Facing the Storms of Life
Facing the Storms of Life
On 31 July 2003, the adventurer Bear Grylls led a team of five across the North Atlantic Ocean in an inflatable rigid dinghy. They set out from Halifax, Nova Scotia, heading for John o’ Groats, Scotland. On 5 August, a great storm arose. There were 100-foot waves. They lost satellite contact. They (and we) feared for their lives. Thankfully they survived to tell the tale (see Facing the Frozen Ocean by Bear Grylls).
Not all of us will have to face physical storms of this kind. But Jesus said that we would all face the storms of life (Matthew 7:25–27). Life is not easy. These storms are many and varied. Abraham, David and Jesus’ disciples all faced storms in their lives. What can we learn from their example?
Take up the shield of faithPsalm 7:10-17
In the midst of the storms David says, ‘My shield is God Most High… I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High’ (vv.10a,17).
If we fall for temptation and start to enjoy and nurture it, David warns, ‘Whoever is pregnant with evil and conceive trouble give birth to disillusionment’ (v.14). In another image, he likens it to digging a hole, scooping it out, and then falling into the pit we have made (v.15).
The apostle Paul says that you are to take up a shield with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16). The shield is the ‘shield of faith’ or, as David puts it here, his shield is ‘God Most High’ (Psalm 7:10). This is the best protection you could ever have against the attacks of the enemy.
Lord, thank you that I, too, am able to say, ‘My shield is God Most High.’
Trust in Jesus the SaviourMatthew 8:23-9:13
Sometimes the storms in our lives appear without warning. Jesus was in the boat with his disciples sleeping when ‘without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat’ (8:24).
Presumably the disciples were used to storms on the Sea of Galilee; it was renowned for sudden flash storms, stirring the water into twenty-foot waves. However, this storm must have been a particularly serious one because the disciples woke Jesus up and said, ‘We’re going to drown!’ (v.25).
During the storms of life, it is natural to panic (certainly, I tend to). Sometimes it appears that Jesus is ‘sleeping’ (v.24). He does not appear to be doing anything about our problems. Thankfully, we can all cry out, as they did, ‘Lord, save us!’ (v.25).
The natural response to the storms is doubt and fear. Jesus tells them that the response to storms should be trust (‘You of little faith’, v.26a) and that you should not be afraid (‘Why are you so afraid?’ v.26a). Jesus is quite capable of calming the storm and that is exactly what he did. Trust God and fear not.
Having shown his authority over the elements (‘Even the winds and the waves obey him!’ v.27), he goes on to demonstrate his authority over evil powers by freeing the two demon-possessed men (vv.28–34). Jesus was far more concerned about people than possessions, unlike those who pleaded with him to leave their region (v.34).
Jesus goes on to make the point that forgiveness is more important than healing. But healing is not unimportant. Jesus does both. He shows his power over sickness and disability by healing a paralysed man (9:1–2). ‘The crowd was awestruck, amazed and pleased that God had authorised Jesus to work among them this way’ (v.8, MSG).
In the midst of the storms there are moments of calm. Today’s passage ends with such a moment as Jesus calls Matthew to follow him. Jesus is invited to dinner at Matthew’s house.
The Pharisees are surprised to see Jesus eating with ‘a lot of disreputable characters’ (v.10, MSG) and say, ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cosy with crooks and riffraff?’ (v.11, MSG).
‘Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what the scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”’ (vv.12–13, MSG).
God’s ‘mercy’ is his kindness and forgiveness towards people who do not deserve it. Today, receive and enjoy his mercy yourself and then be merciful to others.
Lord, thank you that in all the storms of life I can cry out, ‘Lord, save us.’ Help me to trust you and not to be afraid.
Thank God for his provisionGenesis 21:1-23:20
Abraham certainly faced storms in his life. The passage for today is full of struggles, but it starts with a wonderful moment of calm in the midst of these storms. ‘The Lord was gracious to Sarah... and… did for Sarah what he had promised’ (21:1). Like us sometimes, they had had to wait a long time, but eventually God’s promise was fulfilled. During the waiting period, the challenge is to keep on trusting God.
‘Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him’ (v.2). It was a moment of great joy. Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me’ (v.6).
But very soon Abraham faced a storm in his own household. Ishmael mocked Isaac (v.9), and this led to deeper divisions in the family (v.10). Tragically Hagar and Ishmael left (v.14). These divisions were ultimately the consequences of Abraham’s previous sin in making Hagar his mistress, following his lack of faith in believing that Sarah would have a son.
Sometimes the hardest situations in life to face can be those of our own making. Even so, God is still with Abraham (vv.12–13), and he watches over and blesses Hagar and Ishmael (vv.17–18). We see God’s grace at work in the midst of a sinful situation.
Abraham was about to face the biggest storm of his life: ‘God tested Abraham’ (22:1).
God sometimes allows us to be tested. Personally, I don’t think God ever intended for a moment that Abraham should actually sacrifice his son Isaac. The sacrifice of children was always an abomination to the Lord. But, he wanted to establish Abraham’s priorities.
The New Testament reminds us that this test came after God’s promises to Abraham about Isaac (Hebrews 11:17–19), and was therefore a test of both Abraham’s faith and his priorities.
The test was of his faith, because it challenged him to trust that God could fulfil his promises about Isaac, even if Abraham was willing to sacrifice him. Abraham had to trust that no matter what happened, Isaac would be restored to him (v.19).
Yet it was also a test of Abraham’s priorities. Your relationship with God is meant to be the number one priority of your life – above all other loves, the vision God has given you for your life and even above your closest human relationships. Abraham was willing to obey God whatever the cost. His great strength was that he loved God more than anything or anyone else.
Thankfully, God provided the sacrifice that was necessary (‘God himself will provide the lamb’, Genesis 22:8). This foreshadows the great sacrifice God was to make on our behalf. As you think about how Abraham must have felt at the thought of sacrificing his son, you get a glimpse of what it cost God to give his one and only Son for you and me (John 3:16).
Jesus is ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). If God provided the ultimate sacrifice to meet your greatest need, will he not also provide for all your other needs? Here Abraham calls God ‘Jehovah-Jireh’, or ‘The Lord Will Provide’ (Genesis 22:14). He is acknowledging that God providing is part of his character.
God is the great provider. So often, I have found this to be true in my own life and in our community. God is true to his promise. As the apostle Paul put it, ‘My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19).
Our task is to obey God (to ‘seek first his kingdom and his righteousness’, Matthew 6:33a) and he promises that if we do that, he will provide for all our needs (‘All these things will be given to you as well’, v.33b).
God’s provision and blessing is almost unbelievably great (Genesis 22:16–18). It included this: ‘And in your Seed [Christ] shall all the nations of the earth be blessed’ (v.18, AMP).
Lord, thank you that you are my shield, my Saviour and my provider. Help me to keep trusting in you and to not be afraid. Help me to keep you as the number one priority in my life.
Today’s New Testament passage reminds me of the importance of trusting Jesus even when things don’t look great. Jesus has power to sort out even the most difficult of situations (8:26,32; 9:5–6).
Verse of the Day
‘My shield is God Most High’ (Psalm 7:10).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.