God Will Meet Your Needs—But First You Must Ask
The life and legacy of Moses
Dr. Jim Denison
As I write this commentary from my study in Dallas, Texas, I have just been to church in England. The Methodist Church of Great Britain has started the Internet’s first virtual church: churchoffools.com. I was able to slip electronically into a worship service, sit in a pew, listen to a sermon, and participate in conversation.
The “church” still has some problems to work out—one user named himself “Satan” and began cursing at the pulpit, and the first “live” sermon was interrupted when the minister’s computer crashed. But organizers believe their effort has enormous potential. Only seven percent of Brits regularly attend church services, but 68,000 visited the Church of Fools in its first two days.
Churches these days are more intentional about meeting the needs of their members and communities than ever. According to recent surveys, the number of Americans who claim no religion has doubled in the last ten years. More and more congregations are trying new strategies to interest and attract unchurched people.
D. L. Moody was right: the message must never change, but the method must always stay relevant. Entrepreneurial, creative ministries and worship services have a significant role to play in reaching the unreached.
The problem with need-centered innovation, however, is that we can learn to rely on our methods more than the message. We can trust our creativity, our new programs and strategies, our buildings and resources. But only the Holy Spirit can change a life, convict of sin, convert sinners, transform homes, or do anything else which is eternal. Only God can meet the deepest needs of our hearts and lives.
What needs are most obvious in your life this week? In the hearts of those you will teach this Sunday? Are you tempted to bring your hurts to God only after you have been everywhere else? To ask him to bless your solutions rather than seeking his? To seek his guidance only after yours has failed?
Even the omnipotent God of the universe cannot give his children that which they will not receive. The Hebrews learned faith lessons we still need to remember today, if we would welcome by faith the help and hope our Father longs to give. For each event there is the complaint of the people, the provision of God, and the principle for our lives today.
Turning bitter water sweet (Exodus 15:22-27)
Four principles will guide God’s people to trust his provision for our needs. The first teaches us how to find God’s help in transforming pain to promise, making bitter waters better. It may be that you are dealing with a painful family conflict, a dead-end work environment, or a debilitating physical challenge. How can God transform and use our present frustrations for his glory and our good?
The Desert of Shur (also known as the Desert of Etham, Numbers 33:8) was located in the northwestern part of the Sinai peninsula, just east of the Red Sea. It was not unusual for a travel to wander for days there without finding water. For this reason, travelers typically kept to the road by the Mediterranean Sea, or used trade caravan route to the south.
But as we saw in the last study, such a travel route would have led the Israelites into organized opposition from the Egyptian military outposts and Canaanite guards. And so the Hebrews began their travels across an arid region where water was difficult if not impossible to find.
There may have been two million people in this exodus. After three days, their stores of portable water have run dry. And three days is the longest our bodies can typically survive without water. Their families and livestock are in danger of dying from dehydration in the hot sun and arid climate.
So the people “grumbled” (the word means to murmur or complain) against Moses: “What are we to drink?” They found a spring (known as ‘Ain Hawarah today), but its waters were too bitter to drink. And so their spirits turned as bitter as their water.
God knew their need before they did. He did not bring them this far to leave them. He knew precisely how he would give them the water they must have. And he showed his provision in a miraculous way.
“Moses cried out to the Lord” (v. 25), which is exactly what we must each do when the need arises. Moses didn’t try to solve the problem himself, or ask God to bless his decision. He went to the Father first, as his consistent response to trouble (cf. Exodus 15:25; 32:30; 33:8; Numbers 11:2, 11; 12:13; 14:13-19).
And God gave him a divine answer: “the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet” (v. 25). This may have been a barberry tree, often used by modern Arabs to cover the mineral taste of the bitter spring at ‘Ain Hawarah and make its water palatable. Whatever means he used, God provided for their need by his grace.
Here is the lesson God wanted his people to learn: “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you” (v. 26).
The Lord further proved his provision by leading the people to Elim (called Wadi Gharandel today, seven miles to the south of ‘Ain Harawah), where they could camp near abundant water. He could have brought them to Elim first, meeting their need in this natural way. Instead, he chose to turn the bitter water sweet to demonstrate his provisional power to his people.
Jesus made the same point to his disciples: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31-33).