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Daniel Hamlin writes on how a terrifying experience at sea taught him about the importance of listening to the 'still small voice' of God
I don’t know if you’ve ever felt God speak to you, but it usually doesn’t involve thunder and lightning or even an audible voice, at least for me it doesn’t.
A large number of the times I truly believe God has spoken to me his voice came in the form of an inner nudging. The sky didn’t part, the oceans didn’t recede; I simply felt a conviction deep inside that spoke truth to my heart.
In February of 2000 I was attending a conference in Santa Cruz, California. During an afternoon break in the conference I decided I’d use my free time to go surfing. It was a miserably stormy day with intermittent rain showers, but there was swell in the water, which meant there would be waves.
I began driving north on California’s fabled Highway One. I found a surf spot along a stretch of cliff-lined coast where the ocean’s edge comes up against the cliffs at high tide. I watched it for a few minutes to assess the conditions. I hadn’t surfed in over a week (which for me is a long time) so I was pretty anxious to get in the water.
When I saw there were waves big enough to ride I made up my mind I was going to paddle out. At exactly the moment after I had decided I was going to go surfing, I felt an inner conviction, almost like a whisper, urge me not to paddle out that day.
Brushing the doubts aside
It’s kind of funny the way we have the ability to rationalise doing something we know we shouldn’t. I knew that inner conviction was the Holy Spirit telling me not to go surfing that day but I debated it in my mind for a solid ten minutes. I told myself if it was God warning me about something bad that might happen he surely would give me specifics. I reasoned God would give me a heavenly vision or something to warn me, not a still, small voice. I mean God must have known that I hadn’t surfed in over a week so he must have realised how bad I wanted to catch a few waves!
I soon convinced myself I should go surfing instead of listening to that subtle yet steady conviction that I should not get in the ocean that day.
Almost as if God were giving me one last chance not to go surfing that day, right as I was making my way to the water’s edge a fierce onshore wind sprang up out of nowhere and turned the waves to a jumbled mess within moments. What had been a smooth ocean just minutes prior, was now a rough and chaotic mess.
Again I heard that inner conviction almost pleading with me not to paddle out, and again I felt myself rationalising it all as a coincidence.
A deadly wall of water
Thanks to the onshore wind the waves, which had looked fun when I first arrived, were now nothing but garbage. On top of it all, there was an incessant current that kept me paddling the whole time in an effort not to get swept down the beach past where the waves were breaking. I caught one final wave and made my way to shore. As a result of the current, I had been swept a few hundred yards from where I parked my car. This meant I would have to walk along the edge of the cliff-lined shore back to my car. The tide was on the rise, but was still low enough to leave a small strip of beach right next to the cliff to walk on...or so I thought.
As I rounded a small bend in the cliff, the gentle lapping of the sea turned into a quick receding. I immediately realised three different things. First, the receding was caused by a tidal surge. The ocean tends to draw water back to itself right before it surges, and that’s exactly what it was doing. I looked up to see a wall of water about to bear down on me. Second, where the cliff bent along the shore it created a large cave that I now stood directly in front of. The third thing I realised was that I should not have gone surfing that day.
As I braced myself for the impending impact and inevitable introduction to the back of the cave, I did the only thing I knew I could do; I cried out, “God help me!”
The wall of water thrust me to the back of the cave where my head collided with the wall of the cave. I blacked out, but only briefly. When I came to I was pinned to the back of the cave, which was now full of water with the exception of a twelve-inch gap of air between the water’s surface and the top of the cave.
Panic started to grip me and I feared that just as I had ignored God’s voice, he might ignore my cry for help. But suddenly I felt the force that had me pinned to the back of the cave begin to pull me out of the cave. I swam with everything in me until I was clear of the cave’s opening. To make a long story short I eventually, and very sheepishly, made it back to my car.
I realise now in that brief but traumatic ordeal, a number of crucial details went in my favor which I believe to be God’s doing. One detail was when the wall of water hit me, it spun me around so my surfboard was between the cave and I, essentially acting as a cushion, absorbing some of my impact with the back of the cave. If it hadn’t provided that cushion I likely would have been knocked completely unconscious. Without anyone on the beach to rescue me it would have almost certainly resulted in drowning.
Another detail was the fact that the tidal surge that pinned me to the back of the cave only lasted for one or two waves. Waves tend to travel in sets and the surge was caused by a large set of waves; with the amount of swell in the water that day there should have been more waves in the set. If there had been, the cave would have completely filled with water and it would have pinned me longer than I could have held my breath for.
The highest advantage of others
It’s recorded that Buckminster Fuller once had an encounter with God in which God told him it was his duty to use his knowledge and ability to the “highest advantage of others.”
I don’t know how much knowledge or ability it took to find myself in that cave, but my hope is that sharing what I learned about God through the ordeal will be to the advantage of others. And what I learned first and foremost is that God is a loving father. The moment we call to him for help, he acts on our behalf. He is in the business of saving his children; that’s what the cross is all about. Jesus died for us not because we deserved it, but because he loves us.
If I died in that cave I would have had no one to blame but myself. God gave me every opportunity imaginable to avoid peril, but I ignored him. However this did not deter him from pulling me out of the cave that day. He took a selfish mistake I’d made and used it to show me how much he loves us. This is not an excuse for making poor choices, but rather it’s a reminder that he has an uncanny ability to take very bad situations and redeem them if we call out to him.
No matter what cave we may find ourselves trapped in, whether by our own doing or not, when we call out to Jesus he is there to save us.
But if he happens to warn you first, it’s probably best to listen.
Daniel Hamlin is speaker and author of When Oceans Rise: Scriptural Truths To Anchor The Soul and In His Presence: Thirty Contemplations from Walking with Jesus. As a sponsored surfer he appeared in numerous international publications including Surfer and ESPN.com. You can find out more at danielhamlin.org
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