Preparing for the Storms of Life
Preparing for the Storms of Life
In the last couple of months we have been reminded that the storms of life are a reality. And we have seen the importance of being prepared for life’s storms.
Billy Graham tells the following story in his book, “Hope For the Troubled heart;” Claudia was a newlywed in her 20’s when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease and given only a 50% chance of survival. Quickly she was operated on and began cobalt treatments that transformed her almost overnight from a young, beautiful woman to a physical wreck. Her husband was a chaplain’s assistant in a hospital and had seen many sick and dying patients. He said, "In the movies, couples who have fought for years, in the face of danger suddenly forget their differences and come together. But it doesn’t necessarily work that way in real life."
"When a couple encounters a crisis," he said, "it magnifies what’s already present in their relationship. Since Claudia and I trust God and love each other deeply, the crisis drove us closer. . . The crisis of her illness merely … intensified the feelings already present." Claudia and her husband had no idea they would ever face such a crisis, but when it happened, they found they had already developed the strength to weather it.
Now what about us, here today? Most of us will probably never experience the enormity of the crisis that Claudia and her husband faced. But still, there will be some storms, some heartaches, some decisions, some gut-wrenching moments that have the potential for bringing us into a life-changing crisis. What will we do then? Will we be prepared to face it? Will we have the inner resources that we need? And if not, then how can we prepare ourselves for that day? I’m convinced that if we want to have the resources we’ll need for a time of crisis, to make our preparations for that day.
1. MAKE SURE OF OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
And the very first preparation we need is to make sure of our relationship with God, that Jesus is our Savior, and that we’re walking with Him day by day.
The Bible gives us some vivid examples: Abraham walked with God and was called “a friend of God.” Noah walked with God, and when the flood came he and his family were saved. Moses walked with God in the desert, and God prepared him to lead his people to freedom. David walked with God as a shepherd boy, and when called upon to rule his people, he was prepared for the task. Daniel was saved from the lion’s den, and his friends were spared from the fiery furnace.
But God does not always pull His children out of the fire. Stephen was a young man "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 6:5 when he was stoned to death. But his entry into Heaven was triumphal. Look at the fate of some of the apostles: Peter was crucified upside down; Andrew was tied to a cross with thick ropes for 3 days before he died; John was a prisoner on a desolate island; Bartholomew was beaten and then beheaded; Thomas was murdered while he was preaching.
These men literally walked with God, and they suffered. But with their lives they echoed the words of Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing" 2 Timothy 4:7-8.
Although we were not present with them nearly 2,000 years ago, we have access to the same strength they had. And as we walk with our Lord, and come to know Him better day by day, we, too, can say with them, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" Philippians 1:21.
2. OPEN OUR BIBLE and USE IT AS A GUIDE FOR OUR LIFE
I wonder what has happened to Bible memorization? Children in Sunday school used to have verses to memorize in order to win a Bible. Adult Bible studies used to have passages to commit to memory. But today there are more people who know the words to TV commercials than know any words in the Bible.
Russell Morse, one of the great missionaries along the China/Burma border, was taken captive by Chinese communists in 1951, and imprisoned for 21 months. They told him that his wife and youngest son had been killed, and for 15 of those months he was in an isolation cell, cut off from any outside contact. They broke his glasses and shoved him into that cramped cell without his Bible or any other book. Twice a day a bowl of food was pushed through a slot in his cell door, but he never saw a face or heard a human voice. Cut off from all human contact, unsure whether anyone in the outside world even knew that he was still alive or where he was, he later said that he would have surely gone insane if he had not been able to recall Bible verses and hymns that he had memorized over the years. That was all that kept his mind active.
People have said that when they were suffering, sometimes they could only remember small parts of Scripture. One woman repeated over and over again Philippians 4:13, "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”
I wonder, what verses have you stored up for the future?
3. MAKE PRAYER A VITAL PART OF OUR LIFE
Thirdly, even before the storms begin we need to make prayer a vital part of our life. We have talked about the importance of prayer before, but it seems as if we often pray during a crisis and neglect it the rest of the time.
Just before the start of the Gulf War, the Brownsville TX Ministerial Association sponsored a community prayer service at the First Presbyterian Church. The building was packed with hundreds of people. People filled the sanctuary, and they even had a large over-flow in the church basement listening over the sound system. It was an emotional service as they prayed for God’s guidance and mercy during the impending war.
Well, as you know, God answered their prayers. The war was short and dramatic, and our loss of life was so much less than we ever dreamed possible. So a few weeks later we had another community wide prayer service to thank God. But the crisis atmosphere was over, and only 20 people chose to come and thank God for answering their prayers.
Today, again, we find our nation embroiled in a war against terrorism, a war against elusive enemies who deliberately target civilians to underscore their hatred of our nation and the principles of freedom that we enjoy. If ever we needed to call upon the power of prayer, I believe that it is now!
