The start to 2022 has brought various sources of discouragement through the Ukraine invasion, the fallout from vaccination and reopening issues, and now the fall from grace of another megachurch leader. Our response to whatever may disappoint us becomes critical, though. Expectations of people can easily be dashed, so it is helpful to remind ourselves of the hope of Easter that fixes our eyes on Christ as a source of faith amidst difficulties. Some helpful lessons come from a timeless story.
The Red Sea crossing of God’s people, rescuing them from Egypt, propelled them into the wilderness where water was scarce. (Many believe the stories from this chapter of history to be without foundation but evidence abounds when looking in the right places). When the people complained about their circumstances, Moses sought God for a solution and was told to throw a tree into the waters, after which they became sweet. You can read the story in Exodus 15:22-27.
This miracle offers us three important reminders of the power of God to help amidst discouragement this Easter.
1. The response to anxiety is expectancy
Too often, if we’re honest, we can allow our trust in God to be undermined by our fears. Though emotion is itself a reasonable component of the human response to problems, not all of it is healthily grounded. Anxiety born of fear needs the expectancy of a solution which, for Christians will be ‘birthed’ by God. Looking to him in confidence precedes the receipt of an answer and then some action to demonstrate belief in that answer.
The people at Marah revealed an instinctive answer born of untrusting hearts within their question. You can almost hear it: “Well Moses, what are we supposed to drink now? Why did you bring us this far only for us to die of thirst in the desert?” (Moan. Grizzle. Complain.)
Them and not us, right? Do we not also sometimes reveal in our many questions a sense of knowing better what needs to be done and trusting in God less than we should?
Consider the later conquest of Jericho. Before it became reality, the people beheld an impregnable fortress, only to find God saying for them to see that he had already given them the city (see Joshua 6:1-2). When God is in the business of revealing his plans, we need to look to him with confidence, postured and positioned with the conviction that believing is truly seeing!
2. The antidote to discouragement is revelation.
Christians cannot please God without faith, according to Hebrews 11:6, and faith is grounded in God’s revelation of his word to us, according to Romans 10:17. God’s perspective needs be more dominant than our own, but expectant hope needs the substance of faith linked to hearing specifically from God.
When the people encountered the waters at Marah, they were found to be bitter. Bitterness led to complaint which is exactly where our own emotions can take us if we evaluate everyday adversities wrongly. The perspective of faith looks to God for a solution and Moses demonstrated the response we also need amidst life’s crises and disappointments.
Looking to God despite our internal anxieties, no matter how reasonable and justifiable they may seem, positions us to receive his divine revelation. The response we receive, too, does not always have to make the best sense. It sometimes places us out on a limb to trust for breakthrough. Our call is to be faithful with responsive obedience, whereas God alone is responsible for the outcomes. Such obedience is the hallmark of discipleship and the test of the depth of our faith, anyway.
When all looks lost or hopeless, and our heart might be inclined to sink, a heavenward perspective will ultimately promote resilience.
3. The cure for bitterness is the Cross
The tree became the instrument of healing for the waters of Marah. It symbolises the Cross which heals the bitterness of life, assuming our ongoing faithfulness. God revealed himself in verse 26 as Jehovah Rapha – the Lord of an intimate and relational covenant by which he would heal his people of sickness. Though we struggle with the imperfection or incompleteness of healing sometimes today, we still trust him to provide for us.
The Easter message reminds us that the Cross offers redemption and deliverance on every level. Rather than consign us to pay with our own lives for the penalty of sin (where sin at its most basic level pursues self-direction over God-direction), we have been given an alternative. Jesus who was God and therefore sinless, also came to be human and therefore our substitute, so that his death could pay for ours.
This breaks us free from sin’s power, from the very source of life’s various forms of bitterness. It also releases us to God’s blessing and favour.
The bitter waters at Marah were healed only when the action of trusting obedience saw the miracle manifest. In a similar manner, it was in the disciples’ responsive action of distributing of five loaves and two fish that five thousand people were miraculously fed (Matthew 14:19).
And therein lies the test. In the imperfections and struggles of life, our ability to keep looking expectantly to God positions us to cultivate a faith-filled response to his leading so that answered prayer is then seen in that action. A resilient faith sees us persevere in trust, too, when life nevertheless sometimes fails to make sense.
Finally, the people were called from Marah to continue on the journey to the Promised Land. Staying in the place of yesterday’s provision can rob us of today’s possibilities. Faithfulness is a lifestyle and not an event.
When all around seems like desert, God is in the habit of creating one more oasis of provision, and submitting ourselves to the transforming power of the Cross means we continue in his strength, in relationship with the one who supplies our every need according to his riches (Philippians 4:19).
May this Easter fill your heart with resurgent optimism and rekindle a passion for relationship with the one who bore our sin, our imperfections, our shortcomings, and our guilt. It is in him alone that we find the ultimate joy of life and a renewed sense of strength and purpose.