When my brother Dave was very small, we spent a week at the seaside in Belmar, New Jersey. In vain my father tried to persuade the little boy to come into the waves with him and jump, promising to hold him safely and not allow the waves to sweep over his head. He took me (only a year older) into the ocean and showed Dave how much fun it would be. Nothing doing. The ocean was terrifying. Dave was sure it would mean certain disaster, and he could not trust his father. On the last day of our vacation he gave in. He was not swept away, his father held him as promised, and he had far more fun than he could ever have imagined, whereupon he burst into tears and wailed, “Why didn’t you make me go in?”
An early lesson in prayer often comes through an ordeal of fear. We face impending adversity and we doubt the love, wisdom and power of our Father in heaven. We’ve tried everything else and in our desperation we turn to prayer—of the primitive sort; here’s Somebody who’s reputed to be able to do anything. The great question is, can I get Him to do what I want? How do I twist His arm, how persuade a remote and reluctant deity to change His mind?
When the people of Israel were encamped in Pi-hahiroth and saw the Egyptians coming after them, they felt they were looking death in the face and it was all Moses’ fault—“as if there weren’t enough graves in Egypt that you brought us out here to die!”
“Don’t be afraid,” said Moses. “Stand by. The Lord will fight for you if you’ll just be quiet.”
You know the story of deliverance—the sea was rolled back, Israel marched through it dry shod, and when the Egyptians pursued them the sea swamped their horses, their chariots, and the whole army. “Not even one of them remained.” The song of victory Moses and Israel sang reveals their recognition not only of the strength, majesty and wonder-working of the Lord, but of His loving-kindness, immeasurably beyond anything they had dared to hope.
Poor Dave! His father could have forced him to come into the water, but he could not have forced him to relax and enjoy it. As long as the child insisted on protecting himself, saving the life he was sure he would lose, he could not trust the strong love of his father. He refused to surrender. In this simple story we hear echoes of the most ancient story, of the two who, distrusting the word of their Father, fearing that obedience to Him would ultimately bar them from happiness, chose to repudiate their dependence on Him. Sin, death, destruction for the whole race were the result.
Learning to pray is learning to trust the wisdom, the power, and the love of our Heavenly Father, always so far beyond our dreams. He knows our need and knows ways to meet it that have never entered our heads. Things we feel sure we need for happiness may often lead to our ruin. Things we think will ruin us (the chariots of Egypt, the waters of the sea, or the little waves in Belmar!), if we believe what the Father tells us and surrender ourselves into His strong arms, bring us deliverance and joy.
The only escape from self-love is self-surrender. “Whoever loses his life for Me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25, NIV). “Dwell in my love. If you heed my commands, you will dwell in my love, as I have heeded my Father’s commands and dwell in His love. I have spoken this to you, so that my joy may be in you, and your joy complete” (John 15:9-11,NEB). My father knew far better than his small fearful, stubborn son what would give him joy. So does our Heavenly Father. Whenever I have resisted Him, I have cheated myself, as my little brother did. Whenever I have yielded, I have found joy.
Excerpt from Keep a Quiet Heart, pg. 32-33.