The song, Oceans sung by Taya Smith of Hillsong United, does a masterful job in describing the deep elements of God’s redemptive journey through great adversity and uncertainty. It’s so rare for me to find so much meaning packed into few words, and yet, every word seemed to be precisely chosen.
At age 18, Elliot Alderson had no direction in life, was addicted to drugs and threw himself off a building to commit suicide. Already on the way down, God gave him a vision of how things could be. He was to be a medical practitioner, married a wonderful girl. God gave him this vision while he was plummeting to his death and straight away, he knew what he was doing was wrong. Miraculously, he survived the fall, baffling doctors, and spent the next 10 years bringing what he saw to pass. Soon, he is going to have his medical practitioner license and about to propose to his girlfriend.
I can only imagine what the second half of Elliot’s redemptive journey will be like. Elliot endured addiction to drugs, a meaningless life that brought him to end it all. At his darkest point, God did something to change his entire direction, and now he was going to fight all the forces that landed him into a meaningless existence to begin with. I can imagine what he was powerless to fend against before is now conquerable with God. God supplied Elliot with a new vision, new tools, new supply and new hope in order to conquer the darkness that once consumed him. The journey is … more than we can imagine.
Elliot posted his testimony on the comments section of an especially anointed live worship performance of Oceans. (1)
Tara Simon, a top 6 finalist on the 2nd season of X-factor, listened to this song every morning and afternoon on repeat in order to get through the bitter divorce that she never wanted. (2)
Like Tara, I also listened to this song repeatedly to fight against the hopelessness and rejection that wants to suck you back into its gravity.
Every detail in the song packs a bigger and deeper picture of how God is involved in your dark times, your Abyss, and how you will get through it. Here is my humble attempt to unpack this song and I hope it will illuminate a path in your own suffering and open your soul to great possibilities where you thought there might be none. May your soul cooperate with God’s plan with you as He reveals His grace and redemption to you in what seems the darkest of times.
You call me out upon the waters
Straight away, you must know that even before you were blindsided by your dark times, God already knew it and prepared for it. You didn’t stumble into by accident, God allowed you into it. God is in control.
The great unknown where feet may fail
This place carries real risk, people’s feet “may” fail.
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
It is within this uncomfortable, dark place where you will find God. The purpose of this dark place isn’t to glorify or to be paralyzed by it. It is to see God in a way you could never see before.
My faith will stand
As opposed to your faith lying down, your faith exists but is unseen, inactive. Only in the dark is your true faith exposed and activated to work. Real faith is not the emotional highs or resolutions you make when everything is working well. Real faith stands like a tower when you don’t have any reasons left for hope, and you are still moving as though God has a plan. The nature of real faith is that no one will be able to see it except for God. People who are not spiritually discerning will only see the obvious redemption later on, but not when your faith is the strongest. It reminds me of the Corona Virus. It is most contagious when there are no symptoms, and not when you look obviously sick with liquids dripping out of your orifices. Similarly, real faith is strongest and real-est when you are in a mess and no one thinks much of you.
Even more noteworthy, she is so sure her faith will stand because this faith is not made completely from a human origin or mental fortitude. Mental fortitude fails when in the Abyss, that’s the reason why it’s called the Abyss. The faith God put inside her will “stand” and become activated because Jesus is her faith. (Mark 9:23-25) It’s Jesus’ faith for you that carries you through, that’s why she can be confident her faith will stand. The Bible says that “God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). The more brokenhearted his children, the closer He is, and His redemptive purpose. Jesus is that link to cause this to happen.
And I will call upon Your name
When you are calling God’s name, you are not just calling what He is to you, you are calling to the attributes about Himself that He cannot deny. That’s why the Bible says that God will act for you “for His namesake.” (Psalm 23:3, Psalm 25:11, Psalm 31:3). That’s why the Bible called us to “praise His name”. His name represents all his divine attributes.
Christ is your wisdom. Christ is your righteousness. When you need faith, He is your faith.
When you are fearful of the odds against you, He is your favor. When you are weak, He is your strength. When you are troubled and anxious, He is your peace. When you feel vulnerable, He is your shield. When you are lonely, He is your faithful companion. And when you are sick, He is your healing and health. Jesus, the great I AM says to you, “I AM to you whatever you need Me to be!” (3)
This is why Paul says “to live is Christ” and not to live like Christ, or live by Christ’s teaching. To the Christian operating in the New Covenant, Christ is a noun, verb, and adjective at the same time. He is the source of your salvation. He intercedes for you. He covers you with all the promises of God that transforms your life into His purpose. A life “in Christ” is where you have access to wisdom, righteousness, faith, favor … the list goes on and on.
