“God leads us by unexpected ways, off the strong and solid land.”
Clenching my toes in the wet sand, I looked up at the grey clouds filtering the early morning sun. It was the last day of our family vacation and I planned to make the most of it, whether it rained or not. Stand-up Paddle Surfing had been our family’s favorite activity in the Newport Harbor all week. The final morning dawned cool and damp after an overnight rainstorm, but the calm bay beckoned me onward. Other days we’d stood on the beach in gentle afternoon breezes that felt more like fierce headwinds once we paddled out on the bay. Battling strong currents and choppy water, we’d bent our knees to avoid being toppled by wakes of passing boats. Each day we paddled out, our core muscles became stronger and our legs more steady as we balanced on the constantly moving boards. I didn’t want to pass up the chance to glide through calm waters on that final day.
To the casual observer, paddle surfing hardly looks like a sport. Before I tried it, people told me it was a great “core” workout. Although I’d often been unaware when out on the water, the soreness of my muscles afterward told me they were right. Our “core” is essentially our torso, which Certified Personal Trainer Paige Waehner describes as “the body’s center of power.” She explains that “these core muscles help keep your body stable and balanced.” Waehner says that among the benefits of working on the core is having “interesting workouts that challenge you in new and different ways.”
Having a strong physical core significantly impacts our quality of life. It makes our bodies more durable and less susceptible to injury. Similarly, having a strong spiritual core affects every part of our daily lives. The more we lean into God and trust His promises, the stronger our core becomes. His strength becomes part of the fiber of who we are and is readily available for us at all times. And just like those physical core workouts, God give us challenges that stretch us in new and different ways.
It takes consistent sweat and effort to build our physical strength, whether it is by intentionally doing core-strengthening workouts or engaging in an activity like paddle surfing where it happens naturally. Similarly, our spiritual core strengthening can happen in several ways. We can be diligent about studying God’s word, praying, serving, giving and connecting with others who follow Him. However, sometimes we get a spiritual core-strengthening workout when we least expect it. In The Shelter of God’s Promises Sheila Walsh says “Life’s greatest trials often come without a moment’s notice. There is no prep time or convenient moment to book them on our daily calendars. They brutishly make their way into our lives and threaten to undo us…When we look back, those moments can become milestones and strong pillars of our testimony because we survived on His strength alone” (p. 152). If our disciplined pursuit of God strengthens our spiritual “muscles”, then the trials we face provide the opportunity to show off God’s strength.
The Bible assures us we are going to have trials, but how we respond to them is our choice. Jesus tells us in John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” If we really believe this, we can be encouraged knowing that God is trustworthy. He has the big picture in mind for our lives that we can’t always see from our limited perspective.
Looking back, I realize how God has used trials to strengthen my core and to increase my trust in Him. I didn’t enjoy going through them, but I am thankful for the ways He used them to strengthen me. Through the things I’ve learned, I have been able to encourage others going through similar difficulties. I can point to specific scriptures that brought hope and reassurance to me in hard times: 1 Peter 1:6-7 as I struggled through my freshman year in college, Jeremiah 17:7-8 and Psalm 27:13-14 as my husband and I prayed through a major career change for him, Psalm 62 & 63 during some severe illnesses of different family members. Those passages became a lifeline for me, reassuring me of God’s presence and enabling me to have a supernatural strength I never could have had on my own.
Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling is one of my favorite daily devotionals. Each day’s writing combines several scriptures and speaks to the reader as if it is directly from the voice of God. A recent entry caught my eye: “Learn to appreciate difficult days. Be stimulated by the challenges you encounter along your way. As you journey through rough terrain with Me, gain confidence from your knowledge that together we can handle anything. This knowledge is comprised of three parts: your relationship with Me, promises in the Bible, and past experiences of coping successfully during hard times.” (p.327)
So, when the headwinds blow and I’m struggling against the current, I can bend my knees and dig in my paddle with confidence knowing that God is going to give me strength I need.
What about you? When has God led you in “unexpected ways off solid land”? Do you have a few Bible verses that have sustained you through hard times? As you look back, what milestones reveal God’s strength that you never could have mustered on your own? Post a comment and share it to encourage and strengthen others!