The story of Ishmael is full of hope for anyone who struggles with conflicts that are rooted in your family of origin. Ishmael was caught in an emotional, family triangle, and his life imploded during his teenage years. But God met him and blessed him, and He can do the...
Some Christians say they have a boring testimony. Perhaps they came to faith in Christ at a very young age—before a dramatic lifestyle change could have occurred. Perhaps they don’t remember not knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior, or they don’t recall saving faith as a dramatic event that happened on a specific day. It’s not that their justification isn’t genuine. But when it comes to telling their story of salvation, some just don’t see it as the miraculous rescue that Scripture says it is.
When I was thirteen years old, I nearly drowned in a whitewater rafting accident. God mercifully provided the means of my physical rescue that day. Since then, this experience has served as an illustration of God’s miraculous, spiritual rescue work described in Psalm 40.
I recall that saving day when I was lifted from a kind of watery “pit of destruction” (Ps. 40:2)—as if it were yesterday.
A Miraculous Rescue
I had heard the warning the first time. “Do not sit on the edge of the raft!” the tour guide barked again, raising his voice above the noisy throng of sweaty, middle school students. “And if you fall out of the raft, do not try to stand in whitewater. Even if it looks shallow, the rocks under the surface can trap you, and the current is stronger than you think. Float on your back, legs straight and toes up, until you pass through the rapids.” For emphasis, he thumped his double-bladed paddle on the sand and shouted, “Do not sit on the edge of the raft! And DO NOT STAND UP in the water!”
We awkward adolescents had struggled into ill-fitting life vests, and now we struggled to stand still and listen to these imperatives. We were impatient. Just let us go have fun. We were arrogant. How hard is it to ride a boat through some bubbles? My mind wandered, and I cast a sideways glance at the eighth-grade boy I liked. I heard the river gurgling happily beyond the trees. I heard the warnings; I just didn’t believe they pertained to me.
It was smooth sailing at first. I sat, secure in the bottom of the boat through the first set of rapids. Thrilling! I rose to my knees for a better view. The raft bumped against boulders as we bounced our way to the placid water on the other side. Easy! In the next set of rapids, I perched high on the raft’s slippery edge. And there was that boy again, waving back at me!
Suddenly, my mouth was full of water, body spinning. I came up gasping and disoriented, the raft out of sight. Though the water was only chest-deep, the current was surprisingly forceful and threw me against a huge, weathered boulder. The danger was real! Forgetting the warnings, I followed my instincts. I wanted solid ground, and I tried to stand.
Only one foot pressed into the boggy river bottom. My other ankle throbbed, painfully wedged in a rock—undercut on the upstream side. Pulsing, the powerful rapids pinned me against this rock as I frantically tried to free myself. I screamed and waved my arms, but my shoulders ached under the current’s relentless pressure. I tried to keep my chin up, but water filled my eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. The cold was dizzying, and I suddenly wanted to sleep. Choking on the river, I could not save myself.
Had God not planned for a trio of professional kayakers to hone their skills on the river that day, this story would have a different ending. The craggy boulders and raging water were inferior to their strength. Navigating the rapids like they owned them, the kayakers had heard my cries. I don’t know how they untangled my foot, but I can recall being heaved up to the rock and held there, while I spewed water and couldn’t speak. I simply rested on the rock, and I was safe.
Thirty years later, the terror of that day has faded, but God’s grace remains clear. He had provided instructions for my navigation of the river; I had dismissed them. God had provided boundaries for my protection; I had rejected authority. The slightly-irregular shape of my left ankle serves to remind me that pride went before my fall. My foolishness trapped me, and I was unable to rise from it. But God, in his mercy, heard my cries and provided the means for my rescue. In the security of a solid rock, I found rest.
Safe in Christ
Psalm 40:1-3 describes three ways God accomplished the miracle and blessing of our salvation. But these verses also remind us that he is still blessing us and keeping us in Jesus Christ today.
1. The Lord hears.
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry (Ps. 40:1).
Jesus said that we will face trouble in this world (Jn. 16:33), but God has shaped our hearts to desire rescue. Jesus’ willingness to leave his throne and die like a criminal on the cross proves that he inclines himself to our needs. Through his resurrection, Christ overcame the power of sin. Since the Lord drew near to us through this sacrifice, we can draw near to him at every time of need (Heb. 4:16). When we believe, “My God will hear me” (Mic. 7:7), Charles Spurgeon says we are remembering that the Lord listens perfectly to the cries of his beloved.
Because God is the living God, he can hear. Because he is a loving God, he will hear. Because he is our covenant God, he has bound himself to hear us. If we can each one speak of him as “my God”, we may with absolute certainty say, “My God will hear me.” 
2. The Lord lifts.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog… (Ps. 40:2).
A “miry bog” is a wet, peaty place that thrives on decomposing matter.  Christians (like the rest of mankind) were once bogged down by the heavy burden of sin. We were actually dead “in the trespasses and sins in which [we] once walked” (Eph. 2:1-3), but God made us alive together with Christ! In his miraculous mercy, God did for us what we could never do for ourselves: he “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (v. 6-8). The Lord lifts the weight of condemnation so that those who are in Christ can battle sin with his strength. When we are weary of this world, the Lord lifts our eyes toward heaven where Christ has secured for us a seat at his table.
3. The Lord secures.
…and [the Lord] set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure (Ps. 40:2)
In this life, we may face all manner of insecurity—economic, professional, and personal. Yet in Christ, God has provided a firm place to stand. Psalm 27:5 says he will “hide [us] in his shelter in the day of trouble… he will lift [us] high upon a rock.” To be blessed and kept in Christ is to be safe. Even if we don’t encounter physical danger, we are prone to insecurity when we feel alone, are in over our heads, or need to make a difficult decision. But when we fear the Lord more than our circumstances, we can believe that he makes our “steps secure.” He establishes the way we should go (Ps. 37:23) and will “instruct in the way [we] should choose” (Ps. 27:5).
Remembering what Christ saved us from (the pit of destruction) increases our gratitude for his miraculous rescue. Remembering what Christ has saved us to (freedom to live with and for him forever) can increase our worship as we follow him with secure steps.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God (Ps. 40:3).
1. Charles Spurgeon, “Jan. 31” in The Promises of God, revised and updated by Tim Chester (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019).
2. Merriam-Webster, s.v. “bog”, accessed September 1, 2020, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bog