22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.
We’ve all heard and said the sayings haven’t we? It’s always something! If it’s not one thing it’s another. At the same time, we always seem surprised at the next problem or challenge; like it was not supposed to happen. Yet it always happens. Things break. Flat tires. Broken bones. The wine runs out. Marriages collapse. Cancer strikes. Heart is attacked. Job lost. Hard drive crashes.
I remember as a kid riding out to the farm with my dad after a big rain. A rain in the midst of a drought is Christmas in July for a farmer. He had to know exactly how much it rained—in every rain gauge! Per usual, after about the third rain gauge check we would get the truck stuck in the thick black buckshot mud. Dad and I would walk a mile through the mud to get a tractor to pull the truck out, and what do you know—we would get the tractor stuck, and walk another mile back to get yet another tractor. But it rained, which was good news! And you see where this is going. I would learn lots of choice new vocabulary words on those outings. This is life. This is wilderness.
For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.
A week ago the problem was Pharaoh. Three days ago the Red Sea was the obstacle. Now they can’t find water to drink. Then the miracle happens, and they find water, but there’s a problem with the water—it was bitter and un-drinkable. It’s always something! If it’s not one thing it’s another. WILD-ER-NESS!
So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
Here’s my question. These people knew how to cry out to the Lord. That’s how they got out of Egypt. So why are they now grumbling at Moses? It brings us to Wilderness Lesson #1: While it’s always easier to grumble at our leaders in the wilderness, the secret to success is crying out to God. Watch Moses.
Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.
Moses is starting to look more than a little Eagle Scout-ish here. Something tells me Moses knew a thing or two because he’d seen a thing or two. Here’s what I love, though; Moses was not confident in himself but in God. Even better, I have a sense that Moses had learned to become confident in himself in God. This is my early hypothesis on Moses I would like to test with you as we move along on this journey.
There is a progressive journey of maturity in the ways and means of God. We begin with a lack of self confidence. We grow to master something and become self-confident. Still, the world has a way of beating the confidence out of us. Through the grace of our brokenness, we meet God and gain a whole new kind of confidence anchored in him. People try to affirm us and we deflect. We say things like, “That was not me. It was all God.” At this stage, it is a zero sum game. Either God gets the glory or I do, so I give it to God. We know it is not a “me and God thing,” as though we were somehow partners. A lot of people want to believe this (I call it braunschweiger theology)’that God actually needs people to accomplish his will and is bereft without them. It’s the sentiment behind those cute little poems that say things like, “God has no hands but our hands.”
The next phase of maturity is the God-in-me phase, where I know it’s not me but God in me doing the stuff. Here is where confidence in God flourishes. At this point, if one is willing to descend, she will come to the me-in-God phase, a sanctified confidence in ourselves, anchored not in ourselves but in our union with God. This is rarified air and we see far too little of it.
Finally, we come to the we-in-God phase, where we begin to find a kind of union with other people wholly anchored in union with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the deep and abiding trinitarian mystery of friendship. This is where the magic happens; where we participate in the answer to Jesus’ prayer, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:21)
But I digress . . . or do I?! Where can we learn such things but in the wilderness, where we must trade in ponderous musings for practical mysteries—where God shows us a piece of wood and gives us the sense to throw it in the bitter water, making it fit to drink?
Father, reveal to me the deeper wisdom of your will and ways in the wilderness. I’m not where I hoped to be, but am further than I used to be. I want to become a “me-in-God” kind of person and even more a “we-in-God” kind of friend of Jesus. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolations, through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
What do you think of this progression of mature faith: from God-with-me to God-in-me to me-in-God to we-in-God? How do you understand yourself on this continuum?
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For the Awakening,
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