The Sweet Blessing of Bitter Trials

Do you believe the truth that anything that makes us need God is a blessing?

My family has suffered one serious challenge after another this year. Everything from financial trials, to sicknesses, to surgeries, to heart-wrenching death. But I believe that anything that makes us need God is a blessing.

Even though I’ve shed many tears, I’ve also rested in God through the heartaches. I’ve pressed into God and seen His kindness and unshakeable nature through it all.

Until the other day.

My morning began with great news. My daughter-in-law called to share how God had worked in their family’s life. She and our son had been unsure about their children’s school situation but God changed the circumstances in amazing ways, and now they are poised for an outstanding year. I celebrated with her and hung up the phone filled with joy. 

God is so good. 

A few hours later, we received another call. One that sucked the joy and peace right out of my soul and replaced them with limping faith.

I hit the wall. God’s many “blessings” had exhausted me. I couldn’t take any more.

I felt like the Israelites after God led them through the Red Sea to Marah. 

From Triumph to Trials

Exodus 1–15 tells the dramatic story of how God set Israel free from slavery in Egypt. Through ten terrible plagues, God exposed the truth that Egypt’s gods were false and powerless. That He alone was the one true and all-powerful God. 

Pharaoh finally surrendered and set God’s people free. But then he changed his mind. 

He chased Israel and trapped them against the Red Sea. Then, as an exclamation point to further display His power, God parted the Red Sea and led Israel in triumph through walls of water. When they reached the other side, He returned the waters to their natural place, and the sea swallowed up Pharaoh’s army. 

No wonder Moses and Israel sang and worshiped the Lord when they reached the other shore.

God was good. 

For three days. 

After three days, they reached the shores of Marah, and Israel’s joy and confidence in God evaporated. 

The waters of Marah were putrid. The Hebrew word Marah means bitter. The Israelites knew they couldn’t survive with only bitter water for their children, their cattle, and themselves.

Why would God lead His own people to Marah? To a place of bitterness?

God doesn’t need GPS, and He never gets lost. This leaves only one conclusion. God intentionally led His beloved children to a place of serious lack.

Anything that makes us need God is a blessing.
—Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Israel didn’t see Marah as a blessing. 

Do we?

We’d rather exchange these “blessings” for something better—for something less bitter. What if we could? Let’s imagine how this might go.

God’s Gift Exchange Counter

Imagine if I walked up to a smiling customer service clerk and plopped a large bag onto her counter. 

“How may I help you?” she asks.

I sigh. “I want to exchange this gift.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“I don’t like it. It’s horribly bitter.”

“May I take a look?”

I shove the bag toward her. “Take it. It’s all yours.”

The clerk peers inside. “Just as I thought,” she says. “The sweet gift of Marah.” 

I sputter. “Sweet? There’s nothing sweet about it.”

“That’s because your gift is only half-opened.”

I cast her a skeptical gaze.

“Marah tastes bitter at first as it exposes areas of doubt. Areas where we think we truly believe or understand who God is.”

I square my shoulders and scrunch my eyes. “I know who God is. And I wasn’t doubting Him until the gift arrived.”

“When did it arrive?” 

“Just before our son called to say he’d been in a car wreck. I was opening the gift when the phone rang.” 

“This is how Marah works. First, it squeezes your faith to force out its weaknesses. It exposes what or who you’re really trusting in. It also uncovers areas of pride. These can be particularly bitter tasting.”

She looks at me with compassion. 

“It seems your Marah has revealed you were content with God being in charge as long as He didn’t allow sorrow to touch your children. You had a line He dared not cross.” 

I look away. I want to deny her words, but I can’t. 

“Don’t worry. Marah’s bitterness gives way to magnificent sweetness once the gift fully opens.”

Her words stir hope in my heart. 

“Your Marah will turn sweet once you understand and believe that God rules in heaven and on earth and does as He pleases. Once you rest in the truth that what God pleases to do is good for His children, your heart will find strength in Him. And you’ll enjoy the sweetness of confidence in Him no matter the bitterness of your circumstances.” 

She pauses until I meet her kind eyes. “Do you still want to exchange your gift?” 

I shake my head and smile as I reach out for the gift. “No, I don’t. I want to carry it straight home and open the gift the rest of the way—and look forward to the sweetness to come.”

Sweetness Will Come

When God led Israel to Marah—to bitter water—they grumbled. They didn’t believe God was caring for them. Even more than fresh water, God’s people lacked fresh faith. Bitterness flowed through them. 

God told Moses to throw a tree branch into the water. When he did, God turned the water sweet, and all Israel drank of its refreshment. 

He does the same for us. God turns our desperation into confidence in Him once we trust that He is enough for our need. He humbles our pride and refreshes us with His grace. He anchors us in truth and fills our souls with peace and joy even in the midst of bitter circumstances. This is the blessing of God’s gift of Marah.

Are You Standing on the Shores of Marah?

Are you standing on the shores of Marah with swollen eyes because you’ve spent the night crying out to God for your needs and the needs of those you love? 

Are you tired of living in lack? In the desert between trials and triumph with only bitter water for your soul?

I don’t know God’s full purpose for your heart-wrenching pain, but I know this—God intends it to bless you. 

The Lord wants to help you realize and believe He’s everything He says He is. That He’s able and willing to do all He’s promised to do—including sustain you and bless you in Marah. It’s why He led you there.

God is always good and only does good for His children.

If God has led you to Marah, cast yourself into His care and fall into His strong arms. Ask Him to reveal any areas of doubt in your heart and confess any unbelief or pride He exposes. Search God’s Word to learn and cling to the unchanging truths about Him. And sing the song of the redeemed. 

Even before the bitter water of your trials tastes sweet, sing the song of Marah, because anything that makes us need God is a blessing. 

One of our greatest blessings as a ministry is the partnership of friends like you. When you give to Revive Our Hearts in the month of July, you become a vital part in helping us share the message of freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness with women all over the world. As our thanks, we’d love to send you our beautiful floral magnetic notepad when you make a donation of any amount. It’s printed with the message from Nancy that inspired Jean’s post: “Anything that makes me need God is a blessing.” 

About the Author

Jean Wilund

Jean Wilund

Jean Wilund is passionate about leading women into a greater understanding of the Bible and a deeper relationship with God. She serves Revive Our Hearts as a member of the blog team and a moderator for the Women's Ministry Leader … read more …

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