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The day I didn't listen to God and almost drowned

Can You Hear God's Voice?

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. I can only speak for myself, but 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. So I loaded up my pick-up truck and began driving north on California’s fabled Highway 1. I checked a few different surf spots before I pulled into the parking lot of the one I intended to surf. This particular spot is located along a stretch of cliff-lined coast where the ocean’s edge butts right up against the cliffs at high tide.

I hadn’t surfed in over a week so I was pretty anxious to get in the water. It wasn’t going to take much to motivate me to go surfing. However, 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.

It’s kind of funny the way we have the ability to rationalize doing something we know we shouldn’t. For whatever reason, I knew that inner conviction was the Holy Spirit telling me not to go surfing that day. 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. If a whale was going to come swallow me up like Jonah, 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 realized how bad I wanted to catch a few waves! 

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 into 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 rationalizing it all as a coincidence.

I had been in the water for roughly 30 minutes when out of frustration I decided I was going in. 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, that gentle lapping turned into a quick receding. I immediately realized a few different things. The first was that 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. The second thing I realized was that the cliff bent along the shore created about a seven-foot-high by eight-foot-deep cave that I now stood directly in front of.

The third thing I realized 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. 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 I had 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 realize 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 me, 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. The surge was caused by a large set of waves. If there had been more, the cave would have completely filled with water and it would have pinned me longer than I could have held my breath for.  

And what I learned first and foremost from this ordeal 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 me. 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 an author, surfer, and speaker from the Central Coast of California. Since the release of his first book in 2015 Hamlin has spoken at churches and ministries throughout the world. He also holds a degree in Biblical Studies. Find out more at

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