"How to Stand in the Storms of Life"
©January 13, 2002 from the series "The Stories of Jesus" by Rev. Bruce Goettsche, LaHarpe, IL. 61450
When you think about storms in your life I bet you don't think about thunderstorms or snowstorms. You probably think about
- dealing with a difficult or broken relationship
- going through a financial crisis
- withstanding legal problems
- unpleasant or painful health problems
- the death of someone you love
- dealing with rebellious children
- facing something that brought public disgrace
- being laid off from work
- dealing with a conflict situation at work or in church
Sometime in our lives we are all going to face these kinds of storms. It is true that there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who are going through a crisis and those who are going to go through a crisis.
This morning we look at a parable of Jesus which gives us insight into how we can keep standing in the storms of life. We look at Matthew 7:24-27. This passage comes at the end of what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is known for it's practical instruction. Some of the most famous words of Jesus are found in Matthew 5-7. This is the sermon where Jesus tells us to,
- turn the other cheek
- be like salt and light in the world
- avoid lust and anger
- don't worry
- forgive or we won't be forgiven
- don't judge others
- don't do your acts of righteousness for men's applause
At the end of the sermon, Jesus wants to drive home an important point: in order to benefit from his wisdom, we must be like the man who built his house on the rock rather than the one who built their house on the sand.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
The picture is pretty clear. In a storm, a house without a solid foundation is going to get knocked down. There are three things we should learn from this parable,
EVERYONE IS BUILDING ON SOME KIND OF FOUNDATION
Everyone is building their life on some kind of foundation. There are only two choices: you either build on a solid and deep foundation or you build on a shallow and weak foundation.
This is a recurrent theme in the Sermon on the Mount. In verses 13 & 14 Jesus tells us that there are two gates: a broad way and a broad gate and a narrow road leading to a narrow gate. The broad way leads to destruction and the narrow way leads to life. You are on one road or the other.
In verses 15-20 Jesus tells us that there are only two kinds of trees: there are trees that bear good fruit and trees that bear bad fruit. The bad trees bear bad fruit, the good trees bear good fruit. You are either one or the other.
And now Jesus tells us that there are two foundations: one that will withstand the storms and one that will not. The picture is clear. You are either walking God's way, experiencing His transformation in your life, and knowing His strength for difficult times; or you are walking away from God, producing nothing of eternal value and are vulnerable to the storms that may come your way. You are one or the other. Which one do you think you are?
TIMES OF TESTING REVEAL THE FOUNDATION ON WHICH WE HAVE BUILT
This parable gives every indication that before the storms came these two houses looked identical. They may have both been attractive, spacious, and comfortable. On the surface you couldn't really tell which house was built on the sand and which was anchored deep to the rock. It was only when the storms hit that you could see the difference in the homes.
So it will be with those around us. It is impossible for us to tell who is genuine in their faith and who is not until the time of trial comes. You and I both know that this is true. Everybody sounds like a believer when times are good. When God is giving us what we want, we are all cheering for Him. True faith comes when we are called to trust Him in the dark. When a person faces loss, or disappointment, or things simply don't go as expected, we get to see what their faith is really made of. The person who has a deep foundation,
- Trusts God's wisdom when life is confusing
- Relies on God's strength when they are weak
- Looks beyond the present heartache to God's purpose and eternal glory
- Relies on grace in times of personal failure
- Runs TO God rather than away from Him
I often tell people at a gravesite that the grave is where the rubber of our faith meets the road. It is easy to profess faith when life is good, it is more difficult to believe when you stand at the grave of one you love. That is the time when you must ask a tough question: "Do I really believe, or don't I?"
HOW TO BUILD ON A FIRM FOUNDATION
First, We Must Know the Truth
Jesus said anyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like the wise man. The first step is to hear. Which also means we must listen. Practically, I think this means several things.
First, it means we have a responsibility to expose ourselves to the truth. We do this by reading the Bible, by reading Christian books, by attending worship, by getting involved in classes and Bible Studies, by meeting with Christian friends who can teach and instruct us.
Second, it means to listen. It is not enough to just hear. We must listen. Anyone who is married knows that there is a difference. Anyone who has a teenager knows that there is a difference between hearing and listening. The key to listening is to interact with the one doing the speaking. The best listeners I know are people who ask lots of clarifying questions. In other words they ask, "What do you mean?" "Are you saying . . . . ", "Can you explain that further?" "What happened next?" These are questions that show a person is listening. We should ask clarifying questions when interacting with the truth of God.
