Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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What to Do When Your Plot Twists

Dannah Gresh: God loves you enough to not always give you everything you want. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth explains.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: God knows when we need the times of refreshing. He knows when we can handle prosperity, and He knows that we cannot handle non-stop, uninterrupted seasons of prosperity and abundance—because if we never had any lack of abundance, we would never long for the Promised Land!

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of You Can Trust God to Write Your Story, for Friday, August 28, 2020. I'm Dannah Gresh.

Today is the last day of this short series. But if you missed any of the other programs, it's not too late. You can find the first two episodes at Now, here's Nancy.

Nancy: Over the last couple of days, we’ve been looking at the theme of water, God’s people, and God’s purposes in the book of Exodus. I hope that what we’ve talked about, which is just really a flyover of some really key scenes in the book of Exodus (we could spend days on any one of these scenes!) . . .

But I hope it’s just whetting your appetite (no pun intended) to get into God’s Word and read and study more, and let God speak to you about your life through His Word and His ways. We’re in Exodus chapter 15.

We looked in the first day at three scenes earlier in Exodus where water was involved: Moses being drawn out of the river Nile, the water of the Nile being turned to blood (it’s the first of ten plagues), and then the Red Sea being parted so the children of Israel could go through on dry land.

The water was for them, in that moment, the water of salvation. But for the Egyptians who refused to believe God’s promises, it became for them waters of judgment. And one day every human being will experience either the waters of salvation or the waters of God’s judgment—God’s righteous and just judgment for those who have never trusted Christ to be their Savior.

Now we come to verse 22 of Exodus chapter 15. We started into this scene in the last program, so let’s just read it for those who may not have been with us yesterday.

Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea [where they had lots and lots and lots and lots of water there!] and they went into the wilderness.

So they had this great celebration, this great worship service, but now they come to a wilderness!

They went three days in the wilderness and found no water.

Talk about one extreme to another: lots of water . . . no water! And then, finally, they come (verse 23) to some water. Their hearts had to be beating with excitement within them . . . but they realize the water is bitter. They came to Marah, which means “bitter.”

They could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses (v. 24).

You see, the test in the wilderness pushed to the surface what was in their hearts. They’d been worshiping, singing, playing tambourines, praising God. Well, that was in their hearts at the moment, but what was also embedded deeply in their hearts was a whining, murmuring spirit that God was going to use circumstances to deal with.

They murmured, they grumbled against Moses, “. . . saying, ‘What shall we drink?’ Then we come to verse 25:

And [Moses] cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log [or in some of your translations, “a tree”], and he threw it into the water, and the water became [what?] sweet.


After walking through those walls of water, then going three days with no water, then having bitter water, do you think any water could have been sweeter than the water God provided at that moment!?

Under this pressured circumstance, Moses did what the people should have done. He cried out to the Lord, and when he did, that’s when the Lord showed him the answer. That’s when the Lord showed him the provision: the tree that was going to be the instrument of a miracle.

I wonder sometimes if we don’t ever get to see God’s provision, we don’t ever get to see His hand, we don’t ever get to see the miracle—the getting extricated from our difficult circumstance—because we just keep murmuring and whining when what we should be doing is crying out to the Lord!

Now, just because we cry out to the Lord doesn’t mean we’re going to see the answer right away. But in time—in God’s way and His time—we will see His provision. And so God showed him this provision.

Moses cut down this tree, threw it into the bitter waters, and in a way that we don’t understand (because we’re not told more than this) that tree going into the water healed the waters. It made them sweet. We don’t know if it was a certain kind of tree that had healing properties that made the water change from being bitter to sweet.

We don’t know if it’s just a supernatural miracle God did without any human means (if it was just an old, ordinary tree). We don’t know. But we do know that when Moses cut down that tree and threw it into the water, the waters were healed. They became drinkable.

We also know that, thousands of years later, God cut down another tree and put His Son on it. And there at Calvary, God “healed the bitter waters” of our fallen human condition, our sinfulness. That’s where He gave us sweet, eternal life! He turned our bitter waters to sweet.