There is a story in the Bible about prayer being used against a wicked ruler. Sennacherib was an Assyrian king, much like Saddam Hussein, who boasted that he would defeat God’s people and take over their land. He sent messages to Israel, taunting the people about their weakness and boasting of his strength. When Sennacherib spoke, the world trembled!
Israel’s king, Hezekiah, was a man of faith. He knew that on a human level the Assyrians could destroy them. But Hezekiah had a secret weapon. He called the prophet Isaiah in, and they fell to their knees in prayer. And look at what happened!
2 Chronicles 32:21-22 says, "And the Lord sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king. So he [Sennacherib] withdrew to his own land in disgrace. . . So the Lord saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem. . . He took care of them on every side."
But it is not just in times of war that we need to pray. We have so many other battles going on in America today. Our government needs prayer. Our president needs our prayers. Our leaders need our prayers. Our schools need our prayers. Our youth need our prayers. Our families need our prayers. And our churches need our prayers.
Did you know that 30 years ago there was only one Muslim mosque in the United States, and that today there are over 3,000 mosques? And that new mosques are being built here at the average of one a week?
The apostle Paul warns us in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms.”
Are we spiritually prepared as individuals or as a nation? If we are to survive in a godless and materialistic world, in a world increasingly witnessing the hatred of militants, we must repent of our prayerlessness, and make prayer a priority. Even churches today have gotten away from prayer. Miracles happen when God’s people turned to Him in prayer. We should not pray for God to be on our side, but pray that we are on God’s side. Remember, God does not promise always to deliver us, but He will be with us.
4. PRACTICE THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST
How do we experience the presence of our Lord? Charles Spurgeon once said that there had never been 15 minutes in his life when he did not sense the presence of Christ. I wish I could say that, but I can’t. What strength we would have if we trained for life as if Christ were walking alongside of us.
The bestselling book, In His Steps, tells of a challenge given by a preacher to his congregation to pledge for one year not to do anything without first asking the question, "What would Jesus do?" This challenge was provoked when a tramp, mourning his wife who had died in poverty, stumbled into this wealthy church and addressed the congregation. He said, "I heard some people singing at a church prayer meeting the other night, ‘All for Jesus, all for Jesus; All my being’s ransomed powers; All my thoughts and all my doings, All my days and all my hours.’
"I began wondering as I sat on the steps outside just what they meant by that. It seems to me there’s a lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out."
If that tramp had spoken to us, how would we have responded? Do we live our lives with the thought, "What would Jesus do?" Do we practice the presence of Christ every day?
In the story, the tramp died, but he struck the conscience of the congregation so profoundly that the lives of many were changed, just as our lives would change if we truly followed "in His steps" and asked, "What does Jesus want me to do?"
Christ promised His disciples in Matthew 28:20, "And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age". What a wonderful promise! We need to cultivate the sense of His presence as we go about the daily routine of our lives.
And we need to remember the words of Romans 8:31-39. "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all - how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’
"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Early in the 1900’s, Japan conquered Korea and treated the people with savage brutality. Christians, especially, seemed to be targeted. They banned church services, boarded up the church buildings, killed or imprisoned many of the Christian leaders, and deported all foreign missionaries. However, one Korean pastor persistently asked a local Japanese police chief for permission to hold worship services. His request was finally acknowledged, and the police chief offered to unlock his church - for just one meeting.
It didn’t take long for the word to spread. And just before dawn on that Sunday, many Christian families, starving for an opportunity for unhindered worship, made their way to the church building. They passed the hard, staring eyes of their Japanese conquerors, but nothing was going to steal their joy.
The Korean church has always been known for its singing. And a handful of peasants working outside listened as song after song of praise rang out through the open windows into the Sunday morning air. It was during a stanza of “Nearer My God to Thee” that the Japanese officer gave orders to his soldiers to barricade the doors, splash kerosene on the walls, and set the church building on fire. As the smoke and fumes and flames began to fill the structure the people inside rushed to the windows to escape, but their hope of escape ended as the bodies of those climbing out the windows came crashing back in – propelled by a hail of bullets from outside. The pastor knew there would be no escape. And with a calmness that comes from heavenly confidence, he began singing. That was all the prompting the other worshipers needed. With smoke burning their eyes, they instantly joined in singing: “Alas! And did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head for such a one as I?”
They were singing the last verse just as the roof collapsed, and to the horrified peasants outside those words became a vivid and eternal testimony of their faith.
“But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe: Here, Lord, I give myself away. ‘Tis all that I can do!” Then the strains of music and the wails of children were lost in a roar of flames. The bodies that once housed life fused with the charred rubble of the building. But the souls who left singing finished their chorus in the throne room of God.
So what about it? Are you preparing for the storms of life, or will you be caught without the resources you need? The best way to prepare is to make sure that you know God, and that Jesus Christ is your Savior; to treasure His word in your heart; to make prayer a vital part of your life; and to practice His presence daily in your life.