Rough Waters

I thought it only fitting that I made the header to this post an ocean. With waves. It’s called ‘Rough Waters’. Do you get it? Are you laughing? Cool. Let’s get started now.

I don’t think it’s particularly outlandish to assume that most of us don’t like doing things that make us uncomfortable, even if we know they’ll end up okay. To give you an example: I just don’t like roller coasters. I’m not really someone who enjoys adrenaline, and I much prefer the safe, comfortable activities at theme parks that include things like funnel cake and Butter Beer. I can watch 500 people go on the biggest rollercoaster and know it’s completely safe. I’m totally fine standing in line for the coaster, and I’m even fine watching other people board it. But when the time comes for me to climb into my seat? Yeah…no. But I can definitely hold your fanny pack for you and catch you on the flip side.

Unfortunately for me, this type of reaction isn’t exclusive to roller coasters. During one of my dates with God last semester, I realized that I way too often say no to something I feel called to do, just because it’s uncomfortable or scary. When he calls me into rough waters, I usually try my hardest to avoid it. And wow guys, I wish I was just talking about the small stuff like talking to the person next to me in line at Publix. I mean the big things too. Ending relationships when God wants me to, confronting difficult situations and people, and just entering new seasons in general. I’ve moved a lot, so I adapt well to changes in my surroundings, but not in my personal life. Even when I knew what God wanted me to do, I acted like I didn’t know for so long just so I could keep my life the way I wanted it. 

It wasn’t until I read this verse that all this really clicked in my head. Here’s what it says:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Matthew 7:24-27

It wasn’t one of those great moments where I suddenly realized what my life was meant to be. It was one of those moments where I simply realized how far off I had been. I realized the things that I thought I had built on the rock– but were really built on the sand –had a gosh darn mighty crash. There were some things that started out on the rock before I tried to take over myself instead of leaving them in God’s hands. The only silver lining I could find in this realization was that the things that were left in my life must have been built on the rock. Phew?

As I began to shift my focus off of my dreams for my life and onto God’s plan for me, I noticed I was approaching His plan with the same embarrassing and painful response I had at all those roller coasters. It’s scary, and I just don’t want to.

At first, I tried convincing myself with simple logic such as “Who am I to say no to an almighty and sovereign God?”. Although that logic is valid and might work for some people, the strength of my free will and fear of rough waters seemed to quiet any logical voices left in my brain.

I knew I wanted all my decisions to be founded upon the rock, so I began to pray for God to show me how to respond to a difficult calling. My quiet times became more and more scripture-based, and I began to learn about Paul and Peter.

Let’s start with Paul. If you don’t know much about the Bible, you might not know that Paul used to be known as Saul and he used to hate Christians. In fact, he sent many of them to death. Once he encountered God, he was forever changed and began to preach the good news. This is about when he starts using ‘Paul’.

Even though Paul came to know and serve God, he didn’t have an easy life. In the books of Acts and Phillippians, he spends some time in prison. While in prison, he writes this:

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Phillippians 1:12-14

I’ll admit that the first time I read this verse, it wasn’t super impactful. It was only during this season of searching that it resonated with me because I realized that Paul wasn’t concerned with himself in this season, only the furthering of the gospel. If I was in prison, even for Christ, I can’t say with confidence I would be more concerned with the gospel than the fact that I was in prison. I visited a prison on a field trip once, and let’s just say I don’t get “warm-and-fuzzies” when I think about it. Martha Stweart may have handled it like a champ, but I’m admitting to some selfishness here. I would probably be wallowing in some self-pity and anger. Paul doesn’t mention being angry at God that he’s been placed in prison. He doesn’t mention how horrible his conditions inevitably are, or how he might have been suffering. Instead, he focuses on how his circumstances are allowing the gospel to be known.

Secondly, Paul mentions how his circumstances are being used to help those around him grow. Paul is able to open his eyes to what knowledge and opportunities God is equipping him with in order to help those around him. Unfortunately, I can again say that if God called me to a season of life in prison, I probably wouldn’t be very concerned with helping the other prisoners.