And keep my eyes above the waves
I love it that she is giving a picture that she is already submerged in the water, acknowledging the realities of great uncertainties and fears around. It is easy to proclaim faith like a blowhard when you have small problems, but not so when in deep water with real risk of drowning. We keep our eyes above the waves by calling upon His name, invoking God’s character to save us, instead of relying on our own works or emotionally generated positivity that disguises as biblical faith.
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
We are not supposed to rest when oceans rise, this can only happen if we know the ultimate purpose of oceans rising is for us to experience God in a deeper measure. And this will happen, not because of anything we can do, but because we belong to God and Him to us.
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Paul says that when sin abounds, grace super-abounds (Rom 5:20-21). God’s redemption is so powerful, that when we look at all the quintessential heroes that were operating under God’s grace – Joseph, Job, Jesus, their darkest moment turned out to be the start of their biggest victory. In all those cases, whether we have made mistakes, or whether others have made mistakes on us, God can cover them all. It can be said that Joseph ended up in the pit and then prison because of his own pride and his brother’s evilness. Yet, God’s redemption caused his horrendous tragedy to be a vehicle for the ultimate salvation for both himself as well as his brothers that almost no one could forgive. That’s called super-abounding grace when the grace extends to the people that don’t deserve it.
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
A beautiful paradox. God’s sovereign hand implies that nothing will happen that God doesn’t want to happen, and yet God relates to us in a way that allows us to exercise our agency and choice, hence, a “guide”. This gives us the great safety net to attempt things we might be too afraid to do so. When victory comes, it wouldn’t have been “hand-picked” for us or else we would never have been able to mature in a way that comes with overcoming fears, navigating through real dangers. But also, we will mature in humility and not haughtiness, knowing that it wasn’t just our own strength and smarts. Only in this way we can mature to be “kings” and “priests”, we become influential and strong like a king, and yet humbly serving as a servant, a bridge between men and God, like a priest.
This reminds me of Jesus, who after healing the women with the issue of blood, said, “it’s your faith that made you well” knowing full well that it was Jesus that made her well. I can imagine how she can know so much of God’s character just by that one statement.
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
This is why God constantly tells his people to “zakhor”, to remember. When we aren’t sure of what God is going to do, we must look back to see what He has done. David kept Goliath’s head in his tent to remind himself of what God could do when he was a mere shepherd boy too small to wear the king’s battle armor. We must remind ourselves of the cross that proved God’s great love and resolve for us every time we doubt if God loves us enough to act. He didn’t fail then, He won’t fail now.
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
When we think of trust, we think of a range between 0% trust and 100% trust. How do you have trust without borders? This is because of the object of what you are trusting. Normally, when you trust something, it’s always based on your worldly expectations of it, limited by your imagination or previous experiences. For example, I have certainty that this rowboat will get me across this river. I have a 60% certainty that my wife will bring me joy. But we have a God that is doing exceedingly and abundantly more we can ask or think (Ep 3:20), He makes “everything beautiful in His time” (Ecc 3:11), He causes “the first to be last and the last to be first” (Matt 20:16), He causes peace that “surpassing understanding.” (Phil 4:7-8). This is akin to trusting in your rowboat, only to find out that it was a submarine in disguise, and what you thought was a river was a deep ocean. It is akin to being certain you might be “happy” only to find out you got “joy” instead, which is a totally different animal in terms of quality and long lastingness. As I wrote in my Thoughts page, very often, God bypasses the prayer from our minds (because we are relatively dumb) and answers the prayers deep within our hearts with the Spirit resides. Our trust is without borders because very often the things we are trusting God for aren’t even the very best for us, and God prepares the best for us. But, the “best” for us can usually be wrapped in adversity and so we don’t recognize it at first. Our trust is without borders because God exists and operates outside the borders of our imagination, and often subverts and exceeds our expectations.
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Letting me walk on water is a reference to obeying Jesus’ call. If we know where we are going comes with Jesus’ commands and authority over the situation, we can be willing to walk the path, even if it looks dark and turbulent.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
The most powerful statement of all.
Taya invites going even deeper in the turbulence, so long as she knows it’s God’s call for her to do so.
The old adage “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is hackneyed and too simplistic. Going through unjust suffering and emerging from the other side doesn’t naturally make you a better or stronger person, it usually does the opposite. Imagine a naïve girl who’s fiancé abuses her and repeated cheats on her. When its all over, does she become more trusting or less trusting? Does she become more generous or more defensive? Imagine people stealing for you all the time. Does it make you more generous or less generous? Does it make you act more nobly or does it incline you to also cheat so as to not be left behind? I personally knew sales managers that worked in a Ponzi scheme. When the scheme finally collapsed and many of their customers lost money, there were two different reactions from those sales leaders. One reaction was great remorse, and they pooled money together to help their clients try to get back as much as possible. They then swore never to work in such a company again and worked more legitimate jobs after, they went from salespeople with no technical skills to legitimate professionals in various industries. The other was mind-blowingly chilling. After being cheated themselves, they started their own Ponzi-schemes. I noticed that those that decided to cheat didn’t believe in God. One thing they said to me was telling, “the world is full of these schemes, I might as well be one of them. It’s time for mine.” They didn’t believe in divine justice, or that God could restore their losses legitimately. They took matters into their own hands and became the very thing they initially were disgusted by.
