We were extremely hopeful that the Lord would soon provide a way to meet the many needs overwhelming our family right now. Doors opened and it seemed as though God was paving the way to an answered prayer. Yet, within a moment, that assumed provision was gone and confusion and fear were left in its place. I admit, I wrestled with conflicting thoughts and emotions. From within the torrent of emotions came questions – questions I had to hash out with the Lord. “God, I am confident that you are good, but I can’t understand why you continue to withhold provisions for our family. I believe that you are in control, but why then would you close yet another door that seemed certain to bring the relief that we need? We are praying for your direction, but why do you seem to continue to lead us down a dead end? Why did you bring us this far, with all the effort and emotion that’s been invested, just to leave us right back where we started?”
As I tried to process the emotions, confusion, and frustrations that I was experiencing, I went to the only place that I knew to find solid ground – God’s Word. As I began to read, I stumbled upon Exodus 15:22-25 –
“Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the Wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.”
“Wow”, I thought, “the Israelites were so quick to doubt and grumble against the Lord after just experiencing his miraculous power at the Red Sea.” Then it hit me – I too am responding exactly the same way. As I began to meditate on this passage, I recognized three ways that we are prone to respond similarly when we are struggling to see God’s provision.
We are quick to forget God’s faithfulness.
The Lord had just led the Israelites across the Red Sea three days earlier! How quickly they forgot and assumed God couldn’t handle their current need. I too can be quick to forget. Rather than thanking God for his provision that led us in his wisdom and foreknowledge to sell our home and downsize, which provided the savings that has sustained us through this drought of unemployment and illness, I am quick to grumble and fear because he isn’t providing in the way I desire.
We are such forgetful people and much like the Israelites, we can live with a short-sighted view, forgetting how faithful God has been and choosing to live in anxiety, fear, and self-protection instead.
We are quick to grumble when God doesn’t provide in our timing or way.
When the parched Israelites saw the water ahead, they must have been relieved and ecstatic! Imagine the disappointment, anger, and fear that must have arisen when they tasted the bitterness of the water. My initial thought would have been, “God, you know that we are desperate for water! What I thought was your provision and faithfulness turned out to be nothing but a bitter disappointment!”
Isn’t it hard not to respond this way? I know I have when jobs have fallen through, promising words from a doctor never came to fruition, and good days of health were followed by several worse days of pain. There have been many times in my life, especially recently, where I have found myself excited about an apparent provision from God, only to find out that it wasn’t as it seemed. Yet, God doesn’t work on our timetable and he often works in ways that are far beyond what we can understand. If we are determined to make sense of what he’s doing, we will set ourselves up for frustration and disappointment, and struggle to believe that God is good and loving when circumstances don’t pan out the way we thought that they would.
We are quick to grumble to each other, rather than take our concern directly to the Lord.
It’s often natural to take our complaints to a friend, spouse, or pastor because we want to be heard, comforted, and maybe even affirmed in our worries. Why is prayer and time in the Word so often our second (or last) response? Maybe because we’d rather take control into our own hands rather than wait and trust that God will be faithful in his timing. Maybe because we struggle to trust that God cares about every detail of our lives. Maybe because we’re afraid that God will provide in a different way than we were hoping for. More than anything, prayer takes faith in God (rather than what we can see) and expectant waiting – neither of which are easy. And yet, it seems that this is exactly why God allows these disappointing and perplexing situations. He wants us to throw ourselves wholeheartedly and dependently on his promised faithfulness, goodness, and provision.
How then can we learn to respond when we are experiencing unmet needs and desires?
Trust that God knows what we need.
The challenge arises when we think that we know what we need more than God does. I wouldn’t necessarily say that out loud (except that I just did), but my response to circumstances that I don’t understand reflect that underlying belief. However, God looks at what we need from eternal eyes, while we often look through temporal ones. As we see with the Israelites time and time again, God provided for their needs, but not until they saw how helpless they were apart from God’s intervention and provision. In God’s grace, despite their grumbling response, he heard their cries and intervened. We too need to remember that God sees our needs and will be faithful to provide what we truly need in his desired timing and in his eternal perspective. That may mean that he denies what we think we need in order to reveal that our ‘needs’ are actually desires that he is choosing not to provide for our eternal good and his purposes. Other times, that may mean that he wants us to learn to wait on him in faith until he provides in a way that reveals he is trustworthy and faithful with every detail of our lives.
Take our needs and fears directly to Christ and wait on him expectantly.
Whether we are faced with an unfulfilled desire or a legitimate need, trusting it to the Lord and waiting on him can be some of the most faith stretching experiences. Right now, as I watch our family struggle with the devastating effects of Lyme Disease, mental illness, and no income, I struggle to understand why the Lord continues to close doors for work for my husband and continues to allow confusion and chaos that perplex doctors. Having an income to provide for our family’s layered challenges seems like a legitimate need to me. And yet, the Lord has chosen not to provide through a job, but rather through daily provision that we have to trust will be there tomorrow. It’s easy for fear and anxiety to set in, but it’s growing our faith roots down deep, stretching us to trust our family’s many needs to the Lord, even when we can’t see how or when he will provide.
Whenever we are faced with these fear-inducing circumstances, we need to continually look back on God’s past faithfulness to provide and guide, and we need to bring our fears and concerns to him directly. As tempting as it is to moan and groan to those around us, we need to remember that Christ is our advocate, not our friends, family, or pastors. While the body of Christ is a helpful and God-given gift to us, we need to make sure that we are bringing ourselves to Christ and his truth before anyone else.
Know that God delights to work through circumstances that seem impossible to display his power in a way that cannot be denied.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a position similar to the Israelites – facing a problem that no one can solve apart from divine intervention. As painful and trying as these seasons can be, they are also opportunities to watch God work in ways that display his glory and leave us breathless. The Lord could have chosen to lead the Israelites to water that had been sweet, but he chose to allow them the temporary disappointment and test of faith to show them his power in an undeniable way.
For us, God could have led us to a doctor who diagnosed me with Lyme Disease a decade ago and allowed me to get healthier before having children. Yet, for his purposes, he withheld that information and brought four beautiful children into the world with an awful sickness and and unknown future. However, we have been given the gift of being utterly dependent on Christ and his power and provision for us. Only he can bring good from this pain and only he can change it if he chooses to. As we learn to wait on him in faith, our anticipation grows to see how he will put his glory on display through an impossible situation.
Be encouraged that the Lord can turn what is bitter into something sweet.
I wonder how incredible it must have been for the Israelites to taste how sweet the water was after tasting its bitterness. Isn’t that true in our lives? The sweetness of Christ’s forgiveness and grace is far sweeter after tasting the bitterness of sin. The sweetness of Christ’s provision is all the sweeter after tasting the bitterness of desperate need. The sweetness of Christ’s love, joy, and peace is all the sweeter after tasting the bitterness and emptiness of the world.
Therefore, if you you are facing something bitter in your life, remember that we serve a God who delights in turning what is bitter into something sweet. Will you join me in crying out to the God who saves and is fully able to provide all that we need in his perfect timing? Though it may not be in the way we expect or on our timetable, we can trust that Christ knows what we need. Because of that, we can pray, wait, and trust that he will faithfully provide in a way that will grow our love for him and bring glory to his name. And oh, how sweet it will be.
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