samson, who fought a lion, but later found hidden honey waiting for him. Samson was an amazing man – the hippie judge who wanted a wife no matter what it might cost. So he set off into enemy territory to find his wife, but along the way he was confronted by a raging lion. Jesus also confronted a roaring lion on the way to get his bride. Jesus faced the lion of our sin, Satan himself. The cross was where Jesus was mauled and pierced with the lion’s claws (the nails). All for his bride, the church.
So Samson, after killing a lion with his bare hands, went to get his girl. Days later on his way home, he passed by the very place where he had been mauled. He turned aside to look at the lion’s carcass, and what a surprise awaited him. “In the carcass of the lion was a swarm of bees and some honey. So he scooped out the honey with his hands,” (Judges 14:8-9). Even what seems like devastation can yield honey. But who would want to wrestle a lion? Samson tasted sweetness out of what once brought him difficulty and struggle.
It’s time for you to scoop the sweetness of Christ out of everything that troubles you. There is enough of God in every situation to give you honey if you will but turn aside and look. In scripture, honey is often a symbol of the light of revelation. The deepest revelations and lessons of life come from the lions we meet along the way. Defeat the lion, and the honey is yours! It is like honey to our soul when we see the sweetness of God overwhelm the bitterness of our heart. That is, if we don’t give up.
When we meet a difficulty or a test, it is not a sign of God’s disapproval but an opportunity to taste God’s victory in our lives. Look at the cross and you’ll see it. Resurrection always follows refocus! Look at the pattern Jesus left us when he met the most difficult affliction of his life – to die on a cross. What a lion he faced at Calvary. But he suffered long enough, enduring the entire debacle so that his death would yield the honey of resurrection. Don’t quit until you taste the honey!
Every desert trial we face has within it the seeds of a wonderful victory. If we lean on him in our wilderness, those seeds will sprout and blossom, bearing the most pleasant fruit – all of this to our wonder and joy, (Hebrews 12:2). Yet if we back off, throw in the towel, and give up, we are not giving God enough time to make the honey of victory.
Remember this: a wilderness is the place you pass through on the way to his heart. Listen to the courage of David when he faced a wilderness season in his life: “With you as my strength I can crush an enemy hoard, advancing through every stronghold that stands in front of me,” (Psalm 18:29). Supernatural strength waits for you if you will turn to God in your most difficult moment. So often we’re not prepared for the tests in life, but God is prepared to see us through them in victory.
Nothing had been said to the Israelites about commands and decrees while they were in Egypt, but in the desert they had to learn that blessings would flow to them as they were obedient to the covenant-keeping God:
There the Lord made a decree and a binding promise on their behalf, and there he tested them. (Exodus 15:25)
The Lord tests us with every disappointment. He longs to prove himself as the One who is more than enough. He lives in you and me and wants his endless life to come forth. You must “lay your hands on eternal life, for this is your calling,” (1 Timothy 6:12). So we are called to possess a life that comes out of eternity, the life of our Lord Jesus.
Every test and trial is God’s unique way of inviting us to lay hold of another life, a borrowed life, the life of Jesus. His life is enough for every pain and sorrow. It was enough on the cross to take away our burdens. He prevailed by laying hold of the life of his Father, even as he laid down his own life for us. But there is still more.
The Lord Who Heals
We may find ourselves walking in the wilderness, but it will take us into God’s heart. I want to share with you the God who heals. He’s a loving God who longs to bring you all the comfort and power you need to be healed inside and out. Let’s take up the Hebrews’ story where we left off. After the water was made sweet, God promised his people:
“If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is pleasing in his eyes, if you follow his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the sicknesses I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.” (Exodus 15:26)
Healing and listening to God’s voice are linked together. The God who heals us is the God who wants us to pay attention to all his commands and follow his voice. We can trust what he says, for he is our healer. We can do what he says, for he is our God. He can even heal your hearing problem so that you can hear his voice! He can heal your heart problem so you can follow his ways!
