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.
Going All the Way
The tradition I grew up in included a regular feature called “testimony service.” Usually at Sunday evening or midweek worship, the minister asked a lay-member to officiate an informal period for other worshipers to report answered prayers, personal growth, and so on. Like all standard practices, a conventional structure and codified lingo developed over time, and seasoned testifiers used them liberally. For instance, most began with “I thank God for being saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost” or, “Giving honor to God, the Head of my life, to the pastor, and all my brothers and sisters in Christ.” From there, they segued into struggles they overcame or lessons they learned. (The AA meeting format draws on these conventions, by the way.) Finally, each testimony typically ended with requests for support—“I ask each of you to keep me in your prayers,” etc.—or a declaration: “It’s my desire to make Heaven my home,” “I’m going all the way with Jesus,” and other similar phrases.
Going all the way was a powerful pledge in that it perfectly balanced going through, a catch-all we often used to indicate our problems were too personal to share, too complicated to condense, or too debilitating to discuss. “I’ve really been going through something lately” told everyone more than enough to know whatever followed the admission was significant. But “going through” also had a second usage that reversed its other meaning. Spoken in the present tense by itself (“I’m going through”), it became a statement of determination—a defiant refusal to be defeated by circumstances and opposition. Sure, we had other euphemisms with comparable rings: “My heart is fixed and my mind is made up,” for example, or “I won’t let go of God’s unchanging hand.” Going through carried uncommon resonance, because to get where we were going—going all the way—meant going through trials and hardships and doubts. That’s why we talked about going through so much. We even sang about it. One of our hymns explicitly ended with “I started with Jesus and I’m going through.”
We have every confidence we can go through whatever befalls us because getting through isn’t left to us. God’s Word promises again and again He will see us through our difficulties. We believe that. First, we join David’s unyielding belief God stays with us through thick and thin. To paraphrase Psalm 23.4, we place complete assurance that even in the face of death we have nothing to fear because God is with us. Second, we trust Him to thwart any efforts against us. In Isaiah 54.17, He guarantees, “No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.” This doesn’t mean we glide merrily along without injury, shielded by supernatural Kevlar. The promise says nothing aimed at us can succeed in the end. Listen to Paul in 2 Corinthians 4.8-9: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Finally, we know we’ll outlast any trial to rise, phoenix-like, from any setback; we have it on Scriptural authority that ultimate victory is ours. According to Romans 8.37, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Emphasis added.) The love of God conquers all. It gets us through.
Floods and Fires
It should be noted that promises to get us through difficulties implicitly predict we’ll face tough times and endure strenuous tests. In Isaiah 43.2, God describes our trials as floods and fires. We will experience frightening periods of feeling overwhelmed, when it seems like an unseen earthquake launches a tsunami toward us with unstoppable force. People and things we rely on—partners, friends, jobs, institutions, etc.—not only fail us. They rise against us, threatening to wipe out everything we hold dear. Whether or not we see the waves coming, Isaiah says we can expect floods. It also tells us to anticipate fiery times when flames encompass us and we fear we’ll never escape with our lives and possessions intact. Before we panic, however, we should do as the verse suggests: go through—pass through the flood, walk through the fire.
God promises to be with us. He says troubles that deluge us won’t sweep us away. How does this happen? Isaiah 59.19 reveals one way that God saves us from being completely overwhelmed. “When the enemy comes in like a flood,” it says, “the Spirit of the LORD will put him to flight.” Our adversaries can only do so much before God’s Spirit raises barriers to force them back. When fire breaks out, we summon faith and courage to walk forward, trusting His protective power for our safety. Thinking we should be exempt from floods and fires is misguided. Thinking God’s task is flood and fire prevention, rather than protection, misses the point. Times of flood and fire are when we look for Him, when He reveals Himself, when we discover the reality of His power and supremacy of His love. We need floods and fires. With nothing to go through, we’ll never experience how God gets us through. And getting through gives us a testimony worth telling.
We go through floods and fires so we can testify to God’s power to get us through.
(Tomorrow: Wrong Crowd, Right Reasons)
Postscript: Online Bible Study Guide
Two online Bible studies are scheduled this week, one on Thursday evening (6/11) and another on Saturday morning (6/13). Information about times and how to join is available here. Meanwhile, as promised, here a link to the preliminary study guide for those who want to read ahead: