My dear friend, author Sarah Swafford, is guest blogging for us today! Please read and enjoy Sarah’s post about cultivating interior stillness. —Lisa
Do you ever run into Scripture passages that touch your heart, but also make you pause to think, “But what does that actually mean?” I have always loved the verse Exodus 14:14: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still.” As a wife of sixteen years, mother of five children, speaker, author, and also a recovering firstborn perfectionistic people-pleaser control freak (you may know the type), let’s just say that I have always been a bit of a “doer” and a go-getter. I love all my roles in life, and I also love my prayer time and quiet and reading and learning. Navigating daily life (the big and small battles) can at times be exhausting as I try to balance and maintain peace in my own heart and in my family…and tend to the countless responsibilities and tasks that are inevitable each day.
Recently, I felt compelled to dig into the above verse and pray through this gravitational pull I had to the word “still.” If you break open the book of Exodus, and in particular chapter 14, you will see that this verse is spoken by Moses to the Israelites right before the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea. Their backs were up against the sea and Pharaoh's army was charging. Can you imagine the sheer panic the Israelites must have felt in that moment?! Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel like life is coming down on you and you’re scrambling to “get it all done,” to protect, to guide, to reign in your emotions, to find the strength to do battle against the attacks that come at you from a million different directions? I know I do sometimes.
“The Lord will fight for you…” Yes, that is what I want! “Please Lord, step in and go to battle for me! I am exhausted and scared and overwhelmed and…and…and…” Not only does the Lord desire to fight for you, He also longs for you to ask for His help. It is not a form of weakness, but a deep realization that we can’t do it all, and we can’t do it without Him. Just like the Israelites with their backs up against the sea with a charging army, they knew they needed a miracle. And the Lord showed up for them, and all they needed to do was be still.
You may be thinking, “Okay, Sarah, right, like I can just ‘be still’ and all the tasks, chores, emotional angst, etc., will just disappear.” I know I used to think like that, that being “still” was just a little too far out of reach for my life. But as I read the book of Exodus and prayed on these verses, I started to realize that I was looking at it merely as a matter of physical stillness—to just stand around and wait for the Lord to show up and help me get it all done or figure it all out.
Through prayer, I started to realize that this verse really points (for you, me, and the Israelites) to an interior stillness, something that generally doesn’t come about overnight. If I put myself in the story, as an Israelite with my family watching Pharaoh's army charge, I’m sure I would panic and try to take matters into my own hands; but there would also be a realization that I have just watched the Lord deliver us from our enemies through a series of plagues and a host of other supernatural phenomena. As with the Israelites, so also with us: God is worthy of our trust. I have seen Him fight my battles.
So how do we cultivate this interior stillness? To be able to stand with our backs against the sea and trust; to not panic, to not flail around in our lives and try to take matters into our own hands? That’s not an easy task. I don’t have all the answers, but I know we can turn to the Scriptures and saints for a wealth of wisdom, and they would point us to the power of daily prayer and quiet stillness with the Lord. I say “daily,” but what I really mean is hourly—in the moment—in the present moment where we encounter our struggles; this is the place of battle, when we need to turn to the Lord in trust.
It is helpful to recall the ways He has battled for us in the past because this can give us confidence that He can and will do so again. Each time we do this, we slowly develop a habit of surrendering to Him again and again, cultivating a deep awareness of our need for God. By returning to Him over and over again in the small things every day, we develop the instinct to turn to Him when the big things come our way—like when Pharaoh's army is charging and there is nowhere to go.
Is it easy to trust, to turn to God in every need, and cultivate interior stillness? No, but the alternative will always be chaos, self-reliance, panic, and fear, and that is no way to live. He wants to fight for you. He has already laid His life down for you. I promise you—He is trustworthy. We need only be still.
Need more inspiration to move toward daily prayer and quiet stillness with the Lord? Check out the Walking with Purpose 365-day devotional, Be Still. And while you’re here, be sure to sign up to get our weekly blog delivered to your inbox!
Sarah Swafford is the founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries. She speaks internationally to people of all ages on a variety of topics such as: emotional virtue, dating and relationships, modesty of intentions, and interior confidence. She shares her message at school assemblies, retreats, rallies, and conferences around the world and is the author of Emotional Virtue: A Guide to Drama-Free Relationships.
Sarah is a contributor to Chosen, Ascension Press’ confirmation program, and YDisciple’s True Beauty; she has also contributed videos for www.womenmadenew.com. Sarah is a proud team member of Chastity Project and speaks at Steubenville conferences in the United States and Canada.
Sarah also works on special projects for Catholic identity at her alma mater, Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where she resides with her wonderful husband, Dr. Andrew Swafford, and their children: Thomas, Fulton, Cate, Kolbe, and John Paul. You can find more information about Sarah and Emotional Virtue Ministries at www.emotionalvirtue.com
Waiting for suffering to end and relief to come would be so much easier if we knew the end date. If someone delivered the message, “You just have to hold on for x more days, and then your prayers are going to be answered,” most of us would muster up the courage and grit to wait it out faithfully. But that's rarely what waiting endlessly looks like.
