Do you ever feel overwhelmed? Does life overflow your coping mechanisms? Are you on overload? I think that is increasingly how many are experiencing life today. The pace of change is accelerating and exploding life like the waves in the photo above taken by my landscape photographer cousin, Douglas F. Frank. Have you ever stood on the rocks near the crashing surf, listening, watching and even feeling the cold spray on your face? It is both exhilarating and sometimes frightening.
This is not a new phenomenon; the pace is just being exacerbated in today’s climate of momentous change. Isaiah the prophet who walked the earth as a “God Speaker,” some 700 years before Christ has some centering words to say to all of us, if we are willing to listen and reflect. ‘“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze”’ (Isaiah 43:1-2). This is God speaking to Israel, the chosen people who feared their enemies. Do you fear the enemies? If you answered NO! then you are boastfully kidding yourself. Unless, of course you believe the One who said these words at a core heart level. If you hold God as your Savior and Lord in your spirit intimately or personally, you have the only advantage that will take you through the storms of life so dramatically personified by Isaiah in this passage.
I spent the pre-dawn hours this morning meditating on the truth of this promise of God. There are some 7,500 promises in Scripture. Many are conditional, requiring us to do something to be able to claim their power. For example, Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” What an incredible promise of God, as long as you do not lean or rely on your own understanding, plans or power. You are then on your own, subject to the winds and the waves of life to wash over you and even drown you. That does not mean that if you trust God that you will not have waves and rains, fires and flops. They are just part of all of our lives. In fact, suffering and pain are endemic to our existence. Americans do not have a very good theology of suffering. We just think that we should have a pain-free life. We think we deserve good things. But this world is flawed, ever since the first man and woman screwed up in paradise.
Now you might not believe in original sin. That’s OK, but you still will have problems. Oh, and by the way, God’s arm is long enough to keep you from being overwhelmed or burned to death. Perhaps one of the most used phrases I hear regarding life is, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Well, the truth is as follows, “And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:10-13). The things Paul is talking about that happened to the Israelites in the desert were bad and as a result of their sin and disobedience. The key to this passage is that we must trust and obey God in all things, otherwise we will not be able to stand and we will be overtaken by the storms of life.
I can tell you that I have been overtaken by storms many times in life. Fear of life occupied my first 40 years. I inherited or absorbed it from my parents, who lived in fear of life. They tried to perform and live up to societal requirements, not God’s. As a result they relied on distractions, like alcohol and parties to help. They did work hard and serve as volunteers to many organizations, not out of joy or gratitude for God’s love, but out of obligation. As a result, in the end they hated how they had lived, until they received the forgiveness and grace of God when they received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in the last months of their lives. The good news is that they accepted the message of forgiveness and eternal life that I was privileged to share with them from the Lord; the sad news is that it came just before their earthly lives ended.
I had lived under this curse of sorts for 40 years of my life. Only after receiving the invitation of salvation directly from God in a blizzard at perhaps the lowest part of my life, did I begin the long and arduous trek to peace and joy that is now in and through me by the Holy Spirit. I have found Christian counselors, God’s Word, promises, and Holy Spirit power in my weakness through God’s love. These have transformed me to overcome the curse of the fathers that the Bible speaks of visiting on the third and forth generations. God’s covenant faithfulness and love is forever. He continues to transform me to throw off the heavy burdens of the past that have affected my body, mind and spirit. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). This is the promise of God for those who believe and trust in Him.