Summary: You must learn to ride the waves that God raises up.
One of my favorite college instructors was a history professor named Dr. Oakley. I loved his Western Civilization classes because of the unique perspective he brought to the subject. He was also one of my favorites because he empathized with his students. On the first day of class I was pleasantly shocked to read these words in his syllabus: “How to succeed in this class without really trying.” Beneath that heading were several simple guidelines that we could follow to make a good grade in the course without a lot of stress and sweat. I followed his advice and made As without really trying. No ingenuity or heroic efforts were needed to ace the class.
I’m borrowing Dr. Oakley’s phrase and using it a bit tongue and cheek this morning. I take it for granted that most of you want to serve God. I assume that you want to please him in the way you conduct your life. It is my educated guess that you desire to stand before Christ one day and hear Him evaluate your time on this earth by saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” If so, I want to let you know that you can do it without really trying. I don’t mean that it’ll take no effort. That’s certainly not what Dr. Oakley meant. What I mean is that you don’t have to have extraordinary talent or wisdom or undertake heroic efforts to please the Lord your God. All you have to do is learn to ride the wave that God raises up.
Let’s use surfing as our metaphor for serving God. The Christian life is a lot like surfing. Surfers can’t manufacture their own waves. All they can really do is wait on the perfect swell, get on it, and ride. Yes, human beings can create waves at water parks like Emerald Point, but you can’t surf on those waves. All you can do is bob up and down. Real surfers head to the ocean. They ride the waves built by wind and current.
Living the Christian life, serving God, pleasing the Lord is much life surfing. We can’t manufacture the waves of providence. History is moving in the direction that God has foreordained. If we try to direct it by making our own waves, we’re really just splashing around. Rather than make something happen we must learn to ride the wave that God raises up.
Riding God’s Waves
This concept is crystal clear in the life of Abraham. He served God, he pleased God, he accomplished God’s purposes for his life, but he did it without really trying. Abraham learned to ride the waves God raised up.
The first lesson involves wipeouts. In surfer lingo, a wipeout occurs when you lose control of the board and make an undignified splash into the water. I’m going to use wipeout as a descriptive term for sin.
1. When you wipeout, fail forward.
Abraham had this peculiar habit of lying about his wife to avoid being murdered. After God had called them out of their homeland, he convinced Sarah that when they entered a new town she should tell everyone that she was his sister. This was a partial truth because Sarah was his half sister, but also his wife. Abraham feared that any number of powerful and corrupt kings might kill him to take his wife. By using this little ruse perhaps he could stall for time and leave town or, at worst, Sarah would be taken from Abraham, but his life spared.
If you remember, they used this lie in Egypt many years before. Pharaoh took Sarah to be one of his wives and God sent a plague to show him the err of his ways. Pharaoh confronted Abraham about it, but Abraham remained guiltily silent. Not wanting to be destroyed, the Egyptian king enriched Abraham with livestock and slaves and then sent the old man packing.
History repeated itself two decades later. Abraham grazed his flocks around the city of Gerar and its king, Abimelech decided to take Sarah as a wife. He probably sought to make a political alliance with Abraham by marrying what he thought was only Abraham’s sister. God interrupted and informed Abimelech in a dream that he would die if he touched Sarah or failed to return her to her husband. Like Pharaoh, Abimelech confronted Abraham. This time Abraham actually admitted his sin.
Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’” Genesis 20:11-13 (NIV)