“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah” (Psalm 46:10–11, ESV)
A few weeks ago a friend asked how things were going in our search for a new position. My response to him was that since hearing back from one church in mid-November it has been as if I were sitting in the middle of a large body of water with no wind in my sails and no sight of the shore. Things have been very quiet and there has been no clear leading. The sailing term for this time of not having any wind in your sails is ‘becalmed,’ and it is a condition for which there is no answer until the wind returns unless you have another means of power, a strong current, or outside help.
We have examples in Scripture of times of great turmoil on the waters and of man panicking in the midst of it, and in them we also have the answers for how God worked in their midst. With Jonah the answer was throwing him overboard where he became filler for a fish’s stomach and thankfully did not remain to become food (Jonah 1). With the disciples it was when they had set sail after a big event and Jesus took a nap while a storm arose. When the disciples’ panic increased they woke Jesus who rebuked both the wind and the disciples. Both were calmed by His power (Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25). And then there is the example of Paul being transported to Rome in Acts chapters 27 and 28 where they ultimately were shipwrecked on the island of Malta where God saved Paul from the bite of a viper and listened to Paul’s prayer and restored health to the father of the chief man on the island. Even in James we have the intensity of the wind on the waves used to compare the person who is divided in his guidance and unstable in all of his ways (James 1:5-8).
But the situation I was speaking of to my friend is not one were things were flying by seemingly out of control, but of a season where things are quiet and even God’s guidance and direction is hard to see. What are we to do when we don’t know what to do? This is the question that plagues many of us when we are in times of searching and waiting.
One of the passages that came to my mind is the one quoted above (Psalm 46:10-11). It says to ‘cease striving’ (New American Standard) or to ‘be still.’ As I was looking at some sailing websites to find out what people do when the wind leaves their sails, I found some interesting responses. Some of them were practical and some were humorous. Some spoke of having an alternate power source such as a having a motor or even installing fans on the deck to generate wind to fill the sails. But not having them and not having any oars, a radio to call for help, or a current which will take you to shore, the more humorous responses seemed to become more popular. It is then that I read things like fire up the barbecue, sit back and read a book, or take a nap. It is during these times that you are left adrift and, short of some help coming to your side, you have nothing to do but wait.
One of the terms used to describe this period of time when you are becalmed and unable to move is to say that you are "in the doldrums." I had heard this term before, but never thought of it is a sailing sense. Besides being a specific convergence zone in the oceans (The Doldrums, as Robin pointed out to me), it is a general term used to describe this stale condition. In terms of us as people I’ve thought of being in the doldrums as being in a kind of funk or ill setting where you don’t have the drive or the energy to do anything, as in The Phantom Tollbooth where the Lethargarians live (which Robin also introduced me to and has made mandatory reading for the kids in our house). And when you look at it in the sailing sense, nothing could be more accurate. It is during this time that your power source has left and you are unable to move.
But this is not to be the situation for those who have trusted Christ for their salvation. We are children of our God who is all-the-time, everywhere present, and powerful. Even when we can’t feel or see Him leading or working, we can know with a certainty that He is. And just as we are to trust Him in the midst of the storm we are to trust Him in the midst of the calm.
In the psalm quoted we also read that “the Lord of hosts is with us.” This is a dependable truth. Our God is always with us, and He will not let go of us. Those things that He has started in us He also is faithful to complete. He will bring us through the storms and He will bring us through the calm. We are called to trust Him in all things, and if He has set us on a course then we are to follow that course and trust Him to direct the outcome. It He redirects us to an island because of a storm and shelters us there for a season then He will sustain us on that island.
This does not mean that we don’t stop searching or looking for that breeze of direction or even watching the course of the current or other help He might provide. What it does mean is that we are not to panic, knowing that He is always faithful and good. When it gets this quiet we are to get quiet ourselves and trust God to guide our steps. It was in the quiet after the strong storm, the powerful earthquake, and the raging fire that Elijah heard the voice of God (1 Kings 19:1-18) and was pulled from his doldrums and pointed to 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed their knees to Baal.
There is no denying that times of great turmoil and times of extreme quiet and even doldrums are trying. But even in them we can know that God is at hand and He will work. James tells us to consider these times, times of various forms of trial, as joy. They are not joyful because they are fun and make us happy, but joy is found in them in knowing and counting on our God, His promises, and trusting His faithfulness.
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, NASB95)
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:4–6, ESV)
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95)
Still believing that the course that God set us on is the one He intends, we have to trust that even in the calm He is continuing to prepare our way in order to accomplish His purpose. At the same time, should He provide another way in our searching His leading and change that course, then we are purposing to keep our hearts soft and our steps willing to be set anew by Him.
“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NASB95)