When Seaweed Surrounds

As I write this, we are in the midst of a pandemic — a disease epidemic that has spread worldwide.  

To give you a little background on the word “pandemic“… The three little letters in the prefix of this word, “pan,” originate from the demonic god, “Pan.”  From this pagan god, we get the word “panic,” which means: “the sudden, unreasoning terror often accompanied by mass flight.”  

This is the same root of other words like: “pandemonium,” “panic attack,” and… “pandemic.”  

Our country — and the world around us — has been placed into a multi-government mandated state of emergency.  Major sporting events, concert venues, restaurants, gyms, schools, air travel, international boarders, and even places of worship have been closed and shut down.  The government has shut down any industry where more than 10 people convene.  We are currently in a time of actively practicing “social distancing” — isolating ourselves from others in an effort to mitigate the spread of disease.  A tiny, microscopic virus,  specifically COVID-19, a strain of the coronavirus, originating in China late last year, has caused the world around us to shut down.

Our generation has never experienced anything like this before; we are living in unprecedented times.  Public health policy is rapidly changing (daily, in fact) and our human effort is working with limited knowledge to control what we can.  But then I pause and remind myself that… 

God is in control

Though we may be in a battle against a disease that spreads fear worldwide, we serve a God who does not want us to fear evil.  He gives us constant reminders to “FEAR NOT” and if we are in covenant with Him, abiding with Him, then we can have perfect peace — a fruit of His Holy Spirit living in us.

Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”(NLT)

Nothing about this situation is a surprise to God.  Nothing about whatever you are going through is a surprise to God.

I am comforted and relieved to know that His ways are so much higher than my own.  Even though you and I do not know what tomorrow holds — He does.  

This is why we must live life connected to Him.

In John 15:5, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (NIV)

James 1:21 tells us to...”Get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.” (NLT)

The Word of God is alive and it has the power to save.  In order for us to have this salvation, we have to get rid of the things in our life that can cause separation from the Lord. 

In the book of Jonah, we find a man who was called to something difficult (Jonah 1:1-2). However, rather than relying on the one who tasked him with the calling, he decided to turn and flee 2500 miles in the opposite direction.

Then, in Jonah 1:3-10 it says,

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.) (NIV translation)

Even the heathen sailors knew better than to try to run away from the Lord!  Jonah should’ve known that he could NEVER flee from Yahweh Shammah — He could never run away from the omnipresence of the Lord!

Despite the fact that God directly spoke to Jonah, a Hebrew,  and mandated him to deliver a specific message to a gentile nation, Jonah still made a willful choice to turn and go in the opposite direction — he willfully disconnected himself from God.  

Jonah’s story, albeit a short one, is written for our edification.  God knew some of us could only handle a 4-chapter book in the Bible to succinctly give us instruction and understanding for our lives today.

When Jonah made the willful choice to turn away from his calling, the storms began to rage all around him

When you are living apart from the perfect will of God, you will never have perfect peace.  You may be able to fool yourself for a while, but only a surrendered life can experience any sort of peace in the midst of a storm.  Because a surrendered, connected life, still receives nourishment from the stable rootstock of the vine.  The vine is the anchor to the ground; the anchor in the midst of the raging storms. When life’s difficult, sorrow-filled times come, and like Jonah, you feel like crying out: 

…”You threw me into the ocean depths, and I sank down to the heart of the sea.  I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves…I sank beneath the waves, and death was very near.  The waters closed in around me, and seaweed wrapped itself around my head.  I sank down to the very roots of the mountains.  I was locked out of life and imprisoned in the land of the dead.” (Jonah 2:3;5-6, NLT)

As I type these very words, an instrumental version of the song “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” just began to play.  And to most people that doesn’t mean anything — but to me, I know it is divine.  You see, nearly six years ago, my dear friend Julie walked through one of the darkest storms of her life and this specific song was a source of profound comfort to her. 

