On July 4, 1952, Florence Chadwick began the twenty-one mile swim across the Catalina Channel. The water was ice-cold, and a dense fog shrouded her view of the support boats surrounding her. Several times, her support crew drove approaching sharks away with rifle fire.
For almost sixteen hours, Florence swam on. In complete exhaustion she finally quit—one half mile from her goal. She later told reporters, “I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen the land I might have made it.”
It wasn’t the cold, sharks, or weariness that stopped Florence short of her goal—it was the fog. Many times we too, fail to reach spiritual goals because we simply lose hope when sorrows enter our lives. We feel overwhelmed in the icy cold waves, and we fail to remember that God has promised to sustain us through these difficulties.
Many of our sorrows are actually advanced by Satan in an attempt to cause us to lose hope. The dedicated Christian is a prize target for Satan’s arrows of sorrow. Second Corinthians 12:7 explains that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was sent by Satan: “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.”
But even sorrows that are advanced by Satan must first be allowed by God. Every fiery trial that comes our way is “Father-filtered.” We see in Job’s life that God drew limits on the suffering He allowed Satan to bring: “And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand….And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life” (Job 1:12, 2:6).
For every sorrow God allows to come our way, He provides sufficient grace and strength to withstand these attacks. Paul expressed how God faithfully sustained him: “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8–10).
Notice that Paul accessed God’s grace through prayer—he “besought the Lord.” The word besought means to “call for or to call to one’s side.” If we, too, would access God’s sustaining grace, we must heed the admonition of Philippians 4:6–7: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Hope is found in bringing your sorrows to the Lord who “upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down” (Psalm 145:14).
Two months after Florence’s unsuccessful swim, she again attempted to cross the Catalina Channel. The water was just as cold, and the fog was just as dense as on her previous attempt. But this time, in less than fourteen hours, she made it, breaking the current world record by more than two hours. What was the difference? Even though Florence couldn’t see the shore, she kept the goal clearly pictured in her mind. She trusted in the fact that, though the shore was not visible, it was still present.
During times of sorrow, hope is not found in a change of circumstances, but in the unchanging, solid promises of God, which provide sustaining grace and strength.