I can’t count on my two hands the number of times I’ve sung these words.
“Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong United is a beautifully written song about asking God to stretch our faith and trust in him in uncharted waters, knowing that we belong to him and that he is always with us. We sing it at our church on Sundays and I’ve noted that even our teenagers love singing this powerful song in worship to God.
However, I’ve stopped singing this song of late with the same kind of abandon I once did. I’ve stopped singing these lines in favour of listening to the words that our churches are singing and pondering the implications of these huge statements. As a singer and worship leader, I often get wrapped up in the stunning melody and crescendo of this bridge that I lose track of what I’m actually singing.
Since being diagnosed with cancer four months ago, I’ve felt convicted to consider how I got to where I am today. Looking at my reflection in the window of my hospital room, I never expected to be here with no hair, a frail body and next-to-no energy. What is God doing? Where is he? Why have I got cancer? What is his purpose in this?
Here’s something that dawned on me.
I looked back at my journals and thought about the songs that I’d sung and the prayers that I’d prayed over the past year and found line after line laced with themes of surrender, sacrifice, trust and faith. In taking stock of the statements that come out of my mouth and those scribbled on paper, it was starkly clear that I had been asking God to stretch my faith and use me for his glory no matter the cost.
The last six months of chemotherapy have shown me that he answered my prayers, just not in the way that I had expected. After reflecting on the songs I had been singing, I noticed I had been making huge requests like, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders..” This request is huge. Have you ever stopped to consider what this means?
“Where My Trust Is Without Borders..”
I’ve heard this line sung a million times and yet I hear it now and worry that we don’t know what we’re asking for when these words roll off our tongues. Often we would much prefer to live as comfortable Christians with fences marking off how far God can stretch us. We love Jesus and want to follow him, but we also like to have a handle on things. So if our hearts could sing of what’s really underneath, we’d be saying, “Spirit lead me not too far from all my comforts. Let me worship at a distance from whatever might actually stretch me..”
If we really want the Holy Spirit to lead us “where our trust is without borders”, we are asking him to take us to places – physically, emotionally and spiritually – where we are empty, vulnerable and have no other choice but to depend on him completely. Strong saints have often remarked that ‘every significant advance I have ever made in grasping the depths of God’s love and growing deep with Him has come through suffering”.
This kind of trust takes deep faith because God’s plans are different than ours and he does things differently than we would choose (Proverbs 16:9). His thoughts are higher than our own (Isaiah 55:8-9) and when we pray these prayers and sing these songs, we are asking God to do things in means and ways that are different to our own.
“Take Me Deeper Than My Feet Could Ever Wander..”
I’ve been a youth leader for over 10 years now and I also can’t count on my two hands the number of people who have walked away from God after singing songs like this one. There is nothing that saddens my heart more than this. Yet it is precisely for this reason that I suggest we consider what we sing and what we pray and teach congregations – especially young people – accordingly.
‘Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed’. 1 Peter 4:12-13
If we remember that God’s thoughts are higher than ours and his ways are higher than ours, then it makes sense that by singing songs like “Oceans” we’re asking God to stretch us using whatever means he knows will produce that kind of faith in us: a faith without borders. Suffering is a means of grace that God allows for our good and for his glory (1 Cor 1:10, Romans 8:28).
I have seen young people cry out to God in prayer and then encounter seasons of persecution, dryness, sickness and family trouble, only to lose sight of what they had been asking for in the preceding months: deeper trust in him. “Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander..”
This line itself suggests that God’s way of doing things is not what we would plan or choose, but it is always the best plan for our good and God’s glory. I can say with great conviction that this is true even as chemotherapy is being pumped into my veins.
Do not buy into the thought that God’s methods are pointless or cruel. Suffering is one of his means of grace, for our good and His glory, producing in us the fruits of the Spirit. God uses situations where it is more comfortable to be impatient to grow us in patience. He sends us situations where we lose control to move deeper in self-control. Seasons of suffering help us become those who suffer well.
“My Faith Will Be Made Stronger in the Presence Of My Saviour”
Rather than twiddling our thumbs waiting for God to use us or grow us he has supplied us with rhythms of grace to prepare us well for seasons of great hardship and stretching. The extent that we delve into the depths of His truths and the embrace of His community will shape the extent of our growth in seasons of suffering. Do you know His truths? Do you rely on His ear? Do you belong to a community of Jesus-shaped others who can spur you on?
Without the word of God in my own heart over the last 12 months specifically regarding suffering and God’s heart, I would have had my firm foundation ripped from under my feet. It is so important to use our time wisely.
Truth becomes so important in the context of suffering. Seasons of darkness make it harder to trust that God is who he says he is. Lies creep in and it is here that we start to believe that either God doesn’t really love us or that he isn’t even there. One of the key ingredients to surviving seasons “wherever he would call us” is hearing God’s truth.
The truth is that we need Jesus to persevere through suffering. No matter what the trial, He graciously promises that he will always be with us. “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Aren’t you glad we don’t have to do it alone? I’m so glad this song recognizes the preciousness of this promise: “..and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Saviour.”
Pray Big Prayers and Sing Big Songs
The aim is not to stop singing songs and praying prayers that cry out to God to stretch us, but to understand what we are asking. If our churches sing songs like this and pray prayers like this and fail to teach about the heart of God in keeping his promises we leave people in a precarious position. If you call yourself a Christian, I urge you to consider the songs you sing and the prayers you pray. When you shake your fist at God and ask why, consider whether he’s simply answering your prayers using his methods, promised to be for your good and His glory.
These songs are great to sing, and we should sing them. However, we would do well to consider and genuinely express what we sing if we want to persevere when our faith is being stretched.
Next time you hear a song with huge declarations of faith and trust in Jesus, consider what you’re asking. Remember the truths about God that you’ve sung and read about. More importantly, write down your prayers as evidence for trust in Jesus when the fire comes.
Remember that you’ve asked for what will strengthen your faith and bring him glory. If you’re praying in the will of God, you can be sure he’ll answer you. Love him through the fire. Worship him in the flames, knowing that your suffering is producing in you a peculiar weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Daughter of the King | Married to Jimmy | Psychologist