Waiting endlessly is more like a dense cloud where we lack clarity and hope feels slippery and hard to grasp. Numbing out becomes incredibly tempting because what we really want to do is scream, “I just can't stand this.” Taking matters into our own hands becomes equally tempting, and dependence on God feels risky. We're told to trust Him in the storm, and that can be easier said than done. Actually, it's always easier said than done.
I'm coming through a season of waiting endlessly that I pray I don't need to repeat. Never have I felt less in control and never have I been more desperate to fix things and speed up the process of healing. There were so many moments when I wanted to give up-when it took everything I had to hold on to a shred of hope, believing against all evidence that God was present in that very moment and He was at work.
The perspective of these circumstances caused me to look at a passage in Exodus 24 with totally new eyes. Prior to these verses, Moses had led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. God had brought them to Mount Sinai where He was about to give them the Ten Commandments, which were to help them learn how to live as beloved children instead of as slaves.
In preparation for this monumental shift, Moses and a band of key leaders were taken aside by God. On the side of the mountain, “they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness…they beheld God.” (Ex. 24:10,11). This had to have been the most mind-blowing spiritual experience. You would think it would have been seared in their memories forever. How could they ever question whether or not God was real? They had seen Him.
Then God called Moses to come closer, leaving the leaders behind, beckoning him further up the mountain. Moses delegated his authority to his brother Aaron and Hur, and obeyed God. These two men had been critical support to Moses during a battle the Israelites faced with the Amalekites. During that battle, Moses, Aaron and Hur climbed to the top of a hill. As long as Moses' hands were raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, the Amalekites were stronger. We read in Exodus 17:12 that Moses' hands grew tired, so Aaron and Hur took a rock and put it under him. At the same time, they supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so his hands remained steady. And the Israelites won the battle. These were faithful friends.
Picking up again in Exodus 24, “Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.” (Exodus 24:17-18)
Picture what this must have been like-how terrifying it had to have been for Moses to enter into a cloud that looked like a devouring fire, all by himself. What was that experience like? Was it purifying? Overwhelming? How would it feel to have God reveal to you the new marching orders on how everyone was to live, to receive the Ten Commandments, in the middle of a dense cloud of God's presence?
This passage makes me think of a journey my heroic husband has been on, one I have been secretly calling his SELAH. SELAH is a word found in the Bible that's hard to define. Some scholars say it indicates a change in rhythm, a pause, a moment to stop and reflect. I like that definition and think it's an apt description of times in our lives when we have something of a “before and after” moment. We stop and reflect, we are changed, and then journey forward, stronger and healthier.
It began with his prayer asking God to grow him in humility and closeness to Him. He prayed this quietly, and without fuss, with no idea what was just around the corner. A short time later, stress in his life increased and peaked, catapulting him into a season that certainly felt like and appeared to be a devouring fire. Was the suffering an answer to his prayer for greater spiritual growth? I don't know. Perhaps. But it lasted, in its intensity, exactly forty days. For forty days, to the day, we had no idea what things would look like on the other side. We wondered if we would get there. His suffering was acute and isolating. The days and nights were filled with unrelenting waves of anxiety. Debilitating fear made his heart and mind pound constantly. A dark night of the soul filled him with spiritual doubts and that made everything even harder. The combination of very little sleep, no diagnosis, and no clear end date was overwhelming. While there is no question that his agony was the greater, it was also incredibly hard to stand by his side -unable to fix things or bring relief. When we deeply love someone, watching him or her suffer is its own form of anguish.
The thought occurred to me that as Moses walked through something that must have been frightening, he hoped that the vision the leaders had received of God would help them stay faithful in his absence. As he stood in the firestorm, being refined as a leader, preparing to lead his people to a life of true freedom, He was counting on Aaron and Hur to stay faithful and to keep everyone's focus on God. He needed them to wait well-to not lose hope-to not give in to the temptation to take matters into their own hands. God was at work, even if they couldn't see evidence of it through the dense cloud. They just needed to hold steady.
Maybe they could have done it for six days. Most of us can endure anything if it just lasts a week. But forty days? That's a long time. It proved too much. Aaron and Hur forgot the vision of God, caved in to the people's complaints, and created and worshipped a golden calf instead. They took matters into their own hands because after such a long wait, it felt like God was not going to come through.
How long are we willing to wait?
My friends, God always shows up. And not just at some remote time far in the future. He is at work now-right in this very moment that feels hopeless- in this current set of circumstances that seems without end. During the endless waiting, our job is to remember. When has He come through for you in the past? Dwell on this. Remember that our God is unchanging and He will rescue again.
Hold steady and rebuke the lie that says, “It's all up to me.” The truth is, we have an all-powerful Rescuer who never leaves our side. Reject the lie that says, “Things will never change.” The darkest hour is the hour before dawn. Wait faithfully. The light will come.
The very thing that we think will destroy us can be what strengthens and heals us. Suffering brings all sorts of long-buried things to the surface. Sometimes it's the only way God can get to those deep places in our hearts to set us free.
The psalmist wrote, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13) I pray you would not lose heart, and would remain steadfast as the storm rages. God is in the waiting. He is at work. You will see His goodness unfold.
With love and prayers,
Founder and Chief Purpose Officer
Walking with Purpose