I used to like roller coasters, but last summer, I got off of a roller coaster and didn’t care if I ever rode one again or not. Up. Down. Up. Down. Round and round. Then we exited right where we got on. It’s too much like life. Life is full of ups and downs, yet most of the action is an illusion and we end very close to where we began.
In Exodus 15, we catch up with the people of Israel on the proverbial ‘mountain-top.’ They had just witnessed the greatest victory in the history of their nation. They were up, way up. Yet if you read through to the end of the chapter, they have traveled three days without water in a parched desert and they are thirsty. Excitement spread as they saw water in the distance. Is it a mirage? No – it’s the real thing! They ran to drink. Oh no, it’s stagnate. It’s bitter, not to mention dangerous. Just three days after their emotional high, they find themselves tired and thirsty, in the lowest of emotional valleys.
Thankfully, the Lord doesn’t leave them thirsty. God answers Moses’ prayer by showing him a supernatural cure: a tree. (There is no way that a single tree could naturally change the condition of water for this many people and animals.) Then God covenants healing and preservation to His people through obedience in the laws. After this short test, God leads them on to a huge oasis of 12 wells and 70 palm trees.
Life is full of ups and downs. Solomon wrote about it (Eccl. 3:1-8) and Pete Seeger followed suit (1962 song): To everything there is a season… times of highs and times of lows, a times of ups and times of downs. You don’t need an amusement park to find the ride of your life! We learn how to respond from Exodus 15:
When You’re Up: Sing for Joy [REJOICE]
Moses and Miriam led the people in a song of rejoicing. This was what David spoke of as a ‘new song’ of testimony (Ps. 40:3). They were excited, and it showed! This is the earliest-recorded song in history and what a beautiful song it was. They celebrated who God is, what He did, and what they trusted He would do. It was a song of worship, of thanksgiving, and of faith. I wonder how long they stayed on the shore and soaked in the moment? When we are on the mountain, we procrastinate life itself so that we may stay there and drink in the joy.
When You’re Up: Expect Challenges [REALIZE]
God wants to turn our cyclical ups and downs into something different. He wants to grow us. He’s not content with us rejoicing from the top of a hill when an Everest relationship is possible. He often brings a trial or allows a temptation on the heels of a tremendous victory, to take us to greater heights. He’s likely to give you a test right after you pass your quiz (Deut. 8:2-3)! This is not anything to fear or dread – but something to anticipate (1 Peter 4:12).
When You’re Down: Pray, Don’t Complain [REQUEST]
Complaining would become the dangerous default for these former slaves. It would cause them more grief and cost them more lives than any other sin, including idolatry. Why does it seem so easy to complain and so much harder to pray? We don’t mind telling our friends but telling God seems like one of the last things we do. Whining doesn’t work, prayer does! Paul & Silas had every reason to complain, yet they prayed and sang to the Lord (Acts 16:24-26). And they were delivered! You don’t need to stop complaining, you just need to change the one you complain to… Complain to the Lord, He can do something about it (Psalm 102:1).
When You’re Down: Insert the Cross [REMEMBER]
The tree that Moses threw in the bitter water is a beautiful symbol of the cross. The cross has the power to change the bitter things into sweet. It is the power of God (Romans 1:16). The gospel isn’t just for a sinner’s salvation but for a saint’s sanctification, too. I’m not a huge fan of the Catholic crucifix (I like to remember that Jesus isn’t still on the cross, but that He conquered death and the grave). But when you’re discouraged and ready to quit, ‘Jesus on the cross’ is exactly where we should focus (Hebrews 12:2-3). Whether on a mountain or in a valley, you’ll never go wrong by inserting the cross into your situation.