Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men and women. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.” –Phillips Brooks (American preacher and Episcopal bishop, 1835-1893)
Perhaps Philips Brooks had the Israelites in mind when he spoke these words to his Boston congregation. For the Israelites began to grumble and whine about returning to Egypt whenever they encountered trials. Their joyful worship of God after crossing the Red Sea failed to connect with daily trust of God’s provision during their wilderness walk.
You may read Exodus 15:22-16:3 here: Bible Gateway.
It’s easy to look down on the Israelites’ grumbling attitude, especially after their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. I’m missing out, however, if I don’t look beyond their faults. Am I any different? Do I sing praises to God on Sunday, only to complain about my circumstances during the week? Have I recently won a spiritual battle only to find myself losing the victory like the Jews in their journey toward Mount Sinai?
Warren Wiersbe shares some great advice about the Israelites’ desert wanderings in his book, Be Delivered. I’m following his outline in this series.
Expect Trials to Come
Wiersbe writes: “God was testing His people, not because He didn’t know their hearts, but because they didn’t know their own hearts. . . . ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jer. 17:9).’ The Lord tests us to encourage spiritual growth and bring out the best in us, but the Devil tempts us to bring out the worst in us and to encourage spiritual immaturity. The attitude that we take toward our difficulties determines which direction life will go, for what life does to us depends on what life finds in us. If we trust God and obey His Word, we’ll pass the test and grow, but if in unbelief we complain and disobey the Lord, we’ll fail the test and remain immature (James 1:12-18; Heb. 12:1-11).”
I know I’m guilty multiple times of trying to avoid or smooth over situations that create conflict or produce pain. I’d rather be sailing in the Caribbean while soaking up the sunshine and sipping my strawberry soda. But the truth is: Life is a journey where we must fight new battles and learn new lessons. We need new experiences that challenge us. And God knows best how to tailor these challenges to help us grow and glorify Him.
“What shall we drink?” (15:22-27). This question, along with: “What shall we eat?” (16:1-3) were at the forefront of the Israelites’ minds. Although they had forgotten their bondage and beatings while enslaved in Egypt, they remembered Egypt’s “flesh pots” that filled their stomachs.
Now their challenge consisted of traveling three days in the desert—with children and animals—without water. Not a pleasant experience! On the third day they came across water, only to find it was bitter, (Marah means “bitter”).
Unlike the Israelites who complained and accused Moses and Aaron of leading them into the wilderness to die, Moses acted in faith. He cried out to God and then obeyed.
Wiersbe concludes: “God can solve our problems by changing things (like making the bitter waters sweet), by giving us something else (like the wells of water at Elim), or by giving us the grace we need to bear with our difficulties and not complain. The third approach is what produces lasting spiritual growth (2 Cor. 12:7-10). . . .Note to self . . . . The Jews not only learned something about themselves and about life, but they also learned something about their God, that He is ‘Jehovah-Ropha, the Lord who heals’ (15:26). God promised Israel abundant physical blessings if they would obey Him, but physical afflictions if they disobeyed (Deut. 7:12-15; 28). These promises were a part of the old covenant with Israel and aren’t repeated in the new covenant for believers today. If it is His will, God is certainly able to heal every disease, but our attitude must always be, ‘Not my will but Thy will be done.’”
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus—knowing the intense suffering that lay before Him—modeled this prayer three times. Instead of complaining or questioning God, He simply prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will,” (Matthew 26:39b). What incredible love and obedience!
Thankfully, God knows how to balance our life experiences. He alone knows how much we can take. Although God gives us trials to humble and grow us, He also pours out rich blessings to encourage—just as He did by leading His people to the restful place of Elim with lots of water.