When God Leads Us Into Pain

Not every “dead end” or sour outcome is a result of sin or the enemy. Believe it or not, sometimes God purposefully and directly leads us to bitterness without any assistance from the devil, his minions, or our own faulty thinking.

Sometimes, God leads us to bitterness for the purpose of testing the condition of our heart. Will we trust Him?

God led the people of Israel by day in a pillar of cloud, and in a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). He led them this way to the Red Sea where the Lord spread the waters and brought His people across dry ground into freedom (Exodus 14:21-22).

After praises were sang they set out again for the Promised Land with God leading them, day and night, in a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire.

“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” (Exodus 15:22).

They’d just experienced a miracle of epic proportions and were immediately led into the desert. Millions of refugees trudging across sand and rock, the sun beating down on them as if under a magnifying glass. Three days without water.

Only the pillar of cloud leading them by day and the pillar of fire leading them at night served as a reminder that God was still with them. Imagine the questions flitting through the crowd. Where were they going? What was Moses doing? What kind of God would do this?

The plot thickens. “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?’” (Exodus 15:23-24).

Imagine their disappointment. Millions of refugees collapsed at the banks of the spring devastated. Mouths dry as cotton, throats like sandpaper, lips cracked and bleeding from dehydration. Too dehydrated, they can’t even shed a tear of sorrow for their circumstances.

And Moses stood at the water, his mind frantic as he tried to understand what had happened. He, too, was in just as desperate of a need of water as those he led! He was only following the Lord, being obedient to where God told him to go. What was going on?

"And (Moses) cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet” (Exodus 15:25a). Sometimes God will provide us something that seems insufficient to meet an enormous need. Rather than question God when He showed him the log, Moses responded and threw it into the water.

When a need arises, how often do we dismiss the very thing God has brought to our attention as a solution? How quick are we to provide ample reasons why such a thing couldn’t be what God wants to use, and go looking for something else?

Moses didn’t question. He simply threw the useless log into the water trusting God would do something. After watching God part the Red Sea I’m sure Moses was prepared for just about anything to happen when the log splashed into the water. Imagine his relief when the water became sweet.

“There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there He tested them, saying, ‘If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer’” (Exodus 15:25b-26).

The Lord tested the people. Three days into a desert without water, their most basic need unmet until the last moment. We find our true heart condition in such circumstances. How have you been tested? What did you find was lacking in your own character in such a test?

What was the point of God's test to the Israelites? After hundreds of years of slavery, crossing the Red Sea made them infants in their independence. Freedom without boundaries is chaos. To spare them the inevitable suffering of liberty without limits, God immediately took the Israelites from their joy into a place of desperate need. Not of water, but of Him.

On the surface God’s actions could seem cruel. He’d just done a miracle, and then spent three days depriving them of their most basic need, getting their hopes up at a spring they couldn’t drink at, and then - April Fools! - making it sweet enough to consume.

In reality, His deprivation was an act of kindness. He was loving enough to show them how much they needed Him. He demonstrated just what would happen if they tried to live in freedom without Him, but did so in such a controlled way that they were never really in danger. He protected them, even as he taught them what it meant to be dependent on Him.

What’s even more beautiful to me, is God calls Himself their healer. Only the sick need to be healed, which means the Lord already knew the Israelites were going to fail. He knew they were going to do things their own way despite His warning. And yet, He calls himself their healer as if to plant a seed and remind them that when they fail and rebel, there will be an opportunity for healing.

The Jesus we serve in the New Testament is the same God of the Old Testament. He is still waiting for His people, the entire human race He died to save, to leave their rebellious ways behind and return to Him. He is still waiting for those who are tired of living in the chaos of unbridled freedom and come back to Him.

Just as God gave Moses a log to throw into the bitter waters and turn the springs of Marah sweet, He has given you a savior in Christ to refresh your embittered heart. How can Jesus turn your failing marriage into a blessing? How can he heal the brokenness in your heart of a lost loved one? How can Jesus help your drowning business, or your child who’s gone astray, or your terminal illness? It doesn’t seem possible. Just as I’m sure a log seemed like the most unlikely solution to a very real problem.

But God was faithful.

When we do as Moses did and simply obey God’s command, we will see miracles happen. Respond to what He's provided as a solution. How are you going to respond to the voice of God, repent and allow the miracle of Jesus meet your need? What can you do, today, to return to the Lord so he can be your healer?

Often it begins in admitting to Him we need His help.

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