By Rev. Michael Ericson
It was the first week of my sabbatical. After working full time as a salesman for the past thirteen years, in addition to my labors in the pastoral office, my presbytery was having me take an eight week rest from ministerial duties. I was ready for some R&R in the boat on a calm sea. However, ‘Man proposes, God disposes.’
When I went into my ‘tent making’ office a few days later, I received the news that one of the other salesmen was injured in an accident. Not minimizing or ignoring the effects on him (which is certainly more than the account I am to share here; he is recuperating now still twelve weeks out), but the impact on me was that, in the blink of an eye, my work load increased by 50%, along with jumping into jobs I knew nothing about. Two verses of Scripture came to mind: “And when they were come into the ship” (Matt 14:32), and “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (Jn 16:33). The first is the account of Peter walking out to Christ on the sea, tossed and roiled by that boisterous wind. While the account lets us know that Christ immediately reached out His hand and drew Peter from the sinking depths, it doesn’t say how long Peter stood on the raging waters afterward (at least long enough for our Lord to speak to him and then walk back). We must take great caution in any consideration of the Lord’s providence, but in applying these two portions of His word, several things were pressed home. My idea of my rest and what the Lord had decreed were very different. And I was going to be on an even choppier sea than I was before; the world is filled with troubles and tribulation. I needed to learn to a greater degree what it means to rest in the Lord in the midst of troubles, trusting in the Lord and not doubting, even before I got back into the comfort of the boat.
As I continued to pray and mediate over the application of what it really means, experimentally, to trust in the Lord in the trials of this world, let’s fast forward to near the end of my sabbatical – my annual camping and hiking trip to the Rocky Mountains. Once again this year, I returned to the Sawatch range, my ultimate temporal de-stressor. As in the past couple of years, I did not pick a site in a campground; too many noisy neighbors. I dispersed camped (interestingly, our government still considers federal forest land as owned by the people and, thus, you are allowed to camp basically anywhere on them). My nearest neighbor was about 75 yards away, with the next closest about a half mile.
Saturday evening at around 8:30, still rather light out, I was sitting around the campfire, gazing on gorgeous mountains, a gentle stream not too far away, thinking ‘now I can have total peace and contemplation, get in that boat on a calm sea. ‘Click …’
This being the only foreign sound in that spot for days, I knew exactly what it was: the unmistakable sound of my car door opening. My car was parked about fifteen yards to the left. I immediately looked that way, never expecting to see what my eyes lighted upon (trust me; not one word of embellishment follows). A brown bear was standing on its hind legs and had opened my front passenger side door and was now standing with its right paw resting on the inside door panel, its left paw resting on the outside of the rear door. Its shoulders were about the height of my SUV with its head looming above it. I hollered out the first thing that came to mind: “what do you think you’re doing?” Looking more like a man in a costume, upon hearing me, it casually looked my way. Instantly, I was on my feet running at the bear, screaming, waving my arms and hollering. I had assumed it was a Black bear of a cinnamon color, but it was indeed a Grizzly bear, so that was not the best plan (not to go too far down this trail, but, lest you think I’m insane, I had more on my person than my bare hands with which to protect myself). In the Lord’s mercies the bear turned and high tailed it out of camp. I followed in hot pursuit, wanting to make sure it didn’t like hanging around.
Needless to say, this was not an ordinary providence, and that it came precisely at the moment that I thought I was finally off of the choppy waters got my attention. ‘Man proposes, God disposes.’ Once again, while we must take great care in not reading our own ideas into providences, it was made rather clear that the Lord had decreed something different than my idea of rest. Perhaps it goes without saying that I was not very relaxed for quite a few hours after the incident. In fact, it took much prayer and thought over the two aforementioned verses, coupled with meditation on what it is to really live in the midst of troubles and trials without the inside of your heart and soul being an image of the troubled sea. How to be alert without being anxious. How to have a proper care for your well-being without being full of cares. To be situationally aware without being fearful. How to rest while walking out on the stormy sea.
All the aforementioned trials, as far as any true and lasting good to come out of them for the benefit of my never dying soul, only work for the good to any soul in, through, and by Jesus Christ. Only in Christ can there be any promise or confidence that all things work together for my, or your, good. Otherwise, outside of Christ, every trial, every trouble, every bear out of the woods, is a foretaste of eternal suffering in hell. And, inasmuch as in this world we shall have tribulation and trouble, so much must we look to Christ in them. The text doesn’t make mention of it, but given that Peter had looked upon the stormy sea in such a way that he took his eyes off the object of faith, Christ, I think it is a safe inference that when he cried out to Christ, and Christ reached forth His hand and drew him out of the waters that Peter was looking to Christ. Thus, must you and I.
Now, clearly, my reference to my job and the bear are examples and illustrations of what we face in life. I am sure that both you and I have faced far greater tribulations in our lives. I do not know what troubles you are facing now. Perhaps afflictions from without, or your own body is as an enemy to you, a thorn in the flesh, the waters coming up to your neck. Perhaps it’s those darker, stormier seas of heart and soul, the waters coming in unto your very soul in darkness and tempest. My friend, you may be sinking down in the waters now. Lift your eyes unto Christ to save you. Cry as Peter did, “Lord, save me.” Help me, deliver me, bring me up and cause me to walk by Thee, with Thee. Stretch forth Thine omnipotent loving hand and lay hold of me. I sink in deep waters, draw me out. They are come in unto my soul, rescue me. Be Thou my strong help.
You will never really get back into the boat unto the Lord calls you home to glory. Until then, one way or another, one wave or another, with the tribulation that is in this life, you’ll be out on the water. Only Christ can keep you from sinking under. Look unto Him. He will hold you fast.