(Originally posted May 2016)
Last week Tim and I spent a few days in Cancun, Mexico to celebrate our 15th anniversary (how are we this old?). After an unseasonably cold and wet Pennsylvania spring, my only stipulations on the destination of our trip were: WARM and SUNNY. Since “15” is a pretty big deal and we haven’t gone anywhere together in many years, we splurged… and it was worth every penny!
My favorite thing about Cancun, as I expected, was the ocean. I still can’t get over how blue the water was – it seemed unreal, like someone dumped boatloads of various shades of blue dye in it. No matter how much I hate that salty, sticky feeling, I couldn’t wait to go for a swim!
Unfortunately, the perfect swim I pictured in my head did not happen because the crashing waves were relentless! At the Jersey shore, where we do most of our beach swimming, after every group of three or four waves, there is usually a period of calm where you can make some forward progress.
But on this day in Cancun there were no such periods of calm. The waves were constant and strong! It seemed like every time I got a little deeper, I would just get knocked over and dragged back to shore. And then, before I could even stand up and wipe my eyes, I would get pummeled yet again! I just couldn’t win! My favorite sunglasses even found a new home at the bottom of the sea 😕
One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Jacob. A struggler from birth, Jacob wrestled with his brother, his father, his children, his circumstances, and his God. Though he was the beneficiary of the blessing and the heir to the leadership of his family, things rarely seemed to go his way.
After being born the second of a set of twins, Jacob fought and deceived his way to the top of his family. Unfortunately, his trickery came back to haunt him as his father-in-law then tricked him into 14 years of hard labor. Some time later, his beloved wife, Rachel, died and then his most beloved son, Joseph, was sold into slavery by his older brothers. Jacob (believing Joseph to be dead) “refused to be comforted. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.'” (Genesis 37:35)
As if this wasn’t enough, a famine then overtook the land Jacob had settled his family in, the land God had promised this family for generations. Upon hearing that there was food in Egypt, though, Jacob sent his sons (except the youngest – Benjamin, the only remaining son of Rachel) to purchase food from there. His worst fears were confirmed when his sons returned with a report that they had been dealt harshly with by the “lord of the land” – that one son was being held prisoner and the only way to free him was to send Benjamin as proof that they were not spies.
“Their father Jacob said to them, ‘You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!'” (Genesis 42:36)
But what Jacob couldn’t see was that everything was actually going for him! The “lord of the land” was none other than Joseph himself and, not only was he soon to be reunited with his son, but his family was about to be spared certain death – for five more years of famine remained. These things that at first seemed to be knocking him over again and again were not against him at all.
As Joseph told his brothers, “For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45:6-7)
In speaking of Joseph’s treatment of his brothers when they first came to Egypt to buy food, commentator Matthew Henry says, “God in His providence sometimes seems harsh with those He loves, and speaks roughly to those for whom yet He has great mercy in store.”*
Like you, I’ve had many days and even seasons of life where I felt like everything was going against me – days where I’ve questioned the “love” of this God I put my faith in. So many of the things we go through aren’t what we would see as the results of “love”, and, if He really is “in control”, then why does it feel like the waves of His ways are going against us?
Psalm 103:2-4 says:
“Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy”
When we confess our belief in Christ and receive Him into our lives, it’s like stepping into the ocean of God’s benefits. The problem is that at first, all this healing, redemption, and mercy, doesn’t seem “beneficial” at all! It may even feel like it’s just one thing after another and that you barely have time to recover before something else hits. We often think, “If God really loves me, then why are these things happening to me?” – but it’s those things that seem to be against us that are actually the waves of His steadfast love and His constant work in our lives.
After losing my sunglasses on my first Cancun swimming adventure, I wasn’t too sure about venturing into the ocean again – the serene hotel pools seemed much safer. But I’m not one to back down from a challenge and I felt the need for redemption, so I gave it another try… and had a blast! Because I knew what I was getting myself into, frustration turned into joy, and I couldn’t stop laughing every time I got lambasted by a wave! It was probably my favorite memory from our trip.
When you step into a true relationship with God through Christ, you’re willingly walking into the waves of His steadfast love. This love is unlike the passive, emotion-based tolerance we’ve grown accustomed to in our society. This love is the “chesed” – the active, truth-based, lovingkindness and goodness – of a God who is above all things and really does know what is best for us and for His glory.**
I believe, in the end, or at least after some time, we’ll look back at the times we got knocked over and instead of pain, we’ll see healing. Instead of judgment, we’ll see mercy. Instead of frustration, we’ll see joy. We’ll see that the very things we thought were relentlessly against us were actually relentlessly for us.
“But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness…
Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me…
I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving…
Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.”
(Psalm 69:13, 16, 30 & 34)
*Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, Genesis 42. blueletterbible.org