When The Sea Billows Roll
“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare…” Isaiah 55:2
I love being able to flip through the pages of my Bible and see the notes and comments that I have made in the past. I try to label them according to the date and according to who was speaking or preaching. Sometimes these notes come from personal study, but usually they come from a sermon or conference.
I love going through my bible and seeing notes from the important pastors and teachers who have blessed me with their wisdom and discernment. There are many entries credited to my first pastor, Pastor Terry Gibson. He was the pastor of the church the Lord directed me to when I was first called to Him, and Pastor Terry’s name is found in many places. Others whose name comes up often include Pastor Darrell, my current pastor. Pastor Darrell’s notes remind me of his insightful sermons, which not only tickle my ears, like some sermons, but also prod me to action. You will also find notes from Pastor Greg, a dear friend who leads us in Bible study every Friday night in his home. Every now and then I come across Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer, and even a few entries from Pastor Jerry in Botswana.
Today I am looking at notes made September 18, 2010, when I heard Pastor Homer Allison speak near Magnolia, Texas. Homer has spoken to my kids a few times at summer camp, and some very good friends of ours have taken us to visit his church and to attend some of his ministry functions. I have always felt drawn to Pastor Homer and moved deeply each time I hear him speak the Word, so I was delighted to come across these notes this morning as I sit with my Bible in my lap at…Starbucks.
Pastor Homer spoke that night about the three types of people that he knew were in the audience.
The first type was the type of people who hear the Word and are deeply satisfied with the Lord. Those people knew Him intimately and walked with Him closely, and they were the most satisfied souls.
The second type was the type of people who hear the word, then grit their teeth and insist they are satisfied…but really were not.
And the third type was the type who had not a satisfied bone in their body.
Each of those types represented the state of a man’s soul, and I found myself that night, as I find myself this morning, wondering which category I fall into.
My Aunt Ruth told me a story many years ago about when she was a young girl playing the piano for her grandfather, the Reverend J.E. Bankson, as he spoke under revival tents each night. She was about 12 at the time, and I can see her sitting there at the bench, with her perfectly coiffed hair, legs crossed demurely, looking up at her grandfather expectantly as he would open his sermon in the same fashion each night.
“Ruthie, how is it with your soul?” He would ask his granddaughter.
And Ruth would look up and say, “It is well.” And then her fingers would take to the ivory keys, and the words would come forth:
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul…”
So, I ask you today, how is it with your soul? How are you when the sea billows roll?
When peace attendeth, we are great. We are, in Homer’s words, those who hear the Word and are deeply satisfied. It speaks to us intimately, comforts us completely, guides us unfailingly.
But when those storm clouds began to puff up, growing grayer and denser against the once blue sky, then what do we do?
Do we retreat back to the heathen behaviors of our surly past, finding comfort in our addictions, our indulgences, and our solitude? If so, then perhaps we are merely gritting our teeth, pretending to be clinging to the cross when we are, in actuality, turning our backs on it.
Or even worse than temporarily turning away, have we yet to ever give ourselves completely to the Lord?
How my heart breaks for those who simply smile at the word with their faces, but refuse to open the folds of their heart to its sweetness, its revelations, its cleansing power. I would not go back to that empty life for all the comforts of the world.
But I would be a fool if I never re-examined my soul, if I never asked myself which of these categories I fell into. I have confidence in my savior, but I am not ignorant of the flesh. And there are times when that flesh causes me to grit my teeth. Only with a constant re-examination of my spirit can I keep my flesh completely in check, because this, my friend, is a daily process.
“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed His own blood for my soul!”
I am so thankful for the Pastors of my past and present. I am thankful that God gives revelation to those blessed with the gift of preaching His Word, so that on days like these, with nothing in particular tugging at my heart other than a desire to hear His voice and know what He has to say to me today, I can open my Bible, reread these notes, and watch as the teaching seeds planted two years ago come alive once again, and then grow as they are enriched with new revelations and the leadings of the Spirit for this one, solitary day.
Any other day, and my fingers may be led to another page. But for this day and this moment, the Lord says, “Come back to this place with me, dear daughter…remember these words? Remember this message, and hear this new thing that I now want to add to it…”
A few weeks ago, I posted a video link on my Facebook page. It is a clip from my favorite movie of all time, The Color Purple.
Shug Avery, the honky-tonk tramp, grows weary of living in banishment from her family. Her preacher father has turned his back on her and her wild ways, and when she returns to the town she grew up in, she walks past his church with a catch in her heart. How she desires to be back in the fold, to be back in her father’s arms. But guilt from her sin keeps her away in fear, and pride and judgment in her father’s heart prevents him from reaching out.
But our God, a God of reconciliation, will not stop speaking to the hearts of his children. He will not rest until all is well with their souls. And one Sunday, Shug Avery and her ragamuffin band of prostitutes, drunks, adulterers, bastard children, and gamblers comes bursting through the pretty white doors of her daddy’s church, her sinful flesh for all to see, and her repentant heart longing for that peace like a river.
“God is trying to tell you something!” she sings, and in an instant, her father opens his eyes. He reaches out to embrace his prodigal daughter, and the two are reunited.
Is God trying to tell you something? Are you in the midst of the sea billows, gritting your teeth and wondering where to find peace?
Or are you sitting behind the sanctity of those big white doors, closing your ears and eyes to the hurting world right outside those doors? If that is you and your church, then God is trying to tell you something, too. There are, after all, just as many prostitutes, drunks, adulterers, bastard children and gamblers on the other side of the door, as well…
Open up your Bible and seek the Word He has for you today.
Love the unloved. Comfort the lonely. Feed those who hunger. Give shelter to those with no shelter. Share your bountiful blessings.
Reconcile with the heart of a friend.
And know that in the midst of those billows, the Lord cares for your soul.
“And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back like a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.”
“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near…” Isaiah 55:6