How Bitter Things Become Sweet

The only bitter thing I want in my life is dark chocolate. A piece of eighty-six percent Ghirardelli intense dark is just enough to satisfy my sweet tooth so I don’t get into too much trouble nibbling on things I shouldn’t eat. Otherwise, I prefer to avoid bitter things—especially bitter circumstances. If it were up to me, life would be sweet and enjoyable all the time. 

But it isn’t up to me. 

One of the biggest misunderstandings of the Christian walk is that life should be easier as a child of God. It sounds nice to imagine that being saved by the blood of Christ also means we’re saved from the trials of this life. Trials that might dangle resentment in front of our next steps and bait us to doubt the existence of God. After all, how could a loving God let bad things happen to His children? Doesn’t our “family” status mean anything? 

Yes, it means more than we can imagine. 

It means God is for me and no longer against me. 
It means I have hope and a future. 
It means Christ is my advocate, and every spiritual blessing is at my disposal. 
It means I am never alone. 
It means the Holy Spirit indwells me. 
It means I have the benefit of storing up treasure in heaven. 
It means I will spend forever with my Savior even though I don’t deserve the privilege. 

However, my status as God’s child does not mean I get an address on Easy Street. That, my friend, is a lie of the devil, intended to sabotage the trust I have in Jesus. And guess what? Ours isn’t the first (nor the last) generation to fall for this destructive lie. The Israelites who followed Moses out of Egypt fell for it, too: hook, line, and sinker. 

Following God Is Not a Life of Leisure

One of my favorite things about Israel’s story of redemption is how it echoes our story of redemption. First, just as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, so too is humanity enslaved to sin (prior to salvation in Jesus Christ). Second, there’s the parallel of the Passover. Just as the blood of the lamb saved Israel, so does the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, save us. Third, just as God led Israel out of Egypt to serve Him, so does Christ set us free so we can love and serve Him. 

But the parallels don’t stop there. Just as Israel continued to endure trials and difficulties even after their redemption, so do we. God never issued them a pass to avoid everything difficult and frustrating. Instead, just hours into their new adventure as God’s chosen ones, their lives required faith, trust, and surrender by the boatload (or by lack of a boat, if you catch my drift), as Israel found themselves hemmed in between the Red Sea and an angry, fast-approaching Egyptian army.

So here’s the picture: following God didn’t mean leisure living and lollipops for the Israelites. Instead, it meant an immediate confrontation against a vicious enemy, mixed with an intense battle of faith over fear. Why? So they could experience God, and watch Him part the waters. So they could feel the dry sea floor underneath their feet and watch their mighty Savior grant them victory. 

And we wonder why God lets the hard things happen. Israel would have missed God’s powerful display of sovereignty if He had let them take the easy route. What an incredible moment it must have been to watch God split the Red Sea in half! And yet, we know that God doesn’t always part the waters. 

If you’ve been waiting for God to split your raging waters in half so you can walk through feeling sand beneath your toes, I invite you to peek past the Red Sea to the next part of Israel’s journey. 

Following God Sometimes Leads to Bitter Water 

Safe and sound on the other side of the Red Sea, life didn’t get more manageable for the Israelites. Instead, life presented new, faith-rattling challenges. Just three days later, the Israelites were dying of thirst and in desperate need of water. So when they arrived at Marah (which means bitterness) only to realize the water was undrinkable, they panicked and laid into Moses. 

Moses, in turn, cried out to God and the Lord instructed Moses to throw a specific tree into the water. As a result, the water became drinkable (Ex. 15:25). The ESV translation says the water became sweet. 

Here’s the next picture: water that once tasted bitter turned into something sweet thanks to God’s provision of a tree. I can think of another tree that’s sweetened my life, can you? 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness.” 

Just as God used a tree to turn Israel’s bitter water into something sweet, so does God use the cross to make our bitter waters sweet. We’re never without hope as Christ-followers, even when situations are hard to swallow. When we allow the gospel to saturate the hard things of life, even the undrinkable things become drinkable.

Recently, one of my dearest friends gave her testimony at a ladies event I attended. Her life has not been easy. She’s buried a daughter and a husband on separate occasions. Already a widow in her thirties, she’s been left with two little boys to raise on her own.

Her story is hard, but thanks to Christ and the gospel and hope and Scripture and the Church, she will tell you the worst week of her life was also the best week of her life. How is that even impossible? Because the presence of our Savior and His sustaining power can make even the bitter things sweet. 

Following God Sweetens the Journey 

Salvation isn’t a pass to avoid difficult things. Our journey (just like Israel’s journey) is full of challenges, temptations, and heartache. But just as Israel had reasons to trust God, so do we. Just as they had promises to cling to, so do we. And when we cling to those promises while holding fast to Christ, even the most bitter circumstances can give way to something sweet. 

My youngest son asked the other day if miracles still happen. My instant response was, “Yes, of course!” “Then why don’t we see them?” he countered. “I think we do see them,” I said. “But some of the biggest miracles I’ve experienced haven’t been on the outside. They’ve taken place inside of me. I forgave when I didn’t think I could forgive. I persisted when I didn’t think I could go on. I loved when I didn’t think love was possible. And I experienced joy when joy seemed unlikely.” 

Listen, friend, if you’ve been patiently (or anxiously) waiting for God to part the waters in a particular situation, I want to encourage you to try another tactic. Throw the gospel on top of that raging sea. Let God sweeten the water instead of getting rid of it. Surrender the situation to Him, and saturate your mind with Scripture. 

There were days when my precious friend walked around her empty home shouting Scripture at the top of her lungs because she was desperate to believe it. God hasn’t promised us an address on Easy Street on this side of heaven.

There may be seasons when we find ourselves at Marah, dying of thirst and plagued with bitter water. But it isn’t because God is unkind; it’s to help us see that our God can make even the bitter things sweet.

We tend to hope and pray for God to part the waters—to give us new circumstances—but sometimes the bigger miracle is finding that bitter water is drinkable because God is still good. The gospel is still true. Jesus is still here. 

There is no one like our God. Sometimes He parts the water, and sometimes He simply makes it drinkable, but either way, if we cling to Jesus, we’ll experience God’s faithful hand. 

About the Author

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery is a farmer’s wife and mother of four. When she isn’t serving a meal on the side of the road, riding in a tractor with her husband, or driving kids to practice, you’ll find her escaping the crazy by writing devotionals at StaceySalsbery.com, where she gives readers a weekly practical and deeper look at God’s Word. Her favorite things in the world (not counting her Savior, husband, and kids) include flipping houses, buying new books, and going for a nice long run. Stacey and her family reside in the cornfields of Indiana.

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