“No pain, no gain.”
No kidding! Whether you’re trying to get in shape physically, mentally, or spiritually, you’ll eventually crash into the truth of those words.
I’ve had bursts of physical fitness dreams throughout my life where I plod to the gym, hop on a machine, and promptly hate every second of it. My attitude has gotten better recently as I watch my 89-year-old dad golf his age on the course. He’s still going strong, even though I see some weakness setting in. His secret is simple: Keep active.
Even if it hurts.
Because I’m getting a little older, I’ve decided to hit the gym again regularly (three times a week) besides walking on the off days. Is it fun? No. No, it’s not. But I’ve noticed my strength increasing with training (I track the weights needed on a 3x5 card). And to make that progress, I have to challenge myself through increased weight and repetition.
Oh boy, does that ever apply to our spiritual life!
Scripture says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). So, let’s learn some endurance and encouragement from the people of Israel in Exodus 15:22-17:16. Take a moment to read through that section before you read on.
A little back story here. As of chapter 15:22, Israel has just left Egypt during the famous Exodus. They saw Yehovah destroy Egypt. After the plagues, Egypt had a crippled economy, and with the death of all firstborn sons and animals, a massive loss of their labor force (Exodus 12:29). They were in a state of total economic/societal collapse. The Great Red Sea Drowning Event wiped out what was left of Egypt’s leadership (Exodus 14:21-31).
And the Israelites rejoiced (Exodus 15:1-18).
But little did they know what lay ahead! Egypt was behind them, but the wilderness was before them. They left devastation to face desolation. Frying pans and fires come to mind. They were about to embark on a 47-day journey with God to Mount Sinai.
So, what’s a person’s first concern in the desert? Thirst, right? Water was Moses’ first logistical challenge in the wilderness since the Bible says there were 600,000 men. They numbered about 1.2 to 2 million desert travelers, with all the women and children added. And don’t forget their thirsty flocks!
But God had a purpose for this journey to Mount Sinai in the land of Midian, and it was to train Israel to trust Him. As we read on, remember that the Lord deliberately led His people into situations of lack. They ran out of water and food and had no protection or fighting skills (because what enslaving country would be dumb enough to teach their slaves to fight?).
Israel’s first training session commenced when the massive horde arrived at the Waters of Marah (Exodus 15:22-27). They were only three days into their journey and hadn’t found water. Now they found water, but it was “bitter.” In Minnesota-speak, it was “ishy.” In simple terms, it was undrinkable. “How ever will we survive?” they lamented, not trusting their miracle-working Yehovah. Remember, this is the same million voice choir that sang, “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord? Who is like you, mighty in holiness? Awesome in praise, working wonders!” just a few days earlier (Exodus 15:11). “God can save us, but can He preserve us?” is their question.
Moses did what the people should have done – turn to the Lord in trust. Yehovah proved His trustworthiness by showing Moses the remedy, lobbing a tree into the water, which “healed” the water. (I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time envisioning Moses lobbing a scrub tree into an oasis!) What was God’s point in this first Training to Trust session? “I am the Lord, your healer. I can heal and preserve you as easily as I healed the water. I not only can save you but keep you safe. But there’s a condition: Trust Me and obey My commands.”
So, what’s our first “Learn from Israel” lesson? We can trust God to preserve us because He controls our situation.
And now for Training to Trust lesson #2. The people of Israel are about 27 days into their journey, a little more than halfway to their destination (Exodus 16:1). They’ve just hit the “we’re out of food” point. Yes, Yehovah has deliberately led them into a helpless and seemingly hopeless situation. Where are they going to find food for the Israelite Million Member March?
Their cry is familiar, “Where can I possibly find what I need to sustain me in this situation?”
People become short-sighted when it comes to their unmet needs and cries of the flesh. But God brings us to the end of ourselves to train us to trust Him. The Israelites feared the extent of the problem rather than the expanse of God’s love and power.
