This summer our small group is taking a break from our usual routine of studying and discussing and making our way through a book together. In an attempt to go deeper with each other, we decided that at each gathering we’d have two people share about what God has done in their lives.
All the stories are different—some of us grew up knowing about God; some of us didn’t meet him until later in life. Some of us went down such dark paths we probably shouldn’t be here to tell about it; some of us were more subtle in our sins of choice. But there’s one thing we all have in common: we’re all broken and in desperate need of grace.
As we started sharing our stories, we noticed a pattern woven throughout each one. As we looked back, the places we could see God at work most clearly were the lowest points in our lives—our most grievous sins, our darkest seasons of failure, our struggles through grief and loss and loneliness.
After one person finished her testimony, there was a moment of sacred silence. Finally Daniel broke in: “Isn’t it amazing to think how we’re hemmed in and held, even when make the wrong choice . . . even when we don’t do the right thing?”
I thought of the three men in the Old Testament who were thrown into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3)—how if I’d been in their shoes, I’d no doubt have asked God to take me out of the fire. But as it turned out, God was right there in the midst of those flames.
And I thought of Peter walking on the water to Jesus as the storm raged around him (Matthew 14). Scaredy-cat that I am, I surely would have asked God to calm the storm. But Jesus surprised Peter with something even more profound: he was right there in the midst of the waves.
So what about my own life? I beg for the fire to be quenched, for the storm to be stilled. Sometimes he does just that. But other times Jesus is right there with me—in the midst of the flames, in the midst of the waves.
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me. . . .
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
—Psalm 139:1, 5
Even in the storms and the fire—maybe especially in the storms and the fire—we see the face of Jesus. It’s then that we are hemmed in, held.
God is here.