When I was 12, my family went on vacation to California. It was the only time I’ve been to the Left Coast in my life. One evening we all trekked down to the beach for a swim. At the time, I was only familiar with the “waves” of the Gulf of Mexico which, it turns out, are mere ripples in comparison to the stuff the Pacific was churning up.
I remember going in to body surf, all 100 pounds of my scrawny self. The first wave caught me, flung me forward and slammed me down into the sand. At that point, for the first time in my life, I understood undertow. It began dragging me back out, then I’d get flung forward again and slammed into the ocean floor.
I don’t know how long this lasted, but I remember thinking “I’m not going to make it.” At what seemed like the last possible moment, a pair of strong hands reached down, grabbed my arm and leg, and flung me back towards the shoreline. It was one of my brother’s friends who somehow got ahold of me and pulled me out.
And though I escaped with only a few cuts and scrapes, I’ve never forgotten the feeling of helplessness as those waves broke over me again and again. There was nothing I could do to get out, nothing I could do to stop the relentless crush as they pounded on me. All I could do was get drug along.
When you step out like we have, there is an accompanying pressure that travels along with you. Whether it’s from without or within, I feel it. Like those waves pressing down on me in the cold pacific long ago, I feel the crushing pressure to make something happen, to do something, to get results, to prove that I’m not really crazy and I really am following the Lord’s leading.
There’s the pressure to read something into every situation, every verse of Scripture, every song during worship and every line of every sermon.
There’s the pressure to go just pick a state, find a house and hunt for a job when you know He’s telling you to wait.
The pressure to give up and go back. I can’t begin to tell you how huge that wave is. That one comes in pretty frequently.
“Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and billows have gone over me.” (Psalm 42:7)
That verse is in the middle of a famous song. It begins with “As the deer pants for the water books, so pants my soul for You, O God.” If you’re like me and grew up in church the 80’s, your mind probably goes right to the old chorus we used to sing. My mind always went to some nice and peaceful scene, of a meadow and a deer bending down to take a drink from a cool mountain-fed stream.
In reality, the psalmist is crying out to God, begging for the Lord to show up, to save, to quench his thirst. He’s in a dry and thirsty land devoid of water. It’s not the tranquil mountain scene I used to think of. It’s a very real place where so many of us find ourselves: when the rug gets pulled out from under us, when the diagnosis comes back, when the job ends, when the child goes prodigal. It’s the place when the waves just keep pounding and pounding and pounding, and you don’t know what else to do.
“I will say to God my Rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me?’ ” (v. 9)
Last week, the waves came in so quick and so heavy I was literally overwhelmed. I did the only thing I knew to do: I got in the car and went and found a quiet place where I could just cry out to God. And though my words weren’t as eloquent as the psalms, they came from the same place. It’s a place of complete and total helplessness, like when I was caught in those waves as a kid, just being pulled along and hoping that someone would get to me. I poured out my soul to the Lord, my fears, my anger, my anxieties, my complete inability to “fix” this situation, and my absolute and total dependence on Him to rescue.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?”
Why? Well, see the previous 4 months of blogs, but that’s not the point. In my desperation, in my need, the Lord was right there with me. Psalm 42 ends with this reminder: “Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”
You see, in that storm, in that moment of complete desperation, Jesus reminded me that He was right there with me. He had never left, in fact, I just took my eyes off Him and focused them on the waves.
It’s easy to do. Peter did it (famously). I’ve done it more times than I care to admit. And Jesus knows. Every time. He knows. And He’s there. And like Peter crying out when the wind and the waves grew “boisterous”, when I cried out “Lord, save me!” He did.
There’s another story about Jesus and waves, found in Luke 8. Jesus is with the disciples out on a boat in the Sea of Galilee. After a long day of ministry, He’s worn out and He falls asleep. Well, a great storm blows in, and the disciples are freaking out as the waves grew and the ship took on water, so they ran to Jesus and exclaimed “Lord, we’re dying!!!”
And Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and waves…and they stopped. And then the Lord looks at His friends, the guys He chose to do ministry with, the guys He was going to use to change the world forever, and says “Where is your faith?”
I used to hear that in a condescending tone. That’s because I didn’t know Jesus. I now hear that in the voice of my Lord, the One Who loved me so much He gave His life for me. I hear in those words nothing but Love, and a reminder of where my faith lies.
Jesus is with us in this boat. He’s the One that told us to get into it. He’s well aware of the waves, of the wind, of the uncertainty, of the storm. He’s with me, and He just wants me to trust Him, to keep my eyes fixed on Him and not on the waves, and to walk out on the water He’s led us to.