I was fortunate as a child to spend my summers in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where our family owned a beautiful piece of property. One summer, my dad bought a building, which he intended to move onto the property where he would convert it into a guesthouse.
There was a problem. There was no water. The intended solution was to find a mountain spring that could be tapped but none was evident. Finally, my mother said to my uncle, “Do you remember when you found water with a dowsing rod on the farm where we grew up? Why don’t you try that here?”
My uncle admitted that he remembered not only that occasion but also a couple of other ones when he lived in the Texas Panhandle during the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression. As a ranch hand, he found water for livestock that were dying of thirst. They dug wells, put in windmills, and saved the herd. He’d been reluctant to suggest this method of finding water because he didn’t want to provoke laughter about what was to him a very special gift.
He went into the aspen grove, found an appropriate tree branch, and fashioned it into a “Y” shaped dowsing rod. He then went to a damp area near the site where they wanted to position the building and proceeded to do what dowsers do. I tagged along because I had to see this!
The place where he stopped seemed as unlikely as anywhere else and was, in fact, a large boulder. He said, “There’s a spring down under this rock. Dig here.”
In a few hours, the hole we were digging began to fill up with water and after a bit more digging the spring was opened up and water flowed. All the necessary paraphernalia was put in place and water was pumped to the house where a pump and tank were installed to provide pressure.
My uncle believed he could find water; so did we; and our problem was solved.
In the wilderness, God's people found themselves in a similar situation (Exodus 17:1-7), at a place where there was no water to be seen. They were thirsty and demanded water as proof that God was with them. Remember, this is same God that led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea waters, provided fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day, quails and bread from heaven when they were hungry, etc., etc. Moses took their case to God. God told Moses what to do. Moses did it. Water flowed from a rock. Problem solved.
Moses named the place “testing” and "complaining.” This is the way the place has been remembered from that day. It has always been associated with faultfinding. However, the place should be perhaps be remembered even more as an illustration of God's grace. For God did not berate or scold, but instead gave life-sustaining water. And, it is lesson to remember when we are faced with problems - for it illustrates how God wants us to solve our problems. For here, as in every area of life, we are saved by grace, through faith. Here's the approach to problem solving that God has revealed.
Stop wasting energy complaining. God's people are supposed to be on a journey. When we stop to complain, we halt the procession. I recall an occasion when my friends were complaining about things. After a while, it became difficult to re-focus our conversation. We all felt that we had wasted an afternoon. We had used our energy complaining & encouraging complaints instead of creative solutions.
The first step for Moses was to get out of the complaining crowd and on the road to the solutions. If we want to be problem solvers with God, we've first got to stop complaining.
The next step is to tell God our problems. I don't want to suggest that God doesn’t hear complaints. But the fact is that God knows when we are complaining, we're really our own audience. God can't do much with complaints because we are blocking the way. But God can do wonders when we simply tell God what the problem is. Complaining is our way of focusing on our surrender to the problem instead of the problem itself. When we want problems solved, we'll stop complaining, evaluate the real dimensions of the problem before God, and invite God to help us solve them with the boundless resources at our Creator’s disposal.
Then, we must listen for instructions. Too often we stop short of this step in problem solving. We tell God...then get up and proceed on our own assumptions with our own limited ideas and out of touch with his guidance. Sometimes we become like missiles without a guidance system and that's dangerous. If we can learn as Moses did to listen long enough, we'll get the instructions we need to find the best solution. God has the missing piece of every puzzle. How much more effective human beings can be if they are in touch with the very source of all creativity – the force that created the heavens and earth is at our disposal and when we ignore, we are doomed to limp along on only a fraction of the power we need to succeed.
Then we need to surround ourselves with a support system. And, it has to be the right kind of support system. People who want to get sober and remain sober don’t hang out in bars. Married people who want healthy marriages find friends who desire the same thing.
Moses was instructed to take some of the leaders of the people. These leaders were strong in their faith. They were leaders, not complainers and they provided the positive support that kept Moses honest, encouraged him, and upheld him in his divinely motivated task.
Jesus surrounded himself with a support group. So, those disciples, Jesus' faith-filled support group, became the Church. When the Church is faithful, it provides each of its members kind of support needed to solve problems God's way.
All the above is useless unless we then take positive action. The heart of faith is doing something positive, constructive, and creative to make dreams come true, to translate unseen into seen. Do you remember the story of the artist Michelangelo hauling a chunk of marble down the street. Someone asked him why he was doing it and he replied, “There’s an angel inside and I’m going to let him out.” Problem solvers find the solution and believe they can achieve it. Faith isn't faith until we do something about what we say we believe.
Finally, when you get results, don't forget. Let the successful resolution to a complex problem serve as a reminder and a model. You'll need to be able to recall that victory the next time you are faced with a problem. The tradition is that the rock that Moses struck mysteriously followed the rest of the time they were in the wilderness. I can’t explain that tradition, but what it means is clear enough: Wherever we go, God is there before us, stays with us, and follows after us.
The Coventry Cathedral Baptistery is a huge limestone rock from the Holy Land. Whenever a person is baptized there, the image of life-sustaining water flowing from the least likely source is present. Imagine someone going in and out of that cathedral year after year seeing that rock – it follows one throughout the journey and is a constant reminder that God supplies streams of living water to quench our thirst, to cleanse us, and to buoy us up as we face whatever problems life presents.
Do you want to be a complainer or a problem solver? You can be a problem solver if you focus your faith on solutions and trust God to help you accomplish what you cannot do alone.
That's how to get water out of a rock!
The Very Rev'd Ron Pogue
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church