It’s Calvary that sweetens bitter waters, even as you may be in the midst of those bitter waters. Even though you may not have experienced the sweetness yet, it’s the cross. It’s going to the cross, it’s embracing the cross that in time and in God’s way will turn those bitter waters to sweet. In fact, you can even find those waters to be sweet while you’re in the middle of bitter waters! How do we explain that? We can’t. It’s supernatural, but Jesus does that at His cross.

And so the bitter water of Marah, that’s undrinkable in verse 23, now in verse 25 becomes sweet water.

The Scripture tells us in Exodus 15, verse 25,

There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, saying, ‘If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer’ (vv. 25–26).

Now these Jews, if we could say it in a New Testament sense, they were “baby Christians.” They had just been redeemed out of slavery. They were new at this. They had been in slavery for generations. They had never known anything but the bondage of Egypt.

And now God has delivered them, and their eyes are big with wonder, and it’s amazing! But they don’t know very much about God yet. And so, God uses circumstances—like this “no water,” and “bitter water,” and “walls of water” at the Red Sea. He uses this to teach them who He is and how He works.

  • God revealed Himself as “the Lord your Healer.”
  • He showed them that they were set apart from the Egyptians, that there was a distinction between His people and His enemies.
  • They saw God’s miraculous power displayed.
  • They were tested.
  • They learned more of His commandments and His ways.
  • They learned a new name for God.

God sometimes leads us, as He did His children in that day, to bitter waters—to places of loss, pain, and disappointment. But we’re reminded as we read the story of the Israelites that God is always sovereign over every circumstance that touches our lives.

Not one of those circumstances can touch us if it’s not first filtered through God’s love, His permission, His hand, His grace. And He uses those circumstances to test us and to teach us. In that process, we have revealed to us more of who God is. “I am the Lord your Healer.”

We would never experience that wonder, that reality, that aspect of God’s character if it weren’t for having tasted bitter waters, right? If we only ever had sweet waters, why would we need to know that God is the One who heals us and delivers us from our spiritual—and other—illnesses and diseases?

You see, your circumstances, my circumstances, they’re an opportunity for God to intervene and to display His supernatural power. Matthew Henry, the old-time commentator, says,

Though God may for a time order His people to camp by the bitter waters of Marah, that shall not always be their lot. Let us not faint at tribulations.

So now God’s people have experienced no water, they’ve experienced bitter water, and they’ve experienced sweet water. But God has even more for His people. Now He wants to take them to a place of abundant water.

We read in verse 27 of Exodus 15:

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water.

A whole oasis big enough for two- to three-million Jews traveling through the wilderness! So the season of testing was followed by a season of refreshing.

Ladies, God knows when we need the times of refreshing. He knows when we can handle prosperity, and He knows that we cannot handle non-stop, uninterrupted seasons of prosperity and abundance. Because if we never had any lack of abundance, we would never long for the Promised Land!

We’d be content to settle down there in the wilderness, tempted to settle for less than what He has in store for us. Elim was intended to provoke gratitude in the hearts of God’s people and greater trust and greater reliance on God—greater dependence on God. Their independent spirit is being rooted out of their hearts.

It’s intended to give His people (and intended to give us) these “Elim” places, to give us a taste of eternal joys that we will experience in His presence. Listen to these verses from Revelation 7:17:

The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

There’s an Elim coming, a place of refreshing, springs of water, trees, shade, and the presence of God—forever and ever and ever! No more bitter waters, no more lack of water, just abundance!

Revelation 22, verses 1 and 2:

Then the angel showed me [this is in the New Heaven and the New Earth and in the New Jerusalem He showed me] the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

So you see here a place of eternal abundance and bliss and joy and strength and fruitfulness and health and healing of the nations. Don’t we need that?! God promises it will happen. There will be this eternal Elim in the presence of God!

So Elim was wonderful! Do you want to just park there and stay there forever? Of course you do!

But that wasn’t God’s plan for the Israelites; it’s not God’s plan for us. The Israelites are not yet at the end of their journey.

There are earthly Elims. There are moments when God just blesses you with sweet moments, reminders of His presence, but it’s not the end of the journey. So two chapters later (flip over to chapter 17 of Exodus), there’s another test, another opportunity for God’s people to trust their Shepherd.

Exodus 17, verse 1:

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on [remember, we’re always moving. Keep moving! Israel moved on] from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.

