Fear not, 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. (Isaiah 43.1-2)Just the Two of Us
I was a college sophomore when family friends invited me to tag along on a trip to see relatives in Cupertino, California—about an hour south of San Francisco. As I’d not yet come out at home, I concealed my delirium about visiting gay Mecca for the first time. Once we arrived, it seemed clear we’d eventually get there, but our hosts were in no hurry to pile us into their van and head north. So, while patiently biding my time, I hatched a huge crush on their son, Brian, a straight surfer type in his mid-20’s with an unassumingly seductive swagger. San Francisco soon took a back seat to anything he suggested, even the altogether unappealing notion “the guys” should go deep-sea fishing early one morning.
The day came and we reached Half Moon Bay to find conditions too rough for sailing. Things looked to end better than I hoped after we decided to eat at a seaside café and then go to San Francisco. Alas, as we finished, the skipper announced the expedition was back on. “It’s still rough,” she said, “15-to-18 foot swells farther out. But we’ll manage.” By the time we dropped anchor, I’d spewed breakfast and most of my guts into the sea. To the amusement of the older men, I spent the first half of the day flat of my back, too sick and humiliated to budge. Brian sensed how ashamed and afraid I felt, though. He knelt beside me and said, “Let’s get you back on your feet. We can’t let this beat you.” Once I felt stable enough to stand, he gave me some invaluable advice. “Don’t look at the waves. If you focus on the horizon, the waves won’t bother you.” He added, “Don’t worry about the other guys. We’ll go to the other side, just the two of us.” That should have set my heart racing. But wanting him had left my mind entirely. I needed him, and he was there. While dozens of similarly benign crushes are lost to time, the care he showed me that day made him unforgettable.
Belonging to God
I always think of Brian when reading Isaiah 43.1-2. It’s an old favorite, because it declares God’s constant concern and presence with us in the worst situations. Nature can rise up against you, it says, but you have nothing to fear. I’m with you. “I have redeemed you; I’ve summoned you by name; you are Mine.” Since that fishing trip stands as my most awful encounter with Nature, the experience resurfaces when I read this. Brian’s advice echoes in my head: “Look to the horizon. Don’t worry about anyone else. It’s just the two of us.”
I should have passed on the fishing trip. After I heard it would be rough going, I should have hung back on shore. But hidden desires drove me ahead. I had no inkling my harmless pursuit would turn into a sickening, humiliating episode. Since then, I’ve observed most plans fueled by concealed motives end on stormy seas. Usually, we’d never wander into these situations on our own. Yet if they include desirable people, we can’t say no. Then, should the weather turn nasty, we’re often reliant on the very people we want to impress. What’s more, we’re not always as fortunate as I was. Many people we find alluring aren’t as intrigued by us. We may be so far below their radar they don’t notice we need help. Feeling lost and alone in a storm is one of the scariest feelings there is.
That’s why recognizing God in every situation is so vital. Even when foolish ideas ship us out to sea, He stays with us. He doesn’t do this for our sake alone. Our safety concerns Him because we belong to Him. He invested His all to redeem us and called us by name. When situations we venture into turn ugly, everyone else may ridicule and abandon us. It’s just we two—God and us. But since One of us is God, we have every confidence He’ll help us to our feet and stabilize our focus by looking beyond our surroundings. Belonging to God keeps us secure.
The Isaiah passage also brings to mind a favorite story found in all three synoptic Gospels. In this case, the disciples hit stormy waters because Jesus sends them there. In fact, rather than sailing off in hopes of excitement, they’re trying to escape it. After preaching for hours, Jesus asks the disciples to sail away from the crowd and find somewhere to rest. He falls asleep as they push off and doesn’t stir when a deadly tempest arises. They wake Him, asking, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4.38) It’s a silly question purely on a natural level. Why would seasoned sailors expect a carpenter to know what to do? But it’s still crazier from a spiritual angle. What causes them to think Jesus doesn’t care for them? He stands up, commands the storm to cease, and challenges the men: “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v40) Didn’t He call them? Aren’t they His? How can any situation make them insecure if He’s with them?
Our faith journey carries a travel advisory: bad weather ahead. Sooner or later, we meet tumultuous, threatening conditions. Vanity and selfishness lead to some of our troubles. Others we encounter by obeying Christ’s commands. Either way, however, we survive. Not because we deserve to or we’re smart enough to make it on our own. We outlast our storms because we belong to God. We have no reason to fear or feel insecure. Our safety is His concern.
Whether hidden desires plunge us into stormy seas or we encounter them while following Christ, we have nothing to fear. He’s with us. Our safety is His concern.
(Next: The Quiet Man)