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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Perfect Storms

Storm ahead

by Dennis Pollock

While rain is a very, very good thing, a storm can be a terrible thing. The aftermath of a hurricane or tornado or even a strong windstorm can be a terrible sight. Tree limbs litter the streets, windows are shattered, cars overturned, roofs ripped off, and the streets are flooded. We have a saying, "Into every life some rain must fall," but it might be better put this way, "Into each life some storms will come." Rain we desperately need, storms most of us feel we can do without. And yet like it or not, storms are a part of nature, and personal storms are likewise a part of what it means to live in our fallen world.

In this teaching we will consider a few elements of storms, both meteorological and  personal. Let's start with a simple and yet important feature of storms: they often arise suddenly. In the most famous storm of the New Testament we read these words:

Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side of the lake." And they launched out. But as they sailed He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake… (Luke 8:22,23)

The disciples embarked on a brief boat trip that they had no doubt taken many times before, a simple journey that should have taken two or three hours. At a certain point a pleasant boat trip turned into a life-threatening situation. The Scriptures sum up what happened with these words: "a windstorm came down on the lake." Things had been looking good, all was peaceful, but somehow out of nowhere a major storm arises. We use the term "blindsided," often in reference to an auto accident, but the expression has come into popular use to refer to our personal storms that hit us suddenly, fiercely, and without the slightest warning. One moment our skies are blue, the sun is shining, and all's well with the world; and within a very short time the skies are black, the wind is howling, and the rains are pelting us.

It may all start with a phone call or an email. It may be a sudden terrible pain in our chest, or finding a clue that our spouse is unfaithful. It may begin with our boss calling us into his office and telling us we are being let go. Some way, somehow our comfortable, secure status quo is shattered, and a full-blown storm appears on the horizon of our lives. If we had time to prepare for the storm, it wouldn't be quite so bad. We could have battened down the hatches, saved more money, taken out more insurance, steeled ourselves for the blow. But instead we were walking along life's highway whistling a happy tune and assuming we had years of carefree living ahead, and now this!

Today we often do have at least some advance notice when storms approach. We have tornado sirens, weather forecasters, and storm trackers to let people know a storm is coming. But in our personal lives there often is no warning whatsoever. And knowing the suddenness of storms should cause us to live with a grateful attitude. Every day free from major pressure and struggle is a blessing from heaven, and we should not take them for granted. We should thank God for normal, ordinary, average, unremarkable days They may not be dramatic and exciting, but they are truly a blessing. And we should walk humbly before God, knowing that we have no guarantees about how long our present situation will last. God alone knows what lies beyond the bend. Whatever it is, we can be sure He will be with us, but almost certainly our present situation has a divine expiration date.

No Fun

Storms are unpleasant and unwanted. Nobody enjoys a storm. A gentle rain can be sweet, but when fierce winds start destroying buildings, ripping off roofs, flooding homes, and uprooting trees, it is not fun. Storms reveal our own impotence. No man, regardless of how rich, influential, or powerful can stop a storm. When the hurricane comes the wealthy suffer with the poor, the celebrities tremble along with the nobodies. Brand new Cadillacs may be turned into heaps of junk right alongside the twenty year old cars that would soon have seen the junkyard anyway.

In Ecclesiastes we read: "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. For man also does not know his time: like fish taken in a cruel net, like birds caught in a snare, so the sons of men are snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them" (Ecclesiastes 9:11,12). We could wish that disasters and storms were more selective – choosing the wicked and passing over the godly – or choosing the simple and careless, and passing over the prudent and wise. But life isn't that way. We are not and have never been the master of our fate or the captain of our soul. Regardless of our many plans and precautions, and our best efforts to stretch out our happy days to last for a lifetime, storms come along with annoying regularity upsetting all our plans and demolishing our well-built, carefully maintained comfort zones.