But, unlike Jonah, there was no willful decision or detachment that brought about the consequence of their storm.  Because we live in a fallen world, we will experience suffering and there will be times when we are confused and unsettled.  There will be times that God allows us to go through situations when we feel buried beneath the wild and stormy waves with seaweed wrapped around our heads.

And though Julie’s story is not my own, I experienced a sorrow for her like never before.  You see, Julie was 38 weeks pregnant with her third son, Archer, when she stopped feeling him move inside of her.  On May 27th, 2014 our Bible Study group heard the devastating news that he had passed away in her womb; he no longer had a heart beat.  

Even today as I write these words, I am overcome by emotion and sadness at the life that never was.  I remember being alone in my room on that day when I learned that Julie was headed into her induction.  Our entire group began praying as she was in labor, delivering Archer stillborn.  

Then on June 4, 2014, just 7 days later, Julie wrote these words on her Facebook account:

“I felt anxious leading up to today (knowing that today was the scheduled induction day for Archer). Today was supposed to be a day of joy and excitement. The day we finally meet Archer. Our God is so powerful because today I have a lot of peace, peace that can only come from God. I really appreciate all your prayer as I know that your prayer is working. God’s hand is working in this in so many ways but one very observable way is the peace I have right now. I miss Archer deeply and long to hold him in my arms again but I know that he is being held in Jesus’ arms and his arms are a much better place to be than mine.”

I share Julie’s story because I had a front-row seat to a perfect example of what a surrendered life looks like in the midst of a raging storm, yet still has perfect peace.  Whether it’s a novel virus that wreaks havoc on the entire world around us, or we experience great pain, sorrow, loss, and devastation in our own personal world…we can have a peace that can only come from Jesus — The Prince of Peace.  

He is Jehovah Shalom, God our Peace (Judges 6:24).  

Dear Friends, we don’t just study the Bible — because we enjoy reading an ancient text.  No, we study it to understand it because it’s words have the power to deliver us.

We may be able to get through this life living disconnected for a time, but we will never experience all that the Lord has for us.  Whether it’s willfully turning and running in the opposite direction — or whether it’s just a slow process of disconnecting from God — the result is still the same:  A disconnected life cannot receive nourishment, cannot produce fruit, and will wither away.

Jonah’s decisions had consequences, but God is always faithful to His Word — and because He never leaves us or forsakes us, He heard Jonah’s cry and saved him.

Sometimes our answered prayers look nothing like what we would imagine.  I’d like to think that God was using a creative brush-stroke when He enlisted the help of a whale to teach Jonah — and us — the valuable lesson of redemption and second chances (Jonah 1:17).

If you are already connected, I hope that you have been challenged to remain.  If you are not, then turn back and hold tight to your source of life.  But please take hold of that knowledge that — no matter what your circumstance — God is the God of second chances.  

Remember my friend Julie?  I don’t want to end without giving you one of the best parts of her story.  You see, her testimony is a beautiful example of second chances too because, in June of 2015, she gave birth to her 4th son — healthy and whole.  Julie and her husband, Andy, chose to name him Canaan, because, like the Israelites’ promised land — he was a long-awaited promise fulfilled.  

That’s why the song “Oceans” was a perfect anthem for Julie’s journey through grief and sorrow — and why I am certain some of you may also find solace in its profound lyrics:

“Your grace abounds in deepest waters

Your sovereign hand

Will be my guide

Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me

You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name

And keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace

For I am Yours and You are mine”

Lord, we thank you that when the world around us may be in a panic — we serve the giver of perfect, shalom peacea peace that can only be experienced in the midst of a storm.  We praise you for who You are and we are grateful that Your ways are so much higher than our own.  Father, we desire to have a truly submitted heart — one that is connected, nourished, and sustained by — and in — You.  And, Lord, if any of us is lacking peace, we pray that You reveal the areas of disconnectedness in our lives.  We thank You that Your promises are true and in Your compassion, You give us gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle, whale-like) reminders that You are a God of second chances. 

We thank you.  We love you.  Amen.

*Julie’s story was shared with her permission

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