It is one of the most beloved and well-known passages of scripture:
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” Psalms 23:1
Conjuring up an image of tranquility, comfort, and assurance, it speaks to the Father’s love and care of his children. But it also makes me wonder: if God is leading me to still waters, then why am I so often in deep waters? How did I end up there?
Instead of lying down in lush greenery next to the softness of a babbling brook, I am more prone to find myself treading water while a storm rages around me. I feel more like Jonah awaiting the arrival of a monstrous whale than I feel like Peter walking on the waves.
We were not made to live in the deep waters, you and I.
In fact, our human bodies can only skim the surface of the ocean’s depth; an experienced diver may go as deep as 130 feet, but that is
Genesis 1:2 uses the Hebrew word, tĕhowm, to describe the ocean as a deep place, the abyss, the grave. “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep….”
The same term is used in Job when God berates him for his arrogance in Job 38:1
“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” He carries on in verse 16, “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep (tĕhowm)?”
As the Creator, only God understands what mysteries the deep holds and has walked among its subterranean stage and its vast array of amazing creatures. This place is not for man. Our bodies were not designed to live in its cavernous space – we would be crushed long before we would reach our destination. The tĕhowm was a place mankind was not designed to live in or likely ever to see.
Therefore, God does not call us to live in deep waters. When He calls us into the water, He either intends for us, like Peter, to walk on water, or, as He did for the Israelites, He parts the water so that we might walk on dry land. We may go over it; we may go through it, but we are not to go under. We were not created for the deep waters and to the deep we do not belong.
We belong on the green pasture beside the water. So how do we get there?
Firstly, we must follow. God can’t lead us to still waters if we are not following Him. Sometimes we are more like the prophet Jonah, than we care to admit: determined to follow our own path in direct opposition to what God has called us to do. When we wander off on our own, we inevitably wander into trouble. At some point, we find ourselves having gone further than we thought we would, our feet having drifted deeper into the wrong direction. The water seemed calm at first….the sun was shining…the waves were gentle and soothing…
but suddenly, the weather shifted, and we found ourselves caught in the middle of a furious storm without a life preserver.
In these moments, the deep waters are a consequence of our foolish choices, and it might get worse before it gets better. A whale might not look like an answer to prayer, but it just may be exactly what God sends to rescue you. When we repent, God forgives. When we invite Him to lead us once again, He takes back the reins and leads us to safety.
But we can’t assume that every difficult situation is a result of our disobedience. Sometimes we find ourselves in deep water with the best of intentions.
In Matthew 14, we read the story of Peter. After feeding a crowd of five thousand, Jesus dismissed his disciples and went to pray. The disciples gathered in a boat to take them across the sea. They had already sailed a good distance against the wind when they saw Jesus walking on the lake. They were terrified, but Jesus called to them,
“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” Jesus said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. (verses 27-29)
It is in these rare moments, when our love and trust of Jesus outshines our fears, that we attempt to do the brave and the impossible. So focused and intent are we on gazing upon our Saviour that we forget who we are and where we are: we see only Him and He is enough. We step out in faith, forgetting for a moment that we are treading on dangerously deep territory, and for a split second, we are walking on water!
Then, just like Peter, we notice the wind howling around us – the overwhelming set of circumstances we face – and we begin to sink. One moment we are sailing above our circumstances and the next we are crashing in defeat.
We cry out to God. And once again, He reaches out to pull us toward safety. He who walks among the deep also walks on the waves and knows we are unable to without His mighty hand.
If you find yourself thrashing in deep waters of difficult circumstances, know that God is in the business of rescuing. He may part the waters, or He may enable you to rise above your troubles, but rest assured that when we call on His name, He will answer.
“The Lord will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned.” Psalms 34:22