- Have I understood this correctly?
- Are there any other passages of scripture that teach the same thing?
- Is God warning me of something? Do I need to repent?
- Is this a promise that I can claim?
- Is this a command I need to obey?
- What is this account trying to teach me?
- What kind of response should I be making to this truth?
This is true in every other area of your life. If you want to learn something you have to be in places where you can get the necessary information. An athlete listens to coaches and more experienced players. A Craftsman becomes an apprentice to learn from those who are more experienced. You have to expose yourself to the truth if you want to grow. And the same holds true in our spiritual lives.
Second, We Must Act on the Truth
It is not enough to KNOW about God. It is not enough to know what God wants you to do. It is not enough to know how to apply His word . . . . if we are going to build on a solid foundation we must actually DO what God wants us to do.
It is the same with building isn't it? You can know how to put up a straight wall, what the proper weight wire is for your particular wiring job, how deep a foundation should go, how far apart the studs or supports should be placed . . .but knowing isn't worth anything if you don't act on what you know.
You can know what it takes to save another person's life, but that information is useless if you don't use that information when someone is in distress.
You can know all kinds of things about God, but it will not help you if you don't do what He says.
- You can know that God wants priority in your time, but it is meaningless until you reflect that in your calendar.
- You can know that God want you to forgive, but it will not help you stand in the storms unless you actually let go of the bitterness you cherish toward another.
- You can know that God wants you to be sexually pure but that knowledge will not help you stand in the storms unless you turn away from your sexual affairs and your pandering with lust.
- You can know that God hates gossip but your foundation will not be strong unless you seek to eliminate gossip and stop tearing down others.
- You can know that God despises the prejudices of the world, but you will not be building a strong foundation for life unless you actually begin to looking past the surface in the lives of those around you.
- You can know that God wants you to be honest in your business dealings but to build on a firm foundation you need to actually report all your income and accurately record your expenses.
- You may know that God wants you to be content with what you have but a firm foundation will be established only as you begin to be satisfied with what you have instead of feeling you always need something more.
Please hear what Jesus is saying. The reality we must face is this: there are many people who are very knowledgeable about the Christian faith, but who are building on sand. There are many people who look good, talk good, and appear wonderfully religious, but are really building their foundation on the sand. They know the truth, they know how to appear Christian . . . .but they are not doing what God tells them to do.
To some degree all of us are like this. Every one of us has areas of our life where we are not applying the truth. We know what God wants us to do, but we just don't do it. However, the true believer is working to eliminate those areas from their life. They know that those areas of their life are robbing them of spiritual vitality and are weakening their foundation. The foolish builder is unconcerned about these things.
We must learn to obey because we will need to react instinctively when the storms rage. William Barclay tells the following story,
Some time ago there was a report of the case of a sailor in the Royal Navy who was very severely punished for a breach of discipline. So sever was the punishment that in certain civilian quarters it was thought to be far too severe. A newspaper asked its readers to express their opinions about the severity of the punishment.
One who answered was a man who himself had served for years in the Royal Navy. In his view the punishment was not too severe. He held that discipline was absolutely essential, for the purpose of discipline was to condition a man automatically and unquestioningly to obey orders, and on such obedience a man’s life might well depend. He cited a case from his own experience. He was in a launch which was towing a much heavier vessel in a rough sea. The vessel was attached to the launch by a wire hawser. Suddenly in the midst of the wind and the spray there came a single, insistent word of command from the officer in charge of the launch. “Down!” he shouted. On the spot the crew of the launch flung themselves down. Just at that moment the wire towing-hawser snapped, and the broken parts of it whipped about like a maddened steel snake. If any man had been struck by it he would have been instantly killed. But the whole crew automatically obeyed and no one was injured. If anyone had stopped to argue, or to ask why, he would have been a dead man. Obedience saved lives. The Gospel of Matthew : Volume. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (Mt 8:1). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.
We must learn to be obedient because when the storms come we must react. We won't have time to ask, "What should I do?" We need to KNOW what to do. We won't have the opportunity to build a foundation then, we will need to be holding to that foundation.
WRAPPING IT UP
So, knowing all of this, why don't more people build on the firm foundation? There are several reasons.