The more I learned about Paul, the more I found out about reacting like a true disciple when called to rough waters. I doubt Paul was excited about prison, and I’m sure he was at least a little bit scared. Like all of us, he didn’t know when, or if,  this season of his life would end. But Paul had the wisdom and foresight that I too often lack to look past myself and focus on what my season could do to further the gospel and build up those around me. 

When I shift my mindset even slightly to look at things more like Paul did, I am able to open my head and heart to what God is doing and focus less on what I want. Even the slightest shift in focus can radically change the perspective on any situation, and shifting our eyes towards the Father will never be a bad thing. 

The other piece of scripture that really stuck out to me during this season was Matthew 14:22-33. In this verse, Jesus has the disciples get into a boat to cross the lake while he goes up to pray on the mountainside. When he comes down off the mountainside, he sees that the boat is a considerable distance from the land, and it is surrounded by high waves and winds. Jesus walks on the water out to them, and they think he is a ghost. He assures them that he is who he says he is, but Peter doubts and Jesus calls him out on the water with him.

 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

What I love about this story is that Peter was actually walking on water. He was conquering the wind and the waves, walking towards Jesus. When he shifts his focus and loses his confidence, he begins to sink and Jesus swoops in to save him. When Jesus joins him back in the boat, the winds and waves die down, and all is calm. Jesus gave Peter the ability to conquer the very things that were battering him and saved him when he lost focus of who he was walking towards. And then made all things calm.

Every time I read this story, I think about when I was learning to swim. My dad would stand in the water and encourage me to jump off the side of the pool. Even though his arms were always outstretched to catch me, I was hesitant to jump. I couldn’t swim (or walk on water, just to be clear), but I trusted he would catch me. And there wasn’t one time when he didn’t. He never failed me.

I have always had confidence in my earthly father to catch me and carry me through any rough water. I should have the same confidence in my heavenly Father. Even though I’m not jumping into God’s physical arms in a pool, but rather following him into uncomfortable seasons and rough waters, trust is trust. Who better to trust?

All this isn’t to say that I no longer struggle with following God into seasons I didn’t invite. I still hate when things don’t go my way, and I still sometimes just really want to say, “No God, I’m comfortable here, thanks though!”. But the Lord has opened my eyes to Paul and Peter, who I think are great examples of trusting God into rough waters.

Paul taught me to not always focus on what a season is doing for me, but what it’s doing for the gospel and those around me. He taught me to shift my focus off of myself. Peter taught me that with God, I am capable of walking through any storm as long as my eyes are fixed on Jesus. He reminded me that Jesus is always right there to catch me and that even the roughest of waters eventually become still.

Rough waters are tough on our boats and our lives, but I hope we all remember more and more that with Jesus, we can get out of our boats and walk on the water through the storm. And, like Paul and Peter, remember that every season we are placed in is all about making heaven more crowded and lifting the name of Jesus high. No matter how rough the waters are that he may call us into, He never deprives us of what we truly need. Him.

So, here we are once again. I hope this encourages and helps equip you to step into rough waters, whatever that may be. Right now, I’m stepping into the rough waters of leading a small group and it is nerve-racking. I definitely do NOT have my life together (someone pls teach me how!!!) and most of the time I feel like I am walking around blindfolded just waiting to bump into something and praying whatever I bump into is good. I also feel called to run a marathon to prove to myself that I am capable of conquering difficult things and that I am strong. I definitely want to run away from that calling (haha do you get it? Are you laughing? No? Okay moving on). Let’s just say I’d definitely appreciate if God could call me to something a little bit easier, but here’s hoping I can take my own advice!

I also didn’t want to let this post go by without saying thank you to every one of you who have reached out and encouraged me during this blog-starting season. Believe it or not, I once saw this blog as those ‘rough waters’ God was calling me into, and now it brings me so much joy I can’t even believe it. To all 1,621 of you, I love you dearly and truly appreciate each and every one of you. Y’all are amazing, and I am so grateful God has given me this platform to connect with all of you. I’ll be traveling a lot in the next two weeks, so get ready for some travel blogs!

xoxo,

Syd

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