In 1998, Eva Cassidy recorded an old spiritual called “Wade in the water”. I was listening to her sing it in my car just recently:
Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water
The lyrics are simple, but this water runs deep. As you’d expect from a spiritual, the reference is biblical. The rest of the song speaks of the children of Israel on the banks of the Jordan river, ready to cross into the promised land. In Joshua chapter 3, God tells the priests of Israel to carry the ark of the covenant, the symbol of his relationship with his people and presence with them, to the edge of the flooded river and stand in the water. They obeyed, and as soon as their feet got wet, God began to stop the flow of a mighty river and clear a path for his people to walk across on dry land.
Dry land—but the feet of the priests were still wet. They were wet because they had to “wade in the water” before God “troubled the water” for them. They had to obey before they saw the provision. They had to take a very literal step of faith into what was entirely impossible for them, trusting that God would keep his promise to take them across. It would have looked pretty silly for them to stand on the edge of the river if God never parted it. But he did.
The same dynamic plays out over and over again in the life of God’s people: we are often faced with situations where we must choose if we will trust God’s promises of provision, or turn away from where he is leading us in order to blaze our own path, by our own means. We like the sound of God’s promises for his children—of real life and purpose and peace and joy and security and so much more—but sometimes we’re not so sure about his ways of bringing us there. In our world, obedience to God’s commands can often look like the risky option, the path of standing in the flooded river for no good reason like a silly fool. Maybe it’s a choice to risk your job because you won’t lie on the reports. Maybe it’s a decision to break the cycle of revenge and start working to bless an enemy who betrayed you. Maybe it’s a commitment to give yourself to another person only on the other side of the covenant of marriage. It happens in major life choices and in tiny daily decisions, and it always comes back to the same question: do we really trust that God’s commands are for our good? Do we really believe that he knows (and wants) what is best for us? That he will keep his promises, even when we can’t see how? Are we willing to take the next step of obedience into the impossible, before we see how God will provide?
Sometimes, God doesn’t let us wait for the conditions to be right before we obey him. He doesn’t ask us to come up with our own clever ideas about how he should make all his good promises come true. He simply tells us to follow him, and take the next step. And there are times when God purposefully puts us in situations where the next step of obedience will be directly into the river—when it will look backwards and dangerous, and wouldn’t it be better to ignore God’s command and compromise with a little lie or a little corner cut or find a different path altogether rather then stand in the river all by ourselves and look silly with our feet wet in front of everybody?
Trusting God means acting on the knowledge that he knows what he’s talking about, even when his commands don’t make sense to me. Even before I see God’s provision. Even when provision looks impossible. Even when obedience is costly. Even if God doesn’t provide in the ways I think he should. Trusting God means being willing to get my feet wet, knowing that God’s promises will hold, and that in his own way, God’s hand will provide what is needed for the next step—and for the next after that, and the next, and for all his good promises to come gloriously true. In my own life, I can honestly say that every time I have stepped into the river of obedience, God has provided a path forward. Usually not the path I expected, but I’ve seen enough to know that the old spiritual is right: “wade in the water, children.” Our God has promised. He will not forsake his children. In his own way, and in his own time, “God’s gonna trouble the water.”
Don’t be afraid to get your feet wet.