Most Christians fall into the trap of trying to deliver themselves from sin of some kind, perhaps a bad habit or a nasty attitude or giving in to a recurring temptation. After days or weeks or even years of struggle, we recognize that we cannot do it. At that point, some give up, make excuses such as, “It isn’t really that bad” and let that besetting sin get the best of them.
This struggle usually happens over impurities that others might not give much attention to, such as fussiness with food or clothing, being stubborn over the way to do my ministry, or having an irritated impatience when someone sits in “my place” at the table. While these seem fairly inconsequential, the Lord knows there are deeper problems beneath the surface, deep-seated stuff that must be brought to awareness, confessed and cleansed.
Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. 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.” (Exodus 15:22–26)
In the case of the Israelites, they grumbled because they were thirsty and the only water they found was not fit to drink. This seems a “normal” response, something like I might have if I took a gulp of milk and realized it was sour. However, God sees deeper. Their grumbling always flowed from a heart filled with selfish unbelief. They blamed Moses, but he was God’s servant. They were actually angry with God for the “hardships” He was putting them through, as if He didn’t know what He was doing and as if He did not care about them.
The professor for the current course I am taking says that next to idolatry, grumbling is likely the worst sin in the Old Testament. To have a complaint against Almighty God who is holy, knows all, loves beyond what we can comprehend, and is wise, is equivalent to blasphemy.
When I grumble, I am declaring that in my mind God is not any of those things. I am saying that God isn’t doing what I want Him to do, as if I know better than He does. When I wish things were different than they are, or want something denied to me, then I am expressing that I do not really trust God as I claim.
This ties to my struggles with besetting sin. In the battle, God finally gets through my thick skull that at the root of all sin is a heart of unbelief. I either want something He denies, or don’t want something He permits. Either way, I’m open to whatever bait is dangled in front of me and open to the enemy’s suggestion that the bait will give me what I want or fix what I don’t want.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13–15)
While God does not cause temptation, He may allow it to bring out the fact of that inner desire, the one that says He doesn’t know what He is doing, that I know better or that I am a better judge of what is best for me. While the desire may not be sinful (it is okay to be thirsty), taking the bait is. It begins a journey down a winding garden path that leads into a patch of entangling thorns, and even to a dark and bottomless well.
God is the healer. He can change bitter water to sweet, fussiness to contentment, stubbornness to yieldedness, impatience to calm trust, hard hearts to soft. Instead of insisting on “I want what I want right now” I can trust Him to supply all that I need, even the grace to be satisfied — content with whatever state I am in or how long He takes to change things, or even how long it takes me to learn these lessons!