Disappointment can be a huge challenge in our lives. During many speaking engagements to groups in various places, I have often asked this question: “How many of you have had to struggle with disappointment?” Very few people ever responded by saying, “I’ve never encountered setbacks.” Why? Because disappointment is one of the conditions of life that inevitably comes our way.
As hard as we may try, we can’t always avoid setbacks or disillusionments. That fact can be good news, however, because sometimes our “disappointments” are “God’s appointments.” They can be a part of God’s program to move us forward into our destiny as His children.
In this three-part Teaching Legacy series, “Life’s Bitter Pool,” we will see this principle at work in the lives of the children of Israel. Disappointment (and the process of overcoming it) was a prominent factor in the victories and setbacks they faced on their journey to the Promised Land. My hope is that from their story, you and I will learn how to counter disappointments with confidence. By doing so, we can get the best God has for us out of those “bitter pool” moments in our lives.
A Moment Of Triumph
Let’s begin Part 1, “Facing Disappointment,” by looking at one of the most thrilling stories in the entire Old Testament history of God’s people, Israel. After 400 years of slavery, they had escaped the armies of Pharaoh, passing through the waters of the Red Sea as though walking on dry land. The teaching in this letter is based on what happened next—just after that epic event. But first, let’s look at this crowning moment of their miraculous deliverance, as recorded in Exodus 15:19:
“For the horses of Pharaoh went with his chariots and his horsemen into the sea, and the LORD brought back the waters of the sea upon them. But the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea.”
That really was a tremendous triumph, wasn’t it? As Moses held his staff over the waters, the children of Israel miraculously “went on dry land in the midst of the sea.” But the entire military force of Pharaoh was swept away. Not one Egyptian survived.
An Unexpected Setback
I am sure the Israelites concluded that now all their troubles were over! God was in control, and the rest of their journey would be easy and uneventful. As a result, however, they were unprepared for what lay ahead—beginning with their encounter with “Life’s Bitter Pool.” Here is what happened next:
“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. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) [In Hebrew, Marah is the word for ‘bitter.’] So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’” (Exodus 15:22-24,NIV)
After three days of travel in the hot and dusty wilderness of Shur, their water supply was seriously low. So when they saw, in the distance, the gleam of water from this pool called Marah, some of them must have started to run to get there to quench their thirst. But, oh, what a terrible disappointment when they stooped down to drink! The waters were so bitter they could not drink them.
How could such a thing happen to them? Hadn’t God just granted them a tremendous deliverance and victory? The children of Israel were completely unprepared for this devastating turn of events. But there was one person who was not unprepared—and that was God.
Let me say this: No matter how many times we may feel unprepared, God is never unprepared. God never has an emergency. God is never confronted with a situation for which He has no answer.
In the face of disappointment, the people grumbled. But Moses did the sensible thing—he prayed. And this is what followed:
“So he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.” (Exodus15:25)
When Moses picked up that tree and threw it into the water, the water became sweet.
The Act Of Faith
It is important to see that the Scripture does not say the tree made the water sweet. There was nothing magical about the tree. It was the supernatural power of God. When Moses cast the tree into the water, his act of faith released the miracle-working power of God into that situation.
That is how God’s miracle-working power is usually released in our own lives as well. The act of faith is the key that unlocks the miracle-working power of God and makes it available in the situation where we need it.
And so it was with those bitter waters at the Pool of Marah. Moses threw in the tree—and that act of faith released the power of God that turned the bitter waters into sweet waters.
Steps To Take Today
If you are confronted by a bitter pool in your life, I want to suggest some practical steps you can take in responding to unexpected disappointments.
- First, recognize that the bitter pool is in God’s program. God led you there. He knows all about it, and He has the remedy.
- Second, let God deal with any defects in your character that have been exposed by the bitter pool. For example, if you have grumbled when you should have prayed.
- Third, accept by faith what Jesus did for you on the cross. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24, ESV).
- The fourth and most important step: Begin to thank God for what Jesus has done on your behalf. Begin to receive that provision by thanking Him for whatever you need: forgiveness, emotional relief, physical healing, freedom from resentment and bitterness.
When you thank God in faith, you are “throwing the tree into the water.” The purest expression of faith for you and me is simply thanking God—without seeing any change or waiting for the evidence—praising Him for what was done on our behalf on the cross. Thanking Him releases that miracle working power to change the bitter water to sweet.
In our next segment of teaching letters on this theme, we will discuss some further applications of this truth. But for now, as we conclude this letter with a prayer, let’s take that first important step of thanksgiving:
Dear Lord, I thank You. By faith, I receive the lessons You want to teach me from the bitter pools I face in life. As an act of faith, I offer thanks to You, “throwing the tree into the waters,” turning them from bitter to sweet.
I acknowledge that You are in charge of my life, leading me and guiding me, even when I encounter the disappointments of life. Even in those times, You are in charge, and I thank You for your Lordship over my life. Amen.
Part 2: Life’s Bitter Pool (Part 2)