I've done it again. Managed to head right into a storm.
Like the family vacation slammed by a hurricane. The record rainstorm that swamped the airport when we took our daughter to college. And the Halloween "Snowageddon" that met me in Connecticut last year. And now Sandy.
Actually, being a part of this "week like no other" in New York and New Jersey has had God-marks all over it. It shut down some ministry opportunities, but clearly opened up others. And, honestly, to see in the storm some lessons that I'll carry with me for years to come.
Like that lady in a store who loudly and brazenly (New Jersey-style) blurted, "Ya know, I'm not a religious freak, but you gotta wonder if God's trying to make us stop and think." I turned to her and said, "Let's go with that idea, ma'am. You're onto something there!"
My definition of a storm has grown - because the storms that affect us most deeply aren't on the Weather Channel. They're those deeply personal storms that come with things like a layoff at work, bad news at the doctor's office, that crisis with your spouse or your child, the death that changes everything.
So, a storm is "a life-altering event, beyond your control." I've lived a few. In the surgery waiting room, the funeral home, the no money/no groceries times, the near-deadly accident. One online news source had a day-after-storm, one-word headline that says it all: "Powerless."
The Bible talks about "lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do His bidding" (Psalm 148:8). And it reveals that "the Lord has His way in the whirlwind and the storm" (Nahum 1:3). I'm glad for verses like that. Because they tell me that beyond the mayhem and pain of a storm, there's also meaning and purpose. As hard as it is to see at the moment, storms serve God's higher purposes.
I'm left feeling powerless so I can experience His power as never before - because suddenly there's no "me" to depend on. I meet God at the end of my rope.
Storms force us to reevaluate everything - and get the things that really matter from the margins of our life and back to the middle. They also expose weaknesses - in a levee or building materials or emergency systems. Or in a marriage. A family. Priorities. A superficial faith. The storm isn't meant to destroy those things. It's to get us to fix them while there's time.
And those "beyond my control" events birth some qualities that might not blossom any other way. Like compassion...a tender heart for the hurting...patience and endurance. Sometimes, the fury of the storm blows away junk I've allowed in my life - sin and attitudes and compromises I'd never face any other way.
During Sandy, I read an amazingly timely description of a storm on the Sea of Galilee that spun the lives of Jesus' disciples "out of control." Well, their control anyway. A few phrases say it all: "It was dark...a strong wind was blowing...the waters grew rough." We've all lived that - if not physically, at least emotionally or spiritually.
But in their dark and dangerous moment, three little words that change everything - "They saw Jesus" (John 6:17-19). That's exactly when you do see Jesus coming to you. Saying to us as He said to them, "It is I; don't be afraid."
It is in those powerless moments that we realize, "I'm not enough. I can't do this." And we reach for the nail-pierced hand of the Man who took all the storm of the judgment for my sin - so I could go to His heaven. Jesus is the One who can finally calm the lifelong storm in a restless soul. With His stormproof peace.
Because you're safe, no matter what the wind and waves may do. Yes, the storm is bigger than you are - but your Jesus is bigger than the storm!
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