Yehovah provided two ways to make two “Trust Me” points. The quail banquet was a natural provision by supernatural means, and God’s first point was that it was He who gave them their freedom (16:6). The manna was a purely supernatural event. God’s second point was that He was with them, He hears them and takes care of them every day, even when He tells them to rest (16:7, 13-36).
But now Yehovah really steps up the “Trust Me” challenge!
About one and a half months into the journey, the Israelites run out of water again. There isn’t even disgusting water to slake their thirst (Exodus 17:1-7)! Do you see how the Lord raised the threat level of their training session?
What do the easily panicked Israelites do? The same thing most (if not all) Christians do when they’re learning to trust God; they turn on the wrong thing instead of turning to God. In this case, they turn on Moses.
They depended on a person rather than God. This response cannot be the attitude of God’s people. The Lord’s standard is “You shall not live on bread alone but by…every word that proceeds from God’s mouth.” In other words, don’t look down. Look up. Like the Israelites, we must learn God is our first and only source. So much so that even when facing an absolutely impossible situation, the Lord tells us,
“Trust Me. Watch Me do the impossible!”
Can God do the impossible? Did God create the universe out of nothing? (Insert rhetorical answers, “Yes!” here.) Then He can create a solution to your situation out of nothing. Trust Him.
What’s our second “Learn from Israel” lesson? We can trust God to provide everything we need to carry us through our situation.
Look at the “Training to Trust” steps up to this juncture. “Trust Me to 1) Preserve you, and 2) Provide naturally and supernaturally.” Yehovah was building their trust by expanding their idea of who He is and what He can really do!
And now the final “Train to Trust” lesson of Israel’s journey. (Can’t you just hear the Israelites whine, “Are we there, yet? Are we there, yet? Are we there, yet?) This third training session happens in the same place and time as the “water from the rock” episode. The Amalekites, a nomadic tribe, descended from Jacob’s (Israel’s) brother, Esau, staged a sneak attack. It likely came from the long-time family animosity powered by the desire to plunder the crowd of newly freed slaves as easy pickings (Exodus 17:8-16). This trust challenge here is, “What do you do when you’re suddenly trapped and under attack, and you’re completely out of your league?”
This situation is one of those times to blindly step up and trust the Lord for help amid the struggle. The only thing the Israelites had going for them was Moses and his staff (God’s authority) and God’s presence with them. God was there, but they had to do the work. The Lord didn’t smite their attackers as He did at the Red Sea. This time, Yehovah allowed the battle to come to them to train them to act while trusting Him.
What’s our third “Learn from Israel” lesson? We can trust God to protect us in any situation.
As the Lord shows us through His Training to Trust sessions with the Israelites, we can trust the Lord to Preserve, Provide, and Protect us because of His Presence. (My, oh my. That’s some mighty fine alliteration there!) That gives us faith unto peace. Faith unto peace is trusting God to the point where we experience inner peace no matter what’s going on around us. Faith into peace is the level of trust at which our Heavenly Father wants us to live.
Isaiah 26:3 shows the connection between trust in the Lord and peace. “You will keep the mind that is dependent on You in perfect peace, for it is trusting in You” (Isaiah 26:3 HCSB). The Amplified Bible says it well, “You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You” (AMP) (bold – author).
How do we get faith unto peace? Only through the Lord’s Training to Trust Him school. How do we enroll? When we first trust Jesus for salvation. Then we start learning to trust God more. That comes when He allows us to enter situations where we must trust Him because we have no other options. But trust really shines when we do have other options to help us other than God. Willing trust is our highest goal.
Do you need safety? Trust your Preserver, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).
Do you need supply? Trust your Provider, “So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matthew 6:31-33).
Do you need security? Trust your Protector, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11) and “Even when I go through the darkest valley (the valley of the shadow of death), I fear no danger, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
Yeah, we’re just like the Israelites. When faced with difficult to impossible situations our first response is usually another “P” word – panic! But if we’ve been trained to trust God and turn to Him, we’ll find we’ve developed a faith unto peace.
And rather than turning on the Lord during our training session, we learn to turn to the Lord first.
“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
And with that, off to the gym!
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts