Bitter or Better?


A journey from Mara to Elim.

“Moses cried out to the Lord and the Lord showed him a piece of wood.” Ex 15:25

Wooden cross on the top of Zámčisko

Like the Israelites we, on our own life’s journey, also encounter “lakes of bitterness.” I was literally in the region of the “Great Lakes” one year on a ministry visit to Rwanda. This country has known its share of bitterness. One of the pastors I stayed with still bore the scars of the conflict on his forehead. His wife showed me a neat semi circle of a scar that meandered all across her ankle and Achilles tendon.

“My foot was nearly severed in the massacre,” she said, taking down a faded black and white portrait of her Father. “I was only a young girl of eighteen when I lost him and all the rest of my family in the genocide.”

I stared at the deep scars on strong black flesh, glanced again at the lost Father and wondered how on earth love can survive.

Another friend shared how after 25 years of loyal service he had found himself out of a job and passed over for promotion. Nameless thousands survive on a dollar day, noble African ladies till the fields with a baby on their back, while other nameless thousands in the West throw away almost as much food as we eat!

One of the basic human needs is for both material and psychological fulfilment. On their journey to the promise land the people of God were thirsting after a satisfying cool drink. Imagine the disappointment and anger when their drink turned out so bitter!

Have some of your own legitimate thirsts been thwarted? What has left a bitter taste in your own mouth? That bitter taste often impregnates our words which are a good indicator of our “bitterness” level!

The writer of Hebrews 12:14-15 clearly saw the terrible toxic potential of bitterness to eat away at the very structures of our lives together.

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

The cross is the only instrument sharp enough to cut out the roots of bitterness. Only one man ever owned a bitterness free heart. He hung that heart up upon a cross like a cosmic sponge and soaked up the “Great Lake” of mankind’s “Mara”.

Like Moses, we need to cry out in desperation until we gain a fresh revelation of that “piece of wood”, that old rugged cross, which, when applied to the bitter waters of aching hearts can make them sweet again.

“He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.”

May our words and personalities find a renewed sweetness as we allow the work of the cross to function in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.

Cry out to God. Don’t stop at Mara! It is not your final destination.

“I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.” Psalm 57:2

With the cleansing of the bitter waters and the call to obedience comes a deep revelation of the covenant name – Yahweh  Rapha.

“I am the Lord who heals you.” Exodus 15:26

Peter quoted the prophet Isaiah when writing to a persecuted church, reminding them that,

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”  1 Peter 2:24

Revelation and Ezekiel also encourage us with the promise of a “tree” of life in heaven whose leaves are for “the healing of nations.” Rev22:2

We serve a loving, reconciling, powerful God who makes us better rather than bitter!

Our destination is Elim. Have you ever longed for the picture postcard palm trees? We have so much more in Christ – perfect provision and eternal life welling up for us in abundance.

And so, let’s go back to the scars of Rwanda. I recently ventured to the cinema to see the Oscar winning film “Slumdog Millionaire”, and in the last scene the lover kisses the scars of his bride and redeems the pain.

It is only a very pale reflection of our reality, but I believe Christ will heal our deepest scars; kiss away Rwanda’s (and all nations’) wounds in his ultimate healing embrace of His Bride the Church.

“Crown Him the Lord of love; see from His hands and side,

Those wounds still visible above in beauty glorified.

No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,

But downward bears his burning eye,

At mysteries so bright.”







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