And I’m thinking, Didn’t we just read this? We’ve been here before! Yes, we have been here before you might be thinking in your circumstances. You had some really hard places, then God took you to a sweet place and then, lo and behold, you wake up and you go, “Whoa! What’s this? We’re back in the hard place!”

“What is God thinking? I thought we learned all the lessons of that ‘no water’ place, of that ‘bitter water’ place! I thought we moved beyond that!” God says, “No, we’re not quite done yet. We’re still preparing you, still testing, still teaching, still leading you toward that Promised Land. But we’ve got to get My people ready for that.”

And how did the Jews respond this time? Did they remember what God had done the last time there was no water? Did they thank Him for His presence, for His guidance in their lives? Did they sing, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me”? Did they say, “He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought” Did they thank Him for His promises? Did they trust Him to provide what they needed this time, as He did the previous time?

And the short answer is, “No!” Look at verse 2:

Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ And Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?’ [We could talk about that whole passage! Let me just move on.] So Moses cried to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me’ (vv. 2–4).

The one who had delivered them out of Egypt, they’re now ready to kill! From “hero” to “zero” in just a few short days.

And the Lord said to Moses, 'Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock [where God is standing before His people], and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.' And Moses did so (vv. 5–6).

A whole many, many lessons we could draw out of this passage:

  • The rock that was struck—a picture of Christ being struck for us.
  • Who gave the water, who was the water? Christ Jesus Himself gave water for His people.
  • He was broken that our thirst might be satisfied.
  • He thirsted that we might have living water.
  • So many lessons that point us to Christ here.

But Moses did what God said to do:

“. . . in the sight of [all] the elders of Israel. He called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’" (vv. 6–7).

So God’s people have not learned all they need to learn.

That first experience was like kindergarten, pre-K. But you do pre-K math, and that doesn’t mean you never need to study math again. After pre-K, there’s kindergarten and first grade and second grade and third grade. Then there’s junior high, and then there’s high school, and then there’s college.

I don’t know much about that, because I never took math after about tenth grade! (laughter) But there is much more to be learned! You can’t pass one year’s test and think, Oh, I know all there is to know about . . . any subject, right?

So a new test was needed: a new year, a new curriculum, a new lap around the track. But with each test, with each lap, with each new trial new mercy and new grace were provided from God!

And all of this—these multiple lessons, this going back to places where we thought we’d learned this—it’s all to strip us of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. It’s to make us dissatisfied with any pleasures apart from those that God provides, to make us dependent on Him and to fit and equip us for our final home.

And as we go through these testing places, these places of hardship and troubles and trials, will not the God who saved and redeemed us and who has provided for us in the past, will He not care for us between here and our ultimate destination? That’s how we learn to counsel our hearts, to remind ourselves, to refresh in our minds.

See, the natural thing to do is the anger stuff, the resentment stuff: “You brought us here to kill us! You moved us to this place,” you tell your husband, “to kill us and our kids!” Right? Have you ever said anything like that, or thought something? Maybe you think it against God: What in the world are You doing?

Now, as evangelical Christians, we know better than to say those things—although it is amazing what comes out of our mouth sometimes when we’re struggling. We don’t understand; we don’t comprehend God’s purposes. He’s writing a script we wouldn’t have written!

But all of this is to remind us to counsel our hearts according to the truth of who we know God to be, how He has redeemed us. He has delivered us. If He has saved our souls from eternal damnation, will He not also with Jesus Christ “freely give us all things” that we need between now and the end of this journey? (see Rom. 8:32).

“Fear not, little flock,” Jesus said in Luke 12:32 as He told His disciples, “Don’t worry about you’re going to eat, what you’re going to drink, what you’re going to wear, where you’re going to live. Fear not little flock, it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The kingdom is ours through Christ our Lord!

It doesn’t always feel like it; it doesn’t always look like it. That’s why we need to look back and review the faithfulness of God. That’s one of the things I love. (In a just couple of weeks from now I’ll be celebrating my spiritual birthday.) I have a track record with God!

Mine is not a great track record, but He’s got a perfect track record of faithfulness and provision and His promises coming true. So I look back, I see what God has done.