When a finger is broken, you need a doctor to set it right, or else when it heals, it heals crooked. What is true with the body is also true with the soul. If you don’t have a sovereign God working things out to redeem you and to reveal to you a greater purpose, you don’t become stronger and more generous, we just become more hardened, selfish people.
With a firm confidence in God’s sovereign nature, and knowing that adversities and sufferings are pawns that God uses to lead us to a greater understanding of Jesus, his redemption and faithfulness, Taya sings then it is a blessing to be in adversity if God is there. If God is to be trusted, then more darkness means more faith, more revelations, and more experiences. Without God, this chaos leads to destruction and why most people who do not have a revelation of a redemptive God will avoid the darkness at all costs.
But what the world views as darkness to be avoided at all cost, God can not just use it for your good, but mature you and transform you in ways that are impossible without the combination of a relationship with a loving God, and His sovereign guide through the deepest darkness.
This is the greatest blessing. You cannot buy personal transformation with any amount of money. It can only be done with a redemptive God, turbulent times that are specifically perilous to you, and a willingness to go through it with Him; and hence all the more precious because the conditions are not easily replicated. Only then when it doesn’t kill you, it doesn’t just make you stronger, you are transformed with your values and character changed. And, knowing the “how much more” nature of God, I won’t be surprised if you got restored more than you initially lost. (Deut 30:3)
“We surrender not because we have lost but because HE has already won everything for us” Brian Housten
Human courage is when we muster up our own human efforts in order to defy the odds to obtain a victory which will always be subpar. Jesus’ powered courage is one that God lets our soul see the future victory that cooperating with a sovereign, loving God brings to pass; calling on, praising His name and winning small incremental victories, along the way. The first process is rooted in desperation that even if you “win”, you might win what you didn’t expect and the process might bring out the worst in yourself. The second process allows us to be stoic and have a peace that surpasses understanding, as you actualize the different puzzle pieces to your life. Others can never know what God had made certain to you and will be a shroud of uncertainty to outside observers. Don’t be discouraged if others doubt you.
The saying goes, if you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes. When you do things God’s way, you will win the right prizes, you will play the right games, and have an outcome “exceedingly and abundantly more you can ask or think.”
This is why the Bible says “the blessings of God make rich and carries no sorrow.” (Prov 10:22)
When you step deeper into the dark ocean, surrender in His love. You’ll emerge on the other side better, having benefitted from a training program only God can design and actively guide us through.
Taya sang this song with reckless abandon, and casting reckless abandon on our Savior is sometimes the appropriate response when everything else has failed.
When you are going through dark times for too long, our minds can become closed. We lose hope. Sometimes we don’t know if God is there anymore. Or, even if He were, He is not what we think. That’s what dark times do to us. Unjust suffering with no meaning insight does this automatically because we always associate God as a God of love.
There are two options.
Either insist that the suffering around you is the final authority of life, and thus there can’t be a loving God, He has forgotten you or worse; or, insist that a loving God is the final authority, and the adversity and suffering must be stepping stones to mature you and to accomplish His purposes for you and the world around you.
For those who already are at the end of themselves, and realize that the world cannot be trusted, go with God. Go with reckless abandonment. Go all the way.
God can heal your broken heart and broken circumstances, but you must give Him all of it, not some of it.
If He turns out to be false, you lose nothing, but if He is real, all those feelings that have kept you alive through your worst days will not only lead you to eternal life worshipping and thanking Him but that you might also gain everything needed for God’s plan for you. A life of abundance, meaning, service and purpose.
This is the only bet to make especially when you have already lost almost everything you thought was worth something. At worst, you have hope when you have absolutely no reason left to hope. At best, you gain Christ, and in doing so, you gain everything. (Col 2:10, Rom 8:32)
I echo the words of X-factor Tara
“… and this song got me through such a hard time… I just feel that if I am speaking to someone… that if you are going through perilous times where you don’t know how you’re going to put one foot in front of the other… He is faithful. He is faithful. And He is there for you right now. And tomorrow will come. Joy does come in the morning. Stay the course. Stay faithful. Don’t give up hope because God is a God of hope and He does not ever give up on you. Do not give up on hope and the faith that you are called to have.”