January 2, 2009
Okay, I didn’t actually hear it speak, but the message came through loud and clear just the same. It was a heavenly homily delivered in pantomime by way of an indifferent, unflappable, nearly motionless seagull perched contentedly about five feet from where I sat. The fowl expositor was magnificently robed in grey and white feathered vestments, a stunning figure silhouetted against a sparkling clear azure sky. The sermon was profound in its simplicity and penetrating in its power, the envy of any serious Bible college student. I can still remember my homiletics professor from seminary often repeating his sage advice, “The fewer words you can use to get your point across, the better.” This closed-beak elocutionist would have definitely earned high marks. As the only congregant in attendance to witness this inspiring silent discourse I sat spellbound before the rocky pulpit of the nonchalant yet mesmerizing preacher absorbing every moment of its Sunday morning lecture. Fortunately, I took some detailed notes of the sermon in order to share the winged wisdom with you.
My wife, Babs, and I were taking advantage of an after-Christmas lull in our schedules to get away for a couple of days in order to celebrate our wedding anniversary and rest up after the hectic holiday season. A two-night stay at a quaint bed and breakfast on the beautiful Monterey Bay Peninsula was a perfect cure for our weary souls. On Sunday morning, the last day of our mini-vacation, we decided to spend some time at the beach hoping to squeeze every ounce of relaxation out of our brief stay in paradise. Finding a spot where a sea-worn outcropping of rocks jutted far out into the bay, I took to exploring the tide pools while Babs stayed behind taking photographs.
The mid-morning sky was perfectly clear and the temperature was in the high fifties although a stiff northerly breeze found me zipping up my jacket to stay warm. Climbing atop a large rock near the water’s edge I sat down to enjoy the dynamic spectacle of the surf violently pounding against the shore. It was an idyllic setting, one which called up a fresh surge of love from my heart for the Creator. Before long I was singing praise songs to the Lord, thoroughly enjoying the impromptu worship service, content to know that God was the only one who could hear my exultation, or so I thought.
Turning around to check on my wife I was startled to discover a seagull standing about five feet away from me. I was amazed that it was perched so close to my position. Apparently it was totally undaunted by my presence and undisturbed by the breakers crashing into the rocks a few feet away. Looking again out toward the ocean I asked the Lord if He had any word for me. I longed to hear something from Him, a message of hope and cheer, of inspiration and direction, yet the only answer I received was silence. The pounding surf seemed to drown out everything else, including the Holy Spirit.
The violence of the waves breaking upon the jagged rocks just in front of where I sat reminded me of all the turbulence in our lives at the present time. Our own financial situation has taken a turn for the worse along with our nation’s economy. The New Year is bringing with it a cut in my wife’s hours at work which means we are losing our insurance benefits. Our retirement funds have been grossly depleted with the falling stock market. Our five-year adjustable rate mortgage is about to come due which will lead to our house payments increasing substantially. And we are just two among millions who are struggling to get by in this recession. Our government is going through tremendous upheaval with the change in administrations. War is heating up in the Holy Land. Many other conflicts are raging out of control around the world. Wave after wave of strife seems to be crashing down upon us just like the mighty breakers continue to pound against the shore. Please God, don’t you have a word of encouragement for your weary servant?
Once again I was moved to turn around and stare at the seagull perched so calmly nearby. Incredibly, it had tucked one of its legs up underneath its belly and closed its eyes. Amidst all the surrounding turbulence this amazing bird had gone to sleep. Why is this bird so undisturbed by the pounding of the surf? I thought to myself. Why is it so unconcerned with the breakers crashing so close to us? I am scared to death to take my eyes off of the waves for fear one will surprise me and wash me off this rock and into the sea. How can this bird be so unafraid?
Suddenly a passage of Scripture came to me from the book of Job. “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?” – Job 38:8-11.
Finally the silence was broken and the Spirit began to download His message. The seagull was unconcerned about the waves because it knew the Creator had set a boundary for the sea. Instinctively it knew where it was safe from the turmoil. In the same way, God has also set a boundary for the turbulence in my life. He has declared, “This far you may come and no farther…” I can rest secure in the knowledge that no violence, no upheaval, no waves of adversity can sweep over me that haven’t been given permission to do so by my Creator. “You set a boundary they cannot cross…” – Psalm 104:9.
I had been looking in the wrong direction. Rather than staring at the fierce breakers with increasing apprehension, I needed to focus on the seagull, asleep amidst the chaos. Rather than dwelling anxiously upon all the turmoil surrounding me I need to fix my eyes upon Jesus and rest secure in the knowledge that He has established the boundaries for adversity in my life. “The seas have lifted up, O Lord, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea—the Lord on high is mighty.” – Psalm 93:3-4. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33.
Back in our car on the way home I shared the seagull’s sermon with Babs. “It was amazing,” I explained. “He had his tail toward the violent breakers which were crashing just a few feet away from us and his head was pointed in the opposite direction, into the wind. In the midst of all the chaos and turmoil he was sleeping.”
“Do you know why he was facing the wind?” she asked.
“I suppose it’s because he’s more streamlined that way and the wind is less likely to blow him off the rock,” I answered.
“He faces the wind because he’s ready to fly,” she responded. “Seagulls will take off into the wind; it takes less effort for them to get airborne. The stiffer the wind, the easier it is for them to soar.”
“Wow!” I exclaimed. “There is more to the seagull’s message than I first thought. God is telling us not to cower in fear when the winds of this troubled world are blowing against us. Instead, we need to face the adversity. Trials are not a sign that God has abandoned us, but rather a signal for us to be ready to take off. When the time is right the Lord will tell us to spread our wings and fly. The stronger the winds are blowing against us, the less effort it will take to get airborne and the easier it will be for us to soar.” “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40:29-31.
That’s not a bad sermon considering it was delivered by a seagull, and very timely since we are entering into a New Year filled with uncertainty. Only God knows what the next twelve months will bring. To be sure they will be filled with chaos and turmoil. We can choose to focus on the breakers crashing around us or turn our attention to the bird sleeping in the midst of the upheaval. We can choose to be overwhelmed by the trouble throughout this world or fix our gaze upon the Lord who sleeps in the back of the boat in the midst of the storm. We can put our faith in our own feeble ability to dodge the waves, or we can place our trust in the One who set the boundary for the sea.
When the wind seems to be against us it isn’t time to panic or question the goodness of the Lord. It simply means we need to face the wind and be ready to fly. Faith is born from adversity. The stronger the wind, the higher we can soar. “…for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” – 1John 5:4.
I must admit to being a little envious of a seagull who can deliver such an inspiring homily, especially considering he did it without opening his beak. My prayer is that I will be able to pass along the same message, not in words, but in following the example set forth by that feathered pulpiteer of peace.
Bill, a child of God, ready to soar