he tide was retreating out into the Atlantic, and it was time to re-anchor our boat farther from shore so we wouldn't end up grounded. Along with a few dozen other boats, we were enjoying a salty, sunny afternoon at Disappearing Island – a wide spit of beach in the middle of Ponce Inlet, accessible only by boat, and only when the tide is low. My husband jumped into the water to move the anchor. That was when the hidden currents under the surface began tugging at him, pulling him farther and farther away as he bobbed in the clear blue water.
From my early childhood, there was never a time when I didn't know God, and never a time when I didn't believe the truth of Romas 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Believing that God worked for my good was easy. Everything
in my life was good.
But a strange thing happens, for many of us at least, when everything in our lives is good. We thank God with hurried prayers but wind up so fixated on the goodness of our lives that we only think about God with leftover thoughts. We often treat Him as little more than a far away recipient of our automated thanks, even when He's the source of every blessing. For years, I felt as if God must have me under extra-protective care, because my life was so easy – and my relationship with Him was easy, too. I remembered to say "thank you," and God kept doling out His good gifts.
In my heart of hearts, even as I lived in that shallow please-and-thank-you relationship with God, I knew that wasn't the kind of "good" God promises He's working for – and I knew that kind of "good" isn't actually good enough for His purposes. I wanted ripened faith, a heart after God's. But I was afraid to ask for it because of the correlation I saw between every woman whose strong faith I admired. What these women had in common wasn't that they seemed unusually blessed or lavished with "good" things. It was that they had all known struggle. They had suffered. Many were still suffering. And their hope was far greater than mine.
Hebrews 6:19 offers the assurance that "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." The idea of hope as an anchor always made sense, but it took on more personal meaning once I met my husband, who came with a boat. As a result, I've gotten rather familiar with anchors. We'll motor to a certain spot where we want to stop, and we'll drop the anchor -- or, as it goes on a lot of modern boats, we'll press a button and listen to gears crank as they mechanically lower the anchor. Once the anchor digs into the riverbed or seabed, we know we are secure.
As I write this, I'm replaying the sound -- somewhat squeaky, with a little clanking -- of the anchor dropping from the bow. That sound doesn't come from the anchor itself. Here's the thing: anchors don't serve their intended purpose if you just pick up a loose anchor and toss it in the water. Anchors require strong chains.
When my husband found himself caught in that fast current in the inlet, it was the anchor chain that he followed back to safety.
The women whose faith I so admire share more in common than their struggle. They share perspective. They share the understanding that they should count their trials as joy. They share the experience of learning to see God's great goodness more clearly through eyes filled with tears than through eyes fixed on gifts we call "good."
Psalm 66:8-12 proclaims: "Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of His praise be heard; He has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For You, God, tested us; You refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you have brought us to a place of abundance."
The Psalmist affirms that God actually ordains that His people suffer -- prison, burdens, people riding over our heads, fire. And the Psalmist affirms that God's people should praise Him through all of that, even as He refines us like silver. God doesn't want automated thanks or easy, untested belief. He wants the trust of His precious children who have experienced that God is both our deliverance and the flame that refines us.
Have you ever seen metals refined? It's an intense, invasive process that leaves the metal nearly unrecognizable from what it was before. Traditionally, refining involves separating what is valuable from impurities by melting the metal at high heat until it becomes liquid that can be poured into a mold and shaped into something useful. Like chain links.
A few years ago, I sat in an auditorium one morning as author and speaker Lara Casey handed out a workbook she wanted the attendees to fill in during her session. I took a picture of the back cover, because what it said shook my heart like thunder. The first big, bold word was: follow
. Below that, there were two words that were crossed out: your dreams
. Underneath, in the biggest, boldest letters of all, it said: Him
As someone who hobbles around under the weight of great big dreams on the regular, that one simple sentence felt, honestly, a little heartbreaking. What if my dreams didn't align with God's plans? What if, in the process of refining my heart to look more like His, God purged away the impurities of dreams that would keep me from fitting into the mold He had designed just for me?
An anchor without an anchor chain doesn't hold a boat in place. God knows that, of course. And if God is our anchor, He will also give us a chain.
When believing that God works all things for our good meets holding on to our hope in Christ as we deal with the trials and of being refined, they form a link in our own personal testimony of God's grace, His holiness, His compassion, His love. Put those links together and we get an anchor chain that we can follow back to the safety of God's repeated, endless faithfulness.
That's how it was for the people whose stories fill the Bible. In Genesis, Joseph's links included being sold into slavery and unjustly imprisoned, but through his struggles, God was glorified and Joseph whittled into a wise, benevolent leader who honored the Lord. Ruth's links involved losing her husband and moving to a land where she was an impoverished outsider. But through her suffering God gave her peace and redemption, and He made her a part of Jesus' very bloodline.
Looking back through the years, I can see very clearly where God has built links in my life. Time and again, they began with an unrealized or broken dream: the job I wanted in vain, the passion I couldn't pursue, the plans I had that didn't come to fruition. Time and again, God stepped forward and provided something different from what I had wanted for myself. It wasn't always a direct step-up from the dream I'd had, but inevitably it was somehow better. Just like Joseph, like Ruth, like every man and woman of faith, our trials bring glory to God as they bind the hearts of believers closer and closer to Him. That, in every circumstance, is God working for our ultimate good.
God taught me, slowly and painfully, that He doesn't refine us with the fire of struggle and suffering simply to watch us melt. He wants to build us back up, ever more in His image. He wants us to learn to follow Him
instead of following after the goodness we want from Him.
In the years since I could claim everything in my life was good, I have learned something of far more value than the gifts I prayed God would give me. I've learned that getting a testimony is better than getting what you want.
It still hurts to say those words aloud or even read them. But my faith is ripened. My heart's rhythm beats in time with God's. My testimony is a record of God's faithfulness, and it is my anchor chain. Even in the deepest, darkest waters, I can tug on it and feel the Anchor, my hope, secure.
By Laura Yang
Originally published in Be Still Magazine, Issue 2.