7. Still WatersBe grateful that we serve a God who has the ability to calm the tumultuous waves of the sea and still the troubled waters of our lives.
For eight years, my wife, Dorene, and I spent summers at a camp on Army Lake in the southeastern corner of Wisconsin. The name Army Lake makes perfect sense since it was built by the Army Corps of Engineers. It is a happy coincidence that the lake is also home to a Salvation Army camp. The camp has a rustic charm and will always have a special place in my heart. The combination of the low tree-lined horizon and the typically calm lake contribute to an amazing display of God’s stunning artwork as the clouds light up and are reflected in the still waters at sunset. The dazzling display of rich reds, blues and purples seem to stretch into eternity. As I reflected on this portion of Psalm 23, I revisited in my mind the still waters of this small lake.
The Hebrew words David uses in “he leads me beside still waters” (v. 2) are wonderful and rich and have deep and diverse meanings. They are part of a series of four blessings that David captures in this Psalm. The word that David uses for what we typically translate as “water” is Te’Hom. It can also be translated as “the sea.” It can also mean “to be filled up to the top.” Another translation is “to be flooded.” I recently served in a division that has experienced the longest sustained period of Te’Hom/flooding in its history. The people in the southern regions of Missouri and Illinois are well acquainted with the concept of a flood. They have witnessed first-hand the destructive power of flood waters and what they leave in their wake.
The founder of The Salvation Army likened the difficult conditions that faced the poor and needy in the East End of London to a raging flood. William Booth saw the mission of the Army to join Jesus in a great rescue effort to save those drowning in the tumultuous waves of sin, poverty, addiction, abuse and neglect. The floodwaters of poverty in Victorian England are mirrored in the ultra-modern landscapes of the inner cities of today. A flood of opioid overdoses are drowning our precious young people. The waves of depression and mental illness are washing over people and knocking them off of their feet. Natural disasters, homelessness and hunger pound like angry waves, threatening those who are barely hanging on. Recently, our country has been caught in the waves of racism and its consequences.
The adjective that David employs for “still” can also be translated as “a place to find rest or to recover from tiredness.” One could consider the phrase this way: “The place where floodwaters find their rest,” or as “The place where the floodwaters are quieted.” These broader meanings align beautifully with the mission that Booth understood as directed by God.
The Good Shepherd desires to bring those who are engulfed in the angry waves of life to the place where the floods are stilled and the sea quieted. The wise shepherds of ancient Israel knew that the dry creek beds of the desert could pose a serious threat to the sheep when sudden and rare rains came. The dry beds could quickly fill with rushing waters and carry a sheep away. A shepherd would move the sheep to where the water would pool in calm eddies, protected from dangerous rapids.
God knows the wilderness places in our lives and seeks to guide us safely away from the floodwaters that threaten to overtake us. He knows the places where the sea is quieted and the floodwaters come to rest. He offers His steady hand of guidance to those places. God still calls the Army to navigate into these flood waters of poverty, hunger, disparity, racism and hopelessness with His promise of help. This call to join the rescue efforts is heard in these lyrics by Fanny Crosby:
Rescue the perishing, duty demands it;—Song Book of The Salvation Army, #664
Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
Back to the narrow way patiently win them;
Tell the poor wanderer a Savior has died.
Jesus’ own disciples became firsthand witnesses to His ability to calm the sea. Jesus was drawing huge crowds of those who needed to be healed. As the people came, Jesus and the disciples took to the sea to find a bit of space and much-needed rest. Jesus took advantage of the boat ride to get some rest and to sleep. As the boat attempted to cross from Capernaum to the Gadarenes, it was caught in a storm. Matthew records this frightening encounter and Jesus’ intervention:
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”(Matthew 8:23-27, ESV).
I am so grateful that we serve a God who has the ability to calm the tumultuous waves of the sea and still the troubled waters of our lives. We have a Shepherd who knows the terrain of our lives. He knows well the areas where we are tossed back and forth by the waves of this world. He also knows where the flood waters come to rest and offers the blessing of His guidance to these calm and pleasant places. He is our Shepherd who leads us to still waters.