“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.” (Psalm 77:19)
What gives us strength when times are tough?
That’s an important question for us to grapple with, because we live in a world where circumstances are often difficult. Life is not always easy and the situations we find ourselves in are often hard to navigate. In these times, we need a source of strength, help and comfort.
The Bible, of course, points us to God as our help and strength. But one of the things I love about the Bible is that it is a wonderfully realistic book. It doesn’t pretend that life is easy and trusting God is straightforward. In fact, it portrays many characters who fail to trust God in their struggles and who find it very difficult indeed to look to God as their source of help. I find this greatly reassuring!
One example is Psalm 77. The writer of the psalm is in great distress, groaning and unable to speak. The source of this distress is not clear, but it is an honest depiction of the struggles that each one of us can relate to at some point or other in our lives.
Eventually the psalmist resolves to find strength by looking back at what God has done in the past. Since God does not change, he is the same God now as he was back then. So the writer’s mind goes back to the Exodus and the way in which God saved his people by bringing them out of Egypt, splitting the sea before them and bringing them through the waters.
Almost at the end of the psalm, the writer adds a powerful comment. Speaking about God’s saving work in bringing the people through the sea, the psalmist notes that all this happens “though your footprints were not seen.”
God’s power and presence are sometimes seen, but his footprints are not. God is active and working, but also somewhat hidden from view. The people of Israel, as they crossed the sea, needed to trust that God was at work and would save them. They needed to trust that the waters would not come down on them as they got halfway across. They needed to know the power of God, though his footprints were not seen.
Just like the psalmist looking back on the events of the Exodus, we need to remember the same thing. God is the same now as he was then. His power is still as great and his goodness and mercy never change. In the toughest and most difficult circumstances of life, he is still present and active.
Yet, at the same time, his footprints are unseen. Trusting God would be so much easier if we had him physically present by our side, if we had concrete evidence of his presence and power, if we saw the footprints beside us. But God calls us to trust him even when his footprints are not seen. He is there, and he is active, even when we cannot see the imprints of his feet beside us. His loving and powerful Holy Spirit is living within us, even if there is no-one physically alongside us.
What gives us strength when times are tough? It is the character and nature of our amazing God. It is not the presence of footprints beside us, but the Spirit inside us. That is what should keep us going and keep us trusting in every circumstance of life.