Four months prior to our arrival in the Middle East, I’d had extensive surgery. Both my arms were operated on at the same time, and the recovery was traumatic. Years previously, I had developed a neurological disorder, lost almost all my arm strength, and suffered constant burning sensations in both arms. After a couple of years of deteriorating strength I was now disabled. I could barely use my arms.
That was ten years ago. Fast forward to today, and I wish my story had a happy ending to share with you, but it doesn’t. At least not the way most people describe as “happy.” I am not physically healed. Although I have reasonable control over my arms and hands, I am still disabled. I can’t drive, shake hands, pick up my children, open most doors, put on my seatbelt, flush the toilet, turn a key, do most household chores, change a diaper, or lift more than a couple pounds. My arms hurt all the time. I live with the burning pain from my elbows down to my forearms twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes I feel like ripping my arms off my body (though I often chuckle that I don’t actually have the strength to carry out that task). I am even developing a new tingling sensation and weakness in my legs. Throughout this journey I have struggled greatly with depression, and some days life seems completely hopeless.
But something in my life did change. About two months away from starting a new church, I began to see the sun peering out from the clouds of depression. Our friends Brady and Amber graciously and gently rebuked me for being a self-centered and hurtful husband. I was also convicted of my own hypocrisy as a man who was about to preach to others when I was not living a life of grace myself.
The most vital change was a rediscovery of God and his gospel. All three of these things happened at about the same time, and for the first time in a couple of years the darkness started lifting. It did not totally disappear, but I saw the light of Christ once more. I again hoped in God. I began embracing my trials as something God meant for my good and his glory. I found hope again in the one God of the universe. The Lord began to teach me what the late British preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon meant when he said that trials teach hard lessons.
How did Spurgeon persevere through his trials? A clue is found in a quote often attributed to him: “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”
What does it mean to “kiss the wave”?
When I am in the midst of suffering, I am doing my best just to keep my head above water as the stormy waves of suffering crash over me. I have often longed to be lifted out of the rough and dark waters that feel as if they are engulfing me. I have spent many long nights despising those waves. I have never thought about kissing them.
I don’t think Spurgeon gives us trite advice, pretending as if suffering is not difficult. I also don’t think he is telling us to act as if our situations are easy: Just try harder and kiss those waves. No, Spurgeon tells us that God is doing more in our suffering than we can see with our eyes. None of us enjoys adversity. We want out, and yet God in his grace uses suffering for our benefit.
Spurgeon has good advice for us. Stop flailing your arms in panic and embrace the God who has sovereignly designed your circumstances. Kiss the wave. In the midst of the storm, God has your good and his glory in mind. Romans 8:28 is not just a verse for a Christian greeting card, but one we should have branded on our hearts:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Hardship, sorrow, disability, persecution, and death are not good in themselves. But God in his grace uses them for our good and his glory. The nearness of God awakens us to him in our trials and draws us toward his grace. It is in these times when we need to follow Milton Vincent’s counsel and stop trusting in our everchanging circumstances to bring us joy, and instead rest in the one great, permanent circumstance given to us in Christ and the gospel 
Jesus, God in the flesh, came to us and died on the cross, taking the ultimate wave of death and judgment upon himself so that we could be lifted up to everlasting life. Can the waves of trials drown us when we have a Savior who endured the greatest trial in our place?
Friend, there is no guarantee that anything you can do will bring happiness or relief. No mathematical equation provides the exact roadmap or recipe to make you feel better. There is no special button to push that guarantees your life will turn around. But there is hope in who God is and what he has done for Christians through Christ.
We don’t “feel better” by trying harder or distracting ourselves. We don’t lift ourselves out of the pit through positive thinking. Instead I can think of no better way forward than to point you to the greatness of our God and all that he has done for us in Christ Jesus. It’s only when we take our eyes off of ourselves and our circumstances and we gaze upon him and his work that we can keep our heads above water when the high tide of our trials comes our way. I pray that in your pain, you would not despair but would embrace God in the midst of your suffering.
If you feel like you can’t take another day in your suffering, the Rock of Ages is with you, and he is faithful. You may not be able to kiss the wave now, but this wave can take you on into a deeper, joyous walk with him.
Kiss the Wave: Embracing God in Your Trials (Crossway, 2016) by Dave Furman (ThM, 2007)
People debate the content of Spurgeon’s exact quote. This quote has been attributed to Spurgeon for decades, and it is possible that he said it at some point, perhaps even out of the pulpit. However, Christian George, a Spurgeon scholar, cites a slightly different quote, which is the closest thing we can find in an official Spurgeon sermon: “The wave of temptation may even wash you higher up upon the Rock of ages, so that you cling to it with a firmer grip than you have ever done before, and so again where sin abounds, grace will much more abound.” Christian George, “6 Things Spurgeon Didn’t Say,” The Spurgeon Center, http://center.spurgeon.org /2016/08/24/six-things-spurgeon-didnt-say/.
Content taken from Kiss the Wave: Embracing God in Your Trials by David Furman, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.