Last year, for our anniversary, my husband John and I stayed at beautiful Pawley's Island, South Carolina for a long weekend. On one occasion, we walked into the ocean with the goal of riding the waves. John held my hand and each time a wave would come toward us, he would shout "Jump!" at precisely the right moment. We then jumped up with the rising wave and came back down as the wave went down. We were in sync with the rhythm of the waves.
Then it was my turn to shout "Jump!" and due to my long-suffered rhythm issues, the jumps didn't always go too well. John still jumped at the right moment instinctively, but I often jumped a second too late, getting caught in the middle of the wave, gagging on salt water afterward. Apparently I was supposed to have my mouth closed, too, but that was way too much to remember!
Horatio Spafford in his hymn, "It Is Well with My Soul," described life's sorrows using the metaphor of ocean waves.
When peace, like a river, attends my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, "It is well, it is well with my soul."
What an apt description! Sorrows, just like sea billows, often seem to come from out of nowhere and loom over us. Even when we do all we can to prepare for the jump, they still manage to overwhelm us in their flood and those salty tears are just plain inevitable.
I'm glad John was there to hold my hand during my attempted wave rides. It's unlikely I would have been physically harmed under his watch. God is always there in our sorrows, too, assuring us with His truth that no sorrow can truly drown our souls.
The blood-bought soul is safe and well, looking forward to eternal life with God Himself, where no evil or sorrows will ever threaten us again. The joy of this truth triumphs over all sorrow, even when it comes in tidal waves.
~ Kristen I.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. - Isaiah 43:2
Toward the end of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, Christian and his friend Hopeful can finally see the Gate of the long-sought Celestial City, but they must cross a river first. This is no ordinary river. Two angels explain to the travelers that the water becomes deep or shallow depending on how well they believe in the King of the place.
The two get the nerve to step in and Christian immediately begins to sink and despair while Hopeful immediately finds the waters shallow. Hopeful, the eternal optimist, then seeks to encourage his friend with Scripture and reminders of God's faithfulness. "Be of good cheer," he calls to Christian. "I feel the bottom and it is good!"
Yet Christian continues to have quite a time of it, wrestling with the waves and extreme discouragement until, at last, he begins to consider Hopeful's encouragement — the truth of God's faithfulness. Suddenly, Christian cries, "Oh, I see him again! And he tells me, 'When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee."
The water becomes shallow for Christian then, too, and they make it across, rejoicing.
Not only is this scene a beautiful allusion to Isaiah 43:2, it is also a beautiful illustration of applying the truth behind the hymn, How Firm a Foundation.
The first stanza encourages us to rest completely on the firm foundation of God's Word, while the rest of the stanzas describe those trials Christians often face, including deep waters that seem near to the point of overflow. And of course, each stanza closes with a beautiful promise straight out of God's Word.
First published in John Rippon's A Selection of Hymns, in 1787, this hymn text can't be traced to a specific author, but it can be directly traced to very specific promises of God's Word, which is fitting for a hymn that encourages its singers to rest on them as our firm foundation.
If you're reading this, and feel more like despairing Christian than optimistic Hopeful right now, and those waves are going over you relentlessly, let the truth of God's promises be like a hopeful friend shouting out to you across the river.
Remember your firm foundation and those precious promises of Christ. The flames shall not hurt you. The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow. He will strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand on that solid, good, bottom ground.
Feel the bottom. It is good!
To read the entire hymn text (and print an illustrated copy), see the free PDF below.
How Firm a Foundation Text (Printable PDF)