The deeper we get into the wilderness, the more we struggle to trust God. Food runs out, water is scarce, the sun beats down on us, and our list of complaints grows longer. We begin challenging God – why won’t He prove Himself to us? Doesn’t He want good things for us?
We’re in week 3 of Lent, our own wilderness journey. We’re following Israel’s story on this journey, learning about how God uses our wilderness seasons (which you can read about here).
Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness, and today, we’re going to visit part of their story. The part where they’re testing God at a place named Massah. Here, Israel challenges God to prove Himself through the provision of water.
Last week we learned about Israel’s heart through their hunger (link). And this week we’ll see more of their hearts through their literal and symbolic thirst. And as we continue diving deep, we’ll look at why Israel complained so much in the wilderness.
Here, we’ll find our own hearts revealed.
So, join me as we allow God to search our hearts today. And together,
let’s ask God to develop an unquenchable thirst in our lives for God and God alone.
When Struggling to Trust Leads to Testing Trust
Asking the question of why Israel complained so much in the wilderness has two answers:
A superficial, obvious one, and a deeper heart-related one.
To reveal the first answer, let’s ask ourselves:
- What happens when we don’t get what we want? What we think we need?
Well, just like the Israelites repeatedly did, we grumble. We complain, and we often despair.
Because we have a need we believe is going unfulfilled. This is where Israel’s heart is, in Exodus 17:2, where they’re testing God at Massah. The story begins this way,
“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?’”
To start the story, Israel has a need they believe is going unfulfilled. This is the surface-level reason Israel complains so much in the wilderness. Israel complains, but it also escalates beyond that.
They insist on God providing them with water.
That is the deeper heart issue Israel is wrestling with.
Why does Israel complain so much?
Because they’re struggling to trust God.
- What needs do you see in your life that you believe are going unfulfilled?
Spend time writing out a prayer to God, identifying this area of your life before continuing on.
When Struggling To Trust Leads To Hardened Hearts
In the first two stages of Israel’s wilderness journey, their complaining followed a basic pattern: It would’ve been better to die in Egypt than face the situation we’re in now.
Again, in Exodus 17, we see Israel in a situation they don’t want to be in – thirsting for water. And in this moment of need, Israel’s pattern of complaints continues. But, their third round of complaints now escalate.
In Exodus 17:3 we’re told,
“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?’”
Israel’s complaining became much more insistent – violent almost.
Continuing on in Exodus 17:4, we’re told,
“So Moses cried to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’”
This intensifying, this violent cry to fulfill a need, it reveals Israel’s heart in a new way. Israel should know, at this point in their wilderness journey, that God is working good on their behalf.
God saved Israel from the Egyptian army; God provided them food.
Still, Israel continues operating within their pattern of complaint, and so their hearts begin to grow cold.
Reflecting on the unfulfilled need in your own life, honestly search your heart –
- Have you allowed your heart to harden against God as you’ve struggled to trust Him?
My Own Struggle To Trust God
Before we continue Israel’s story, I want to tell you how I’ve personally struggled to trust God. My story isn’t far off from Israel’s – I struggle with a basic need that I often want God to fulfill on my timing.
For the past few years, I’ve struggled with insomnia. At its worst, I’ll only sleep 2-3 hours a night. This can go on for days at a time before my body gives me any relief.
But most of the time, I’ll wake up several times during the night, averaging around 6-7 hours of interrupted sleep.
I’ve come to realize sleep is one of those things we take for granted – until we no longer have it. When my insomnia was at its worst, I struggled each day with depression and understanding my own emotions, my own mind.
I couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t give me relief. My body needs sleep, sleep is a good thing, so why won’t God give it to me?
I sought advice from doctors, therapists. I implemented healthy sleep habits (which, if you’re struggling with sleep, you can read about healthy habits here) and stuck to them.
Still, I couldn’t find relief. It was a wilderness season of my own. A time when I had a basic need stripped away from me, like Israel did.
When you are suffering and don’t see how your need will be met, hear me today sister:
God is never late.
A Deeper Thirst for Trust
As we learned in the first week of Lent, God uses the wilderness seasons to shape our hearts toward Him. God knows we’ll struggle to trust Him in the wilderness, and He is still faithful.
In the midst of Israel struggling to trust God, God once again provided for their need – water.
Last week, we saw that God first provided for Israel’s hunger by revealing their deeper hunger – a hunger for God Himself. And God did that by revealing His presence among them. Now, God does the same with Israel’s thirst.
In Exodus 17:6, God tells Moses, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”
Israel must learn in their times of doubt, in times of desperate need, God is the One they must turn to. They must learn to lean on God, not challenge Him to prove Himself.
Again, God reminds Israel that He’s with them, faithful to provide when they need saving, when they hunger, and when they thirst. As Israel is struggling to trust God in this wilderness, God is saying to them again and again and again:
You can trust me. I am never late.
Your deepest need is for me. You thirst for water, but that can be quenched.
Look to me, your God, with your unquenchable thirst. And I will satisfy you for the rest of your days.
- Where has God recently shown up in your life?
Reflect on the past week and identify a moment when God made Himself known to you. Rejoice that He is with you, even in your doubt and struggle to trust Him.
Consequences of Struggling to Trust God
Before we move on, I want you to hear this loud and clear sister: Struggling to trust God is not a sin. Having doubts is not a sin. Wondering where God is at is not a sin.
In Exodus 17:7, Israel cries out, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Asking this question alone is not testing God – it’s the actions that accompany it.
Israel was trying to force God’s hand. They wanted water as proof so they could continue in faith. Israel’s struggle to trust God led to challenging God to prove Himself, and that was the problem.
They played a dangerous game, one that led to them having a complete crisis of faith. Israel allowed their doubt to harden their hearts to God’s presence among them.
And like Israel had a choice in their wilderness journey, so do we.
We can thirst for water alone, seeking to satisfy a need with what we think will fulfill it. Or, we can have an unquenchable thirst for God, seeking satisfaction in His provision, not our own.
None of us are immune to seasons where we struggle to trust God. In seasons of plenty, when all our apparent needs are being met, it can be easy to bury this struggle. But in the wilderness seasons, when all is stripped away, we cannot avoid our heart’s struggle to trust God.
Instead of allowing this wilderness season to harden our hearts to God’s presence, may we seek Him all the more earnestly. May our deepest needs be filled by God alone.
Wherever you are today, my dear woman, I want you to ask yourself these questions:
- How can God be glorified in my circumstances?
- Will I allow God to shape my heart, even when – especially when – I’m in desperate need?
We all have desperate needs.
External, physical needs. Emotional, mental needs.
Today, I want to leave you with this surrender from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church.
Paul proclaims in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10,
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”