They are lazy
How appealing it is to build on the sand. It's a good location. It is adequate. It is easy. In the parallel passage (where the same story is told in another gospel) Jesus said,
He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. (Luke 6:48)
Who wants to dig down deep if you don't have to? It takes more work to build on the rock. It takes more time and energy. And it costs more. It is easier and faster to build on the sand.
It is easier to take shortcuts in building a home. It is cheaper to use lesser materials. And for awhile, no one may notice. But somewhere along the line, you will pay for your shoddy workmanship.
It is easier to cheat. It is quicker to simply memorize a list of answers. And your grades will look just as good on a job application or an application to college. But someday you will asked to express an intelligent thought on your own, and your laziness will be exposed.
The same is true for your spiritual life. It is easier to go with the crowd. It takes less time and energy if you simply maintain a superficial faith. And frankly, most of the time, who can really tell the difference anyway? It's easier to just show up for church for an hour a week than it is to develop spiritual roots. It is easier to talk about caring for others than it is to actually care. It is easier to talk about sharing your faith than it is to build bridges with others. It is easier to talk about commitment than to be committed.
They are short-sighted
The problem with people on the sand is that they do not see beyond the present. They give no thought to what is ahead. They live for the moment and whatever needs to be done to get what they want right now . . . is what they choose to do. These people do not give any thought to preparing for difficult times. They don't save any money. They don't do anything to protect their health. They don't build relationships while there is time. They don't consider the consequences of their moral choices. They live for the moment and are unprepared for difficult times that may be ahead.
In the spiritual realm many people are short-sighted as well. Their focus is all on the temporal world. They give no thought to eternity. They invest no time or energy in developing roots or in laying up treasures in Heaven. They believe they have lots of time to deal with eternal matters. They fail to see that being prepared for eternity and having a solid relationship with God, makes it possible to enjoy the present life more. When the storms blow they don't understand why God seems far away.
They are naive
They really believe that these kinds of things will never happen to them. They believe they will never have to deal with a crisis, or a tragedy, or loss, or financial stress. They are naive. They don't understand that in the next moment life could change drastically. A car accident, a fire, a tornado, an unexpected pregnancy, a job layoff, a physical problem (heart attack, stroke, or some other problem) could come into your life at any time. These things may effect you or they may strike someone you love. We seldom see these things coming. But when they do, life is turned upside down. Life may be good for you right now, but that could change in an instant.
The key principle
The parable of the two houses is a simple parable that teaches: If you build your foundation solidly on the Lord, you will be able to survive anything. It sounds painfully trite. But I believe it is true. And I base this conclusion not on my own experience. In fact, I have had to face very few storms in my life. I base this conclusion on the promise of God and on the testimony of history. History is filled with the story of martyrs who remained faithful in horrendous situations. And you and I have watched some who have survived horrible ordeals because of their faith. We have seen others go through circumstances that may have destroyed us . . . but they survived because of their faith. We've even seen people who faced death with courage, grace, and confidence.
We will survive in the storms of life if we build on the right foundation because,
- our strength will not come from us, but from the Lord
- we will not trust our wisdom, but from His
- our focus will not be on present struggle but on our future hope
- we will know where to turn, who to trust, and what is really important.
Maybe you are in a storm right now. Maybe you are in the process of discovering that your foundation is faulty. Friend, please turn to the Lord. You need to immerse yourself in God's Word. You need Christian friends who can give you guidance. You need to place your confidence in His love for You and His work on your behalf. Turn TO Him not away from Him. It will be difficult, but God is merciful and faithful.
If you are not in a storm right now let me remind you that the time to prepare for the struggles and storms of life is now. As we approached the year 2000 people were imagining all kinds of chaos due to the new millennium. Utilities would cease functioning, financial institutions would be thrown into chaos, planes would drop from the sky, and all kinds of machinery we depend on would cease to function correctly. The scenario seems a little silly right now because none of these things actually happened.
But here's the question: was it all a hoax that resulted from the over-imagination of a few eggheads? Or was a crisis averted because people took precautions ahead of time? I suspect there may have been a little of both at work.
We need to take a lesson from our experience at the beginning of 2000. The best way to avert a crisis is to take the necessary precautions ahead of time. And the best way to prepare for the inevitable trials of life is to build your life on a rock solid foundation. Make time to hear God's commands. Find opportunities to grow in knowledge. Be diligent about doing what He tells you to do. I don't know how much time we have until a storm rages against our lives. The wise person would begin immediately.
©January 13, 2002 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche, LaHarpe, IL. 61450 www.unionchurch.com