What to do in the desert when you are out of water

Have you ever been led by God to a really dry place? Has God’s leading to this place been through means that even in the midst of your thirst you can’t question? Your response to God’s direction was obedience to what you thought was His clear guidance and now you find yourself precariously camped out in the desert; you are thirsty and can’t find any water.

Your response may be like mine. I usually complain a lot. I gripe about everything around me, especially the people in authority over me. It’s always their fault. To the Lord I cry “foul,” this isn’t what obedience is supposed to produce. Of course all my grousing is done in very “spiritual” language and in public I almost never admit how dry and thirsty I am. But way down deep I am convinced a loving God couldn’t really want me to be out in the desert and so thirsty.

It is difficult to make a directional mistake when one follows a “pillar of fire” at night or a supernatural cloud stretching out in front of you in the daytime. Those directional signs can’t be missed. There was not the slightest doubt that the “whole congregation” in Exodus 17 was at Rephidim because that is where God, their liberator, protector and provider had led them. There was also no question that there was no water to drink.

The people of Israel responded just like I do. They complained to Moses and blamed him for their problem and wanted to go back to the good old days that existed only in their imaginations. As I read the story, a nagging question came to my mind. What would have been the proper response of God’s people after He led them to this place where there was no water? The fact was that they, their kids, and their animals were all real thirsty. What should be my proper response to my dry desert experience?

I found it interesting that when Moses cries out in desperation to the Lord God, (the fear of people throwing a lot of rocks at you will lend an urgency to one’s prayers) the Almighty doesn’t condemn the people for being desperate for water or chide Moses for his panic. God doesn’t seem the least bit surprised by the situation or the people’s response to it. The fact was that the whole desert experience seemed sovereignly engineered to build trust in God, His direction, provision and leadership.

The Bible doesn’t say what the proper response of Israel should have been. However, there are some strong hints. The children of Israel had just been delivered from Egypt and seen its great imperial army destroyed by their God. The people had marched through the Red Sea on dry land because of His intervention. Six days each and every week, morning and evening, even in this dry place, God provided them with nourishing food. They might have remembered some of these things and thanked God for His deliverance, faithfulness and supply. The old hymn says “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings, see what God has done.” A grateful heart that remembers and recounts God’s blessings is a powerful behavior to master, especially in the dry places.

Another more positive response to the dry and desolate spot could have been to realize that it was no mistake by their leader, Moses, that brought them to this place with no water. Rather,it was the Almighty who directed them to Rephidim. They could have asked Him why they were there and what they were supposed to learn.

They could have at least trusted God in spite of a little thirst. They could have … They could have responded in a bunch of more positive ways, but just like me Israel went to griping and the blame game. Could’uv, should’uv is an endless game we all play when we don’t, won’t or can’t.

At Rephidim God has His people right where He wants them. God leads all of us into a dry desert for mainly one reason. God our deliverer and sustainer wants us to look to Him alone for our supply and sustenance. My dad used to say, “Everyone wants to see miracles, but no one wants to live where miracles have to take place.” At times God puts all of us in that desert place we would never choose, a place where it’s dry and we are thirsty and only a miracle of divine intervention will sustain us.

Moses’ assessment of his congregation was right. They were testing God by doubting the presence of the Almighty with them. Moses also thought that they were stretching God’s patience too far. Psalm 95:8 says we are not to be like the chosen people who “hardened their hearts and tested God” at this very place. We harden our hearts when we kick, complain and groan instead of remembering all the wondrous things He has done, when we fail to look to Him for the miraculous supply of our need for water. However, God remains patient and longsuffering with His people now as then.

Blaming a director, board chair, pastor, boss or colleagues for your thirst may seem satisfying, it may avoid the issue for a quick moment. But only God can give us water in the dry and dusty place into which He leads us. Israel never seemed to learn this well. With the Holy Spirit’s help, I want to internalize this lesson. When God is the One who brought me into the desert, why look anywhere else for water?

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