As my wife and I walk along the Florida shoreline, I’m constantly delighted by the birds that find their sustenance along the border of the tide. Some, like the egrets and the willets, stand their ground as the waves roll in. Others go through a comic ritual.
Ruddy turnstones and sanderlings, small shorebirds, congregated into squads, dance along the advancing rim of the wave, scurrying on their quick, delicate legs in retreat of the approaching water. Run away, run away! I hear them say. (In my mind.)
But as soon as the wash of water soaks into the sand, they scurry back. For stranded in the aftermath are tiny invertebrates, which they aggressively hunt – until the next wave sends them frantically fleeing again.
So, they live in this tension. The very waves they run from bring them the nourishment they need. This feels very much like the spiritual dynamic of trials and challenges to the children of God:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4, ESV)
Who would seek after difficulty? And yet, we know that times of trial are the very times we experience the faithfulness of God. The more we see his faithfulness in action, the more mature and complete our faith.
It’s human nature to want to stay in our comfort zone. And times of blessing are good respites. But the food that spurs our faith’s growth is in the troublesome wave, not in the undisturbed pool of easy times.
This is the hope we have in the resurrection of Jesus. Because he broke through to life after the tsunami of God’s judgment on our behalf, he can guide us through whatever wave we face. We have received the full effect of his steadfastness in the darkest of trials: we have his power, his promise, his presence.
As I watch these birds patter through their cycle of advance and retreat, I think of the challenges ahead for me. Some have been given to me, others I sought out. I’m in my own ebb and flow of enjoying comfort and stretching my trust in God.
I want to resist the temptation to seek ease. The full, colorful, abundant life – which lacks nothing – waits in the waves.
Jesus, lead us into and through the trials and challenges you put before us. You are the most trustworthy guide!
Reader: What life lesson have you learned from time at an ocean’s edge? Feel free to share it with me.