It was there at Marah that the Lord set . .
to test their faithfulness to Him.
– Exodus 15:25 –
A Lesson On Chasing Holy Ever After …
One of the last statements to reach my ears directly from the mouth of my college sweetheart was, “Now I can finally live happily ever after”, words that would coincide with the marriage to her “new” husband. In the rear view mirror was a 21 year marriage and divorce where quite possibly she was more married to an idea than to a man . . an idea of a kind of life as a Pastor’s wife that was free of hardship, unplanned transition, uprooting of the family home, politics in the church, a “faith-forward dive into the unknown” spirit in her husband, children “marred” by the horrors of discipline, accountability and responsibility (she was raised in a strict religious and legalistic home) and financial instability . . but instead, she (and we) got a full dose of all the above and more.
Problem: when your idea of happy is tied to a set of external “white picket fence” circumstances that for the most part are beyond our control, you are just a couple of dramatic detours away from a season, if not a lifetime, of bitterness . . the kind of bitterness where there must necessarily be a truck load of blame to dump and a fall guy (in my case) to dump the blame on.
I tried to live and serve the Lord with all my own flaws and shortcomings in that environment but I discovered that I naturally drifted towards just existing and surviving. I could never do enough, be enough, love enough, lead enough, speak up enough, say nothing enough, be sorry enough . . my assigned label was “failure” . . and my nightmare was that while I preached freedom in Christ on Sunday, I was far from free to be the me He purposed because I was bound to a soul in love with “happy ever after”.
God understands the dark side of “happy ever after” and knows perfectly how “the good life” may look wonderful on the outside for a time, but just under the surface is a soul that has yet to find freedom that only comes when we set our highest affections on God Himself and entrust our whole life into His hands and purposes . . this IS the working man’s definition of holiness.
Unlike my college sweetheart, God has never been about coddling and smothering His children for His own security . . He is most pleased when our faith is firmly anchored on the immovable things of the Kingdom that are far more enduring than the temporal pleasures of this world.
You would think that after 400-plus years of slavery and a wipe-out victory over the entire Egyptian army at the Red Sea capped off by a rousing chorus of “We Are The Champions”, God might want to go easy on His people, but the first 72 hours in the wilderness (Exodus 15) offered no water and the first key stop was Marah . . an oasis of sorts . . but the water was rancid and of little value to survival.
Suddenly the victory song stopped . . the majestic chorus of praise became a cacophony of complaining.
Make no mistake, God designs to lead all his children to and through Marah . . the question is how will we respond?
My Day In Marah …
Fast-forward several years to a brand new season. The year was 2010 and I was three years into a much-different renewing and life-giving kind of marriage.
After a stint in corporate America life where I lost a book of business to two successive merger and acquisitions, I formed my own company and undertook perhaps the most ambitious project of my lifetime, coordinating the national marketing efforts for an Indiana-based corporate wellness company. Early efforts during the beta-phase of the project were achieving critical traction.
Charlotte, North Carolina had become the hub of the project because most of the key business “players” were based in the “Queen City”. One key player however, who I had personally known for several years in Portland, proved to be the disastrous “Achilles heel” for the project. It would only be after arriving in Charlotte in Spring of 2011 that I would discover that he had forfeited credibility for the project through fraud and misrepresentation – most of the other key players would back out of the project before May.
We had found our bitter water – this would be our day in Marah.
My wife and I sought God for direction – we had just basically finished downsizing our entire financial footprint only months earlier in obedience to God’s call to “let go” and trust Him into a new season of service. We had also sunk our “all” into this one opportunity – it was one of those “do or die” moments.
Then the storms arrived – literally – and one of them nearly destroyed our sole automobile with softball-sized hail. Once we had finished our premiere event obligations in Charlotte, we learned that up-front guaranteed contract pay would go away immediately so we took a self-imposed time-out trip to the South Carolina coast to pray about whether to stay in the South and attempt to rescue the project and stand by our business friends in Indiana, or exit stage-left and zip back out West for a reset.
While in Myrtle Beach, our condo was ransacked and all our business equipment, electronics and personal valuables were stolen while we were out to dinner. Like never before, we knew we were in the apex of a cataclysmic spiritual conflict and we discerned that the Enemy wanted us to turn back and fearfully run and hide . . far from what “might be” in the coming weeks and months in Charlotte.
We discerned that this was about things far more important than business and that we certainly had zoomed well-past “business as usual”.
Keep Singing Your Song …
After seeking God for direction, we knew what was being asked of us and with less than $100 in our pocket, we chose to stand our ground and stay in Charlotte.
