The Water is Bitter but I Don’t Want to Be

If I were going to be honest about the summer of 2014, I would have to admit disappointment. Discouragement. Disillusionment. I would have to tell you that what seemed endless possibilities in June faded into the “mono-fog” of July and ended abruptly with the scorching heat of August. Doors that had creaked open slammed shut. And I would be lying if I told you it hasn’t worn on me. I have wondered if I missed something. I have wondered if I forgot to listen or if God forgot to speak. I have wondered if He’s led me here to mock me. I have wondered if He’s led me here at all.

I keep thinking about the Israelites: how the Lord led them up out of Egypt, how they marched boldly across dry land and watched the sea swallow their enemy, how they followed that pillar of cloud and fire – the visible glory of God in their midst. I keep thinking about how He led them out of bondage and straight into the wilderness. I keep thinking about the panic that rose among them as the wilderness yielded no water. I keep thinking about the relief that must have set in when they spotted the water at Marah (Exodus 15:22-23), the excitement, the joy – the Lord had provided after all.

Except the water was bitter, and they could not drink it.

And where panic had risen before the relief, an aching disillusionment threatened to reign. Disappointment cuts sharper than doubt. The thirst of Might the Lord come through? is so much easier to endure than the gulps of Why didn’t He?

Let’s sit with His people for just a moment beside the bitter water. I’ve been aching for some company beside this mocking stream.

Here’s a little irony for you. This summer, the women of our church have been doing a Bible study called A Place in His Presence. And I wrote it. And I’m not sure of my place at all. Did I dive into a bitter stream and invite them all to join me? No. I know I didn’t. But as I sit here beside this stagnant water, I look around to see if there is anyone to ask, as the Israelites did, “What shall we drink?” (Exodus 15:24).

What is Your plan, God? What do we do now? Where do we go from here? What is Your will?

Show me, and I will do it.

At the command of the Lord, Moses threw a log into the water, and the water became sweet. And I kick at the sticks around my feet, wondering if, were I to summon the courage to toss one in, this water might magically turn from bitter to sweet.

Might I uncover the plans of God? Might I find the secret of His still-unclear will?

And I’ve begun to wonder, with my toes dipped in this worthless water, if that’s the wrong question entirely. What if this isn’t about knowing His plans but about knowing Him, right here in the heat of this disappointing August? Right here, where the doors have all closed, and I wonder if I’ve missed Him.

Right here – where I think I thirst for guidance but truly thirst for Him.

Because maybe the problem at Marah, where the bitter water turned sweet, was that the hearts of the people turned bitter.

No amount of provision would soften their hearts. Not manna. Not quail. Not a pillar of fire. They still wondered aloud the next time their mouths went dry: “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7).

And my own eyes blur with their wondering. Are You here? Do You sit beside me in this unfamiliar land? Do I still have a place in Your presence?

The disappointment cuts deep. The slamming doors echo confusion. The water is bitter here, Father. But I don’t want to be.

I don’t know what stream you sit beside this August. Did you, like the Israelites (and like me), run toward a stream that promised provision but soured in your mouth? Do you hold fragments of a plan that used to appear to be God’s will? Perhaps. Or perhaps your summer has held promise and hope and open doors you didn’t expect. Perhaps you’re splashing in a freshwater stream of abundant provision and purpose.

Whatever the water we sit beside, I pray we know His presence right here in the midst of it. I pray our hearts stay softened to the hand of our Lord. I pray our hearts stay tender whether the water sweetens or our thirst remains.

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