Fearful Storms

Strong storms come with a potential for loss. What was the disciples' cry as they rushed to awaken Jesus?: "Master, Master, we are perishing." They looked at the nature of the sea, the force of the wind, and the size of the waves and came to what they considered a very reasonable conclusion: they could well be dead in a short time. It is this very real possibility of loss that makes storms so scary. It is the nature of men and women to hold their blessings tightly, and storms come along threatening to rip these things right out of our hands. Most of us would prefer to live out our lives without experiencing fearful situations. Comfortable, relaxed days without pressure or the possibility of loss are much more preferable. But God has determined that making our lives a non-stop, peaceful, care-free existence would not be healthy for us. In Romans we read:

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope… (Romans 5:3,4)

ship in stormWhen handled well, tribulations and difficulties (storms) produce good things in our lives. They build character and make us more like Christ. Since this is God's desire for us, it would be unreasonable to expect that He would attempt to keep us from all the storms of life, and give us day after day and year after year of perfectly smooth sailing. Imagine going to a doctor to complain of poor health. After hearing your symptoms he gives you the following advice: "I want you to start spending at least twelve hours a day lying on your couch and watching television. Be sure and drink several large Cokes during these sessions and eat at least three large pepperoni pizzas and a half gallon of ice cream. Do this six days a week for the next year, and then you can come back and let me know how you are feeling."

We would immediately know that this doctor is useless. His advice might make us feel pretty good temporarily, but over the long haul it would kill us. We were not made for inactivity or sedentary lives that never make us work up a sweat. Robust, energetic physical activity that increases the heart rate and stretches our physical capacity is good for us! Here's a little secret we should all keep in mind: as it is in the physical so it is in the realm of the spirit. "Take it easy" is a phrase we sometimes use when saying goodbye, but in truth if we take it too easy, too much of the time, we will begin to disintegrate.

Decisions, Decisions

During storms decisions must often be made in a hurry. Most of us would prefer to make our decisions in leisure – to have plenty of time to be able to think and pray and consider as we contemplate making major decisions that will significantly impact our lives. Generally speaking this is the best way to make decisions. But during storms we often do not have the luxury of taking our time in making critical decisions. We are frequently forced to make decisions on the fly without careful consideration. In such cases we often must act out of instinct and hopefully our knowledge of God's Word, trusting Jesus to guide us even when we do not have the time to follow our normal pattern of waiting on God to clearly reveal His mind over time. We must see that when our life seems rushed and totally out of control, God is neither rushed nor out of control. While we may have only hours or perhaps minutes to make crucial decisions, God has had all of eternity to coordinate our circumstances and ensure that our decisions lead us in the paths He has foreordained for us.

The Heart of the Matter

This brings us to the heart of the matter concerning storms. Storms require faith. Yes, wisdom is important, but faith is more important. What did Jesus say to His disciples as they panicked and told Him they would soon die? "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" It is not that storms are not dangerous. But when you have Jesus in your boat (your life), you should realize that you are really in no danger. As long as Jesus rests in your boat, you can be sure that all will be well. Jesus Christ is God's designated storm-stiller. The winds are fierce, but we look to the back of our boat and there is Jesus. The waves are splashing into the boat, and the boat sinks lower and lower into the water, but again we look back, and still we see Jesus, looking not the least bit concerned. If we have any sense we realize that everything is going to be OK. God will not allow His Son to go down and perish in the storm.

We notice that Jesus does allow the storm to go on for quite a while. We would much prefer it if, when the wind first starts picking up, Jesus would immediately pop up and say, "I see a storm is brewing. Let's just shut down that thing right now." But instead He sleeps, giving all the appearance of being unaware and unconcerned. This is the test of faith. We hear no word from heaven, we see no vision, we have no dream. All we see is the violence of the waves; all we hear is the howling of the wind. And yet we believe. It wasn't wrong for the disciples to awaken Jesus. They weren't rebuked for waking Him up; they were rebuked for their lack of faith that resulted in their panic: "Why are you so fearful?"

Of course Jesus finally did awaken; He did speak to the storm and bring about perfect calm, and it did not take much for Him to do it. How quickly God can bring our storms to an end once His purposes are accomplished! In the end storms and our survival are all about foundations. In His teachings Jesus spoke about a storm that came upon two houses, one built upon a rock foundation, and the other built upon sand. When the storm had passed only the house built upon rock was standing. Nobody tries to build a foundation during a hurricane. Foundations are best laid in good weather; they then prove their value during the storms. But they must be built. Imagine what your contractor would say if you told him that you wanted to save money, and therefore he could skip the foundation. He could just build your house upon the dirt. He would laugh at you and tell you it could never be done that way. The only buildings built without any foundations at all are temporary shacks. Real houses and real lives require a foundation.

The foundation we require for life in this uncertain world is revealed by the apostle Paul, who writes, "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11). With Jesus in our lives we can face the storms with faith. The winds may howl, the waves may slam into our little boat, but our Savior is with us. We will not fear.

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