Imagine a very calm beach from the view of a helicopter. It sprawls for miles upon miles. The water is barely moving; the waves gently lap at the shore. The sky is sedate and only a very gentle breeze blows.
Massive waves are known to frequent this beach, but at this time it is very calm. And in this calm and on this beach we have three groups of surfers. The beach represents the movement of God in our lives and churches, the differing groups of surfers represent our reaction to God’s activity.
The first group is heading inland. They are tired of waiting for a wave; there are better things to do than wait. While surfers at heart with adventure simmering in their being, they have grown weary of the long and sometimes boring delays on the beach. Away from the sand and salt there is food, entertainment, rest, play, and a thousand other things to occupy them, to fill the void that the quiet beach has left in them. So they tote their surfboards, head to land, and abandon the adventure.
The second group appears very silly. They are standing on their surfboards in the few inches of water where the surf meets the sand. They appear a bit dramatic, balancing, striking poses, even posturing as they pretend to ride a wave. But there is no wave to ride. Riding a wave that has broken seems silly but for those who live in the past it is all they have. Perhaps this monument to what once was brings a feeling of nostalgia, even power. Aside from their pious “look at me” expressions it is clear that they are all bark and no bite.
The third group stands motionless on the very edge of the water, the ocean lapping at their sandy feet. They are baked by the sun, dark and leathery; their hair blows in the gentle wind, full of sand, dirty and unkempt. They look out with a single eye to the horizon. They know something is coming. When it might come they do not know, but they know it will, because this beach is known for adventure. And when the wave does come they have determined to be ready. So they stand blissfully unaware of what lies inland, refusing to play in shallow water on already-broken waves. No, they wait, they watch, they stand alert. Something is coming.
After 26 years as a follower of Jesus and 16 as a pastor of a Christian church, I see the ebb and flow of the presence and work of the Lord as a recurrent pattern. As the years go by I believe less and less that I get to choose what happens in my life and more and more that I rather have the responsibility to instead respond to what God is doing.
This is quite normal; any reading of the Bible or church history illustrates the same. In Scripture we see powerful moves of God and then times when “the word of the Lord is rare”. We see “the power of the Lord being present to heal” in Jesus’ ministry and then times when he left the crowd and healed no more. There are powerful moves of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts accompanied by times of persecution and suffering.
While I believe we have little influence on how and when God moves, I do think that we can determine our response to his activity. I’m not saying that our prayers and longings don’t produce results; they do, but at the same time God is God and we are to seek “what the Father is doing” as Jesus did rather than our own agenda or what we want him to bless. We must not ask God to bless what we are doing but instead find out what he is blessing and do it. Big difference.
Back to the beach. Perhaps you can relate in your marriage, your singleness, your ministry, your hopes and dreams, your thoughts late at night when you can’t sleep. Where is God? What is he doing?
These questions may not be answered, but there is one thing we can do: Be ready. Being ready means being saturated in the Bible, in confession, in community, in holiness. It means being uncomfortable with the things of the world because we long for the things of God. It means telling him this over and over until he reveals himself.
May you and I be like the worn but willing surfer who stays alert, knowing that something other-worldly is on the way, worth the wait, and what we were made to live for.