As we hear and obey, life is sweet. United to his heart, he makes the waters of Marah drinkable. Ask Paul and Silas. As they were in chains in a “Marah experience,” they sang praises and glorified God. Bitter waters became sweet for them.
The One who healed the waters will heal you. Exodus 15:26 contains the first promise of healing in the Bible when God reveals himself as Jehovah Rapha, saying, “For I am the Lord, your healer.”
The word used here for “heals” can also mean, “to mend, to cure, to repair, to make healthy,” and, “to thoroughly make whole.” One German scholar even translates it, “I am Yahweh, your doctor.”
Here are some other powerful scriptures that teach us of the “healing tree” of God’s power. If you are in need today, here’s your cure:
Yahweh, you are my soul’s celebration.
How could I forget the miracles of kindness you’ve done for me?
You’ve kissed my heart with your forgiveness, in spite of all I’ve done!
You’ve healed me inside and out from every disease!
He heals the wounds of every shattered heart.
The Lord heals his fractured people and heals their severe wounds.
I love hearing this: “He heals all your sicknesses.” Notice that it doesn’t say, “He diagnoses all your diseases.” The doctor can do that. Specialists can do a great job of putting their finger on the disease and saying, “That’s the cause.” But they cannot heal. Neither can any man. Only God can heal all our diseases: “I am the Lord, your healer!” (Exodus 15:26)
But it isn’t just talking about diseases of the body, is it? Not only can our bodies be healed but also our souls. He heals us inside and out! The Hebrew word used in Exodus 15:26 for sicknesses can also be translated, “diseases, illnesses, grief, or wounds.” What a wonderful God who leads us through the wildernesses of life! It was at Marah that this new revelation of God was imparted. There’s always a fresh and new revelation of God’s healing power in every wilderness. If we will but watch and listen, our cry for mercy will be heard in Heaven – and God will answer as our healer.
Look at Psalm 6:
No Lord! Don’t condemn me.
Don’t punish me in your fiery anger.
Please deal gently with me,
show me mercy for I’m sick and frail.
I’m fading away with weakness.
Heal me, for I’m falling apart.
How long until you take away this pain
in my body and in my soul?
Lord, I’m trembling in fear!
Turn back death from my door and deliver my life
because I know you love and desire to have me as your very own.
How can I be any good to you dead?
For those who are in the graveyards sing no songs.
In the darkness of death who remembers you?
How could I bring you praise if I’m buried in a tomb?
I’m so exhausted and worn out with my weeping.
I endure weary, sleepless nights filled with moaning,
soaking my pillow with my tears.
My eyes of faith won’t focus anymore,
for sorrow fills my heart.
There are so many enemies who come against me!
Go away! Leave me, all you workers of wickedness!
For the Lord has turned to listen to my thunderous cry.
Yes! The Lord my healer has heard all my pleading
and has taken hold of my prayers and answered them all.
Now it’s my enemies who have been shamed!
Terror-stricken, they will turn back again,
knowing the bitterness of sudden disgrace!
If we seek God in our wilderness, we will find more than enough grace to move forward with confidence. We all visit Marah from time to time. As we take the healing tree and cast it into our circumstances, our hearts will be healed and our emotions balanced. Just as God used Marah in the maturing process of the Hebrews, so he will use our bitter experiences and heartaches to lead us to his healing tree – the cross of Christ, the place of real healing.
So remember, the healing tree of grace can sweeten any difficulty and calm any storm! Allow God to use what you have had to pass through to produce in you a strength you’ve never had before, a song you’ve never been able to sing before.
I will bring you through seasons of silence, not for punishment but to perfect and mature your faith. The more glorious your calling, the more difficult your preparation. Ask my servant, Joseph. The silence of the pit and the chains of false imprisonment worked holiness into his soul. One day very soon, the designated darkness in your life will give way to the brilliance of a new day. Your prison doors will sing wide open to promote you as my Godly champion to your destiny. Don’t give up, falter, or complain, for your enthronement is near!