The marketing project looked like it would fly once again by Thanksgiving 2011, but an abrupt “about-face” by a national carrier in December proved to be the final nail in the coffin. At the same exact time, my wife Cheri picked up a new domestic client as a professional Nanny and by January it was becoming clear that God was asking me to simply just work for Him – not in some kind of formal church role, but rather through my writing, my coaching and mentoring . . all “volunteer” type activity.
God was asking us to trust Him way beyond our comfort zone and to do so far from home . . but wait, there was no more “home” . . that had been sold along with 90% of our earthly possessions many many months earlier. In a strange way, while we were certainly being stretched, we were also free like never before because it was just us . . and Jesus.
Sounds like a cliche I’m sure . . but when you get there and find yourself on a “road to nowhere” journey . . you amazingly discover He is our “enough”.
We can be physically free on the outside
but lifeless souls on death row on the inside.
– David “JB” Miller
As we navigated through 2012 in Charlotte, provision would come in the most unexpected of ways: our monthly rent was anonymously paid one month, the kitchen was spontaneously stocked by friends in a local church who had no idea how bare our “cupboard” really was . . one day, a local Christian businessman called to inform us that God had told Him to give us a check . . and it turned out to be a very timely and generous check.
It was during this exact time that LifeLetter Cafe as we know it today was birthed – what began as a simple web site collaboration with some Christian business folks in Charlotte so I could “land” nearly ten years of my own writing content in one spot . . turned into the launch of a blog platform that today supports and promotes more than 320 amazing Christian thought leaders, including dozens and dozens of pastors.
The fog had begun to clear: God was asking Cheri and I to keep singing our song to Him in Marah, keep moving forward and come alongside and encourage those who speak boldly for His name and do so from our “empty” . . so empty in fact that Christmas would for the second year in a row in Charlotte not be Christmas. No family, no festivities, no parties, no gifts, no anything . . except a $10 dinner at McDonald’s on Christmas day – and even that was a splurge.
We chose to close our 2012 by making a somewhat unusual commitment – we made ourselves available for a massive Church outreach that included 17 performances over ten days and gobs of hours. It was all we could give, but we gave from a deep well of gratitude even though we ached for a new season of life and stability.
The outreach was amazing – we saw hundreds receive Christ and we got to worship in a way that maybe counts just a little more than that Sunday “church thing”. We locked arms with dozens of volunteers and celebrated God’s victories on Christmas Eve after the final performance . . and then headed out to the parking lot.
In our minds, we were grateful for what we just experienced but we also dreaded returning to the cold and empty apartment that would be our Christmas home.
And then we noticed a clear bag taped to our windshield. This seemed really strange on this wet and wintry Christmas Eve. We jumped inside our SUV and opened the bag only to discover a card containing $2,012.00 as a remembrance of God’s faithfulness in 2012 with no signature or clue as to who might be the giver.
We melted and sobbed tears of relief and joy.
Will You Pass The Test? …
It was there at Marah that the Lord set before them
the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness to him.
He said, ‘If you will listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God
and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees,
then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians;
for I am the LORD who heals you’.
– Exodus 15:26 –
In His mercy, God provided refreshment to sustain the Miller’s when we chose to keep trusting Him and moving forward in Charlotte.Similarly, in His mercy, God provided a piece of wood to Moses, the man who had 2.4 million sets of eyes asking one question, “Got water?” When Moses threw the wood into the waters at Marah, Scripture tells us that the water became drinkable. What might have amounted to the largest mass mutiny in history was quelled – the message was received . . for the moment . . and because the Israelites didn’t dig in and get stuck at Marah and heeded God’s voice and Moses’ leadership, they found their way to Elim . . a lush Oasis with 12 wells of life-giving water and 70 palms of much-needed shade.
Some Questions To Consider …
- Have you ever got stuck on “happy ever after”?
- What complaints have you thrown towards God on your day in Marah?
- Been tempted to turn your back on God and retake control of your life?
- Where has God’s mercy met you in your moment of vulnerability and uncertainty?
Sometimes God takes to us to the place of nothing so that we can be reminded that He and only He is our everything.Imagine what the Israelites would have missed if they had stopped at Marah.
Like he did for His people who had been freed from misery and oppression, He has already prepared and planned ahead to meet you at your Marah . . to turn your bitter into better . . and to turn your better into overflowing blessing.
God’s promise? We can find ourselves finding Elim . . if we will remember to humbly choose . . holy ever after.
How is God encouraging you today?