Out of the Depths

Michelle Marsalis Coen Devotional

This devotional, artwork, and music is a part of the Out of the Depths project.

There are times when we ask God to just keep our head above the water. We dog paddle and strain through our struggles, but with His help are able to keep our eyes fixed on the steady horizon. It takes concentrated faith and effort, but we reach the safety of shore and life carries on…until the next inevitable wave knocks us back off our feet. There are other times allowed in our lives where dog paddling doesn’t cut it. You find yourself immersed in depths so consuming that a fully supplied scuba suit doesn’t provide enough oxygen and your finite heart is crushed by the relentless pressure.

Have you ever been suspended in such a place? Engulfed in the darkness of intense trials, of suffering, of choking uncertainty? The depths are a painful, lonely, unfair, embarrassing, terrifying place. Everything in you wants it to stop, to be better. We often kick and fight against the currents, helplessly floundering, perhaps even shaking an angry fist at God or worse yet, feeling as though He’s turned a blind eye and doesn’t really care at all. It’s not until we reach the end of our self-reliance lifeline, lay aside our pride and realize that no amount of kicking, blaming or finger-shaking is going to bring us out of the depths. We need hope or we will surely drown. So we cry out, in faith, to the One who will not fail. We finally relinquish our control and press into His promises. Though the darkness presses in from all sides, with open hands and heart you allow yourself the freedom to rest in His will. It is then that the hard work of waiting begins.

Think of Jonah in the belly of that great fish. After being tossed overboard by his fearful shipmates, God used a slimy, swimming vessel to save the disobedient runaway. “Into the very heart of the sea….to the roots of the mountains I sank down” (Jon. 2:3,6). Yet from that lowly place of unimaginable fear and darkness, Jonah resolved that God was worthy of His praise, that He alone was his salvation. And God, in His unfailing love and abundant mercy, heard Jonah’s rising prayer and released him from that watery cell after three days and three nights. Because Jonah chose to hope in the Lord, to wait with a thankful heart and to finally obey God’s will, an entire city was saved.

To Jonah, those surreal three days and nights must have felt desperate and unending. Likewise, for a watchman charged with vigilantly staying awake through the darkest hours as imminent danger lurks nearby, each minute would feel like a tense test to tired nerves. Yet the psalmist tells us, “My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning” (Ps. 130:6). The truth is, whether we’re in the depths of intense trials, steadfastly dog paddling our way through or relaxing on the serene safety of shore, there is a very real and treacherous danger lying in wait. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Back in that first lush and harmonious garden, mankind chose to disregard God’s words…merciful words spoken in compassion for their protection. Instead, mankind chose to believe the Adversary’s lies, desiring to take matters into their own hands and in essence, be their own god. Sin entered that perfect space, taking root in man’s heart and mighty was the fall. It now permeates and taints every minute aspect of our lives and our physical world. Resulting in disease, broken relationships, addictions, mental disorders, natural disasters, and even death itself, sin is what plunges us to the depths. But that’s not the end of the story. Because of His unfailing love for us we have hope, MORE than the watchman. God is sovereign and He redeems. What was twisted and broken will be made right. He restores. The watchman trusts that the sun will rise, morning will come. From the depths of that stinking fish, Jonah was spit back on to a sandy beach, the sunlight brilliant to his grateful eyes, the air fresh with hope.

From the depths of the tomb itself, Jesus emerged, robed in light. He conquered death that we might live in hope! None of us should stand at all, for there is no one good, not a single one. Because of God’s unfailing love for us, we are not consumed by the depths, by the darkness, by our own depravity and idolatrous hearts. Rather, we are pursued, forgiven, and redeemed!

So from the depths, you choose to take hold of God and embrace who He truly is. You choose to wait and trust in His word. And even in the throes of the bleakest nights when the circumstances feel too big, you know that your good Father is bigger. He sustains you once again, and with the sunrise you thank Him for His faithfulness. Thank Him that His mercies are indeed new every morning.

 “You are my refuge and shield (my hiding place); I have put my hope in your word.” Psalm 119:114

Watchful hours fade to days, to weeks, to months. And in His infinite goodness with the passing of time you can see it: His gracious hand of provision. His listening ear. His UNFAILING love.

Two years later you get that writing assignment for an Easter devotional that’s due on the very day the depths opened up and swallowed you whole. With trembling hands you tentatively turn to the passage assigned and see the painful date scrawled above the chapter. Your Heavenly Father was there when pen met paper and that prayer felt like a plea for oxygen. It takes your breath away all over again. You hope in the Lord and in His Word because He faithfully heard your cry.

He didn’t change the situation at all to the terms you thought were best, because His ways are other. He’s more concerned with the condition of your heart that produces lasting joy than any temporary perceptions of happiness.

His better picture only requires our willingness to let go of self and trust Him. Sounds so simple, yet the painful struggle is as consistent as the waves against the shore. Cue His unfailing love and forgiveness yet again.

Once out of the depths, chin above water, you can see the surface is rippling all around you: the lessons from hoping in His Word still unfolding and the impact still reaching. You learn that in the suspended waiting and darkness of the depths, He was hovering above the waters the whole time…just as He always has been. You were never alone, He was always a breath away, waiting to unfurl exquisite gifts that can only be made by His hands. As the waters continue to ripple you realize, that even if you could, you wouldn’t exchange these new blessings and go back to your pre-depths era. You continue to dog paddle, because it’s still a struggle, the world is still messy and tangled, yet you long for more….more of Jesus.

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” Psalm 119:71

Amen.

Out of the Depths Week 2

Artwork: Rachel Hendrick [see full image]
“As I read Psalm 130 in preparation for this piece, I realized David shows what we I think have all felt at some point
desperation turning into hope. The darkness comes, but we stay still in Christ and wait for the morning, just like the watchman. The black and blue are so present, obvious, and it seems like they start to overtake the image. But the morning comes, and it is in those colors of gold, purple, and red that we realize we have a new day and a new opportunity.”

Devotional: Michelle Marsalis Coen

Music: Lyrics based on Psalm 130, Music by Stewart Fenters