I look up in the midst of the crisis and the trial and the challenge, and I say, “Lord, I don’t know how You’re going to do this! I don’t want to whine. I want to worship. I want to trust You in this trial. And if I can’t feel or see how You’re going to provide, then I need to look ahead to Your promises—what You’ve promised, what others have experienced, and what You have said You have in store for those who trust You.”

It’s more than eyes can see or ears can hear or mind can explain. It’s amazing! It’s wonderful! I read about those promises in God’s Word and I say, “I’m going to cling to those promises!” Sometimes it’s in raw, naked faith—not seeing, but believing, and knowing that one day prayer will be praise and faith will be sight. We will see what we trusted Him for on this journey.

Well, on this little flyover of the book of Exodus—looking at water and the people of God and the purposes of God—we’ve seen a number of different scenes:

  • How God led a faith-filled mother to place her infant child in the river Nile.
  • How God used that river that that Pharaoh was using to kill all the Jewish boys to preserve the life of the one who would deliver His people from slavery.
  • How God responded to Pharaoh’s resistance and his refusal to let God’s people go by turning all the water in Egypt to blood. God is powerful over the so-called “god of the Nile” and over every other so-called “god” in this world.
  • In Exodus chapter 14, we saw the Red Sea, this huge body of water, and how God delivered His people and destroyed His enemies, leading to an amazing, fantastic worship and celebration service. And then, next step into the wilderness, where they’d spend the next four decades, as it turned out.
  • Within three days, they’re experiencing the consequences of “no water!” Lots of water to no water!
  • Then they come to water, but it’s bitter water. They can’t drink it. And then God turns the bitter water sweet.
  • Then God turns the sweet water to an abundance of water—an oasis of water, an Elim—a picture of our eternal satisfaction and joy in the river of God’s delights when we are with Him in heaven.
  • Now they come back around, because they’re not in heaven yet. They’re not at the Promised Land yet. They come back around to Rephidim where there is, once again, no water.

God led His people to each of these places, God provided at each of these places, God taught His people at each of these places.

So, as you think about what kind of water you’re facing today, remember first of all it won’t always be the same. And as you face whatever it is, trust Him to lead you, to provide for you, and to teach you. And let these waters of different kinds prompt you to keep coming to Christ, the Living Water, who was struck, smitten for us, that out of Him might come the life-flowing waters of eternal life.

And remember that, wherever you are, you won’t be there forever—until, together, we are in that endless day in His presence. I find great encouragement and perspective as I read those words that Fanny Crosby wrote way back in 1875, but just as sweet and precious to us today as she reminded us:

All the way my Savior leads me, cheers each winding path I tread,
Gives me grace for every trial, feeds me with the living bread.
Though my weary steps may falter, and my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the rock before me, lo! a spring of joy I see.

All the way my Savior leads me, oh, the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised in my Father’s house above. (The Promised Land!)
When my spirit, clothed immortal, wings its flight to realms of day,
This my song through endless ages: Jesus led me all the way.

Amen? Amen!

Dannah: No matter what you’re facing today, God has a perfect track record of faithfulness and provision. You may not know how to handle your present circumstances, but you can choose to trust the God who can and you can worship Him.

We just heard Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth reminding us about God's trustworthiness as we looked at the Book of Exodus. Encouraging messages like this one are part of the commitment of Revive Our Hearts. We want to bring you biblical truth so that you can thrive in Christ. This ministry is possible through the support of listeners just like you.

One resource we want to tell you about is the newest Women of the Bible study, Rahab: Tracing the Thread of Redemption. God can rescue all sinners and redeem their stories. No situation is too difficult for Him, no sin too bad, and no sinner too far gone to be restored.

In this study, discover why hope is always possible as you look at Rahab’s life and see the parallels in your own. You can get this six-week study when you give a gift of any amount this month to Revive Our Hearts. Visit, or call 1–800–569–5959. Be sure to ask for your copy of Rahab.

Next week we celebrate an important milestone here at Revive Our Hearts. It’s the beginning of our twentieth year of ministry! And we’re going to kick it off by taking a look back at the goodness of God over the years. I hope you’ll join us. Have a great weekend!

I trust you’ll be able to worship the Lord together with other believers (in person or online). I’m Dannah Gresh. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts. 

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is helping you rely on God in your hardships. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.