The past five months have been interesting, to say the least. Almost all of us have experienced loss of some kind, a disappointment. Something didn’t turn out the way we hoped and prayed it would be. One thing we all have in common is that storms are in the forecast.
Most mornings my bride Nancy will ask me, “Is it supposed to rain today?” I guess that makes me the resident meteorologist in the Sabol home. I follow the forecasts pretty carefully as they provide important input for my weekly decisions, like what is the best day for me to mow the lawn, do outside projects, and even travel.
Storms can be obviously literal, like when the sky darkens, the lightning strikes, the thunder rumbles, and the rain descends. But storms can also be a metaphor for the struggles and crises of life. Everyone reading this blog is either just entering a life-storm, in the midst of one, or just getting out of a life-storm.
Pain is a fundamental human predicament. No one goes through life without experiencing some. It is in our life-storms that heaven and earth meet. It is there that we meet each other, and most importantly, it is in the storm that God meets us.
When a life-storm strikes, it calls into question our most basic beliefs about God. It may be said that the biggest question we can ever ask is, “What is the meaning and purpose of life?” But, not far behind is the question, “Is there a personal, Creator God?” When we are in the middle of a life-storm, these questions are not distinct from each other; they are part of the same question. And I am not talking about philosophical questions and debates about theories. These questions have dates and faces attached to them.
Maybe I did not name your specific life-storm in the paragraphs above, but we all have had one. You and I know that it is not just a theory. It’s real. It’s tough stuff! So, how can we prepare ourselves? Because storms are in the forecast.
The Bible is clear about the fact that troubles are a part of life. The Word of God has never been guilty of false advertising. 1 Peter 4:12 says, “My friends, do not be surprised at the terrible trouble which now comes to test you. Do not think that something strange is happening to you” (NCV). Jesus’ own words reiterate this reality in John 16:33: “In this world, you will have trouble, but be brave! I have defeated the world” (NCV).
So, it is safe to say that it is not a matter of “IF” we will experience a life-storm, but “WHEN?”
Why do life-storms come? Much of the answer to that question has to do with the fact that the world is messed up, thanks to Adam and Eve. God has given every human being a free will. So much pain is caused by the misuse of personal freedom. Every one of us has misused our personal freedom, and in the process has caused another person to experience pain.
The issue is will we react or respond when the life-storms come? A Reaction is an action taken without a lot of thought. It’s a primal, natural reflex. When a life-storm hits, you will feel the tendency to react. But will it be the only thing you do? A Response on the other hand is an action taken after careful thought and guidance.
A wrong reaction to a life-storm can set you on a course of frustration, resentment, and bitterness. We all know someone like that. Something happened years ago, but they are still bitter, angry, frustrated and stuck. However, a right response will deepen your faith and make you wiser, more genuine, and transparent. It will sustain you and give you strength.
In a life-storm, there will be a knee-jerk reaction. Make sure it is soon followed by a thoughtful response. For me, it has come down to making the right choices when I am facing a life-storm. Perhaps my strategy can help you, too.
Choose to deepen your prayer life. Do not choose anxiety, fear, and worry. We would all benefit if we did that. And just maybe, that could be the ultimate purpose for the storm: God wants us to talk to Him more. C.S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Your prayer during a life-storm should include a walk down memory lane. Recount the numerous times He has proven Himself to be the master of the storm. You know you have really prayed when you have peace. Most of us don’t pray, we just worry in God’s presence. Genuine prayer moves us past that.
Choose to remain outward focused. Don’t opt for an inward focus of bitterness! It’s easy to become bitter in a storm. Bitterness is extreme self-pity. You can give in to that, but you can go another way. Live openly. Don’t push people away. Others are hurting. Be an encourager. Be outwardly focused! Seven years ago, I spent a week in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unity after bypass surgery. In my pain, I chose to be outwardly focused. By the time I was discharged I had the opportunity to minister to a young nurse and wound up officiating her wedding just two months later. I was able to give advice about grandparenting to an RN whose first grandchild was just born. That RN is now a new member of Lifeway Church. There are many more stories like that from that one week long life-storm. Sure, my stay in the hospital was about me getting the help and healing I needed, but in that life-storm, I chose to remain outward focused.
Choose to embrace the sovereignty of God. Don’t make the choice to grumble against God. Job
1:21 says, “Naked I came from my mother, and naked I will return. The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away! May the name of the LORD be praised.” In plain English, he said, “Everything I ever had came from God. God determined what I would get, and when I would get it. It’s really His. If He wants to take it away, it’s OK by me. Blessed be the name…” Because God is good, all His decisions are good. “But I don’t have an answer as to why this is happening.” Well, just because you don’t have an answer doesn’t mean there is no answer! Life is not a puzzle to be solved; life is a mystery to be lived. Do you know what’s amazing? We get glimpses of the mystery of God after we go through the storm. Years later you look back and say with 20/20 hindsight, “I understand, now.”
Choose to look to God. Avoid self-reliance. Men especially struggle with this. We tend to buck up, man up, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. But just so you know, self-reliance is just a fancy word for P-R-I-D-E! To all of you who are choosing to live that way, I have just one question, “How’s that working for you?” The wisdom of King David is revealed in Psalm 118:8 where he says, “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in men.”
Choose to remain faithful to God. Don’t go back to your old ways – the stuff you used to do to cope before you met Christ. When the storm is raging, you will be tempted to go back to your old life and its futile ways of coping. You know what that is. Don’t do it! Remain faithful to God. Be like Job who declared in the midst of his life-storm, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15).
Are you in a life-storm? Have you lost your bearings? Then, with the help and grace of God, make the right choices. The storm will eventually subside, and you will emerge a better person. I guarantee it.