Sermon Series: Things that make a difference
Storms are a fact of life. Over the course of our lives we will experience many different types of storms. Some of us have lived through rainstorms, snowstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other types of storms. Some were more severe than others, but each had its own unique features. The challenge in all cases is to weather the storm and make it through safely or without being adversely affected by the storm.
While there are storms that occur in our world, there are also storms that occur in our lives. These storms are very similar to the ones we experience in our world. They are called storms of life. Like the storms in our world, they are formed naturally. The storms of life form when the forces of nature or other people exert their power in our lives and wreak havoc in the atmosphere around us. Two or more elements conspire together and act in concert to pummel and saturate our lives. A major problem with the storms of life is that they disturb the atmosphere around us, and when the storm is severe it tends to create dangerous or life threatening conditions. The calm and tranquility that we were experiencing is transformed into tumult and chaos. One thing upsets every other thing.
A storm by definition is a disturbance of the normal condition of the atmosphere manifesting itself by winds of unusual force and direction. We will know we are in a life storm when the force of changing winds upsets the normal condition of our lives. When the atmosphere around us has been adversely disturbed and we have no idea which way things are going or where they are going to end up, we are probably in the midst of a life storm. When our lives have been turned upside down by illness, financial difficulty, job loss, relational or marital problems, or some other force that upsets the normal condition of our lives, we are facing a life storm.
Charles Stanley says that, “All people are either going into a storm, in the midst of a storm, or coming out of a storm.” Dr. Stanley reminds us that even though we may be experiencing a period of calm today, we need to be aware that at some point in the near future a storm of life is brewing on the horizon. Dr. Stanley’s words implore us to not get too comfortable because even if we have just come out of a storm, there is another one looming.
Armed with the understanding that we cannot avoid the storms of life, the question we must ask ourselves is how will we respond when we find ourselves in the midst of one of life’s storms? In the fourth chapter of the gospel of Mark, Jesus and His disciples were confronted with this same question. After a time of preaching and teaching, Jesus informed His disciples that they were going to change venue and head out for another location. In order to get to their desired destination they needed to cross over to the other side. They got in the boat and set sail. During the course of their travel they encountered a “Furious squall” that made their trip interesting. According to one scholar a squall is “Never a single gust, nor a steadily blowing wind, however violent; but a storm breaking forth from black thunder-clouds in furious gusts, with floods of rain, and throwing everything topsy-turvy.” Let us be clear this was no passing rain shower, but a full-blown storm with gusting and violent winds accompanied by heavy rain. This storm was so powerful the winds were literally tossing the boat across the water while the water was battering and filling up inside the boat.
Jesus, for His part, was asleep in the back of the boat. The disciples who were gripped by fear and panic ran to where Jesus was woke Him up and made Him aware of the urgency of the situation. Jesus then spoke to the storm the winds died down and the atmosphere became calm. Jesus challenged His disciples to consider that in any storm there are always other options beside fear. While fear is a normal reaction to any life threatening condition or situation, Jesus points out that if He accompanies us on any journey fear is not an option. What other options were available to the disciples, and to believers today?
If we keep in mind that storms are preceded by period of calm it would be wise during these periods to prepare for storms that are looming on the horizon. This much we can bank on, over the course of our lifetime we will face our share of life’s storms. In almost all cases, before a storm hits it will offer some kind of advanced warning. Prior to its arrival we will see the skies around us begin to turn to overcast and things will look and seem dark and bleak. We will notice a change in the atmosphere around us. People’s attitudes and behaviors will begin to change. They may become short, testy, or even combative with us or with others. Opportunities and resources will begin to dry up and diminish. Whereas, we may have had our choice of jobs we now can only find minimum wage dead end opportunities. In sunnier times we always had something left over at the end of the month and could go where we wanted when we wanted or do what we wanted whenever we wanted. Now as the skies turn to overcast what is coming in does not cover what we are paying out and our balance sheet is in the red at the end of every month. The things that we were once physically able to do are now compromised because of illness or diminished capacity. All of these and more are signs that a storm is brewing and we need to prepare for its coming. It is easier to handle things and weather them when we are aware of what’s coming. When we see storms forming it gives us time to brace and prepare ourselves for what is coming.
The Bible says during the height of the storm Jesus did two things He laid down and went to sleep and then He stood up and addressed the storm. Jesus’ actions reveal to us options and approaches to handling the storms of life that we face.
First we find Jesus asleep. Jesus went to the back of the boat got a nice soft cushion and took a nap. There are some storms where all we can do is ride them out. If we choose to ride the storm out, then like Jesus, we need to find a safe place and take cover. Being willing to ride a storm out means that we are content to wait until the storm passes and rather than worrying about when it will end, we go do something else. One of the worse things we can do in the midst of a storm is worry. Worry will not cause the storm to pass or end any quicker. Worry will only exacerbate our anxieties and others. A good friend of mine once told me that a person could endure anything as long as they know that it will not last forever. Storms like all other living things have a lifespan. The problem is we do not know exactly how long a particular storm will last. One of the slogans used in recovery program’s is “This too shall pass.” An addendum to that is, but when? Riding a storm out suggests that we are resigned to the fact that we cannot do anything about the situation and we have decided to trust God to bring us through. Of course, the longer we are in the storm the more our faith is tested. Minutes began to feel like hours, hours begin to feel like days, and days begin to feel like weeks, months, and years. Perhaps the greatest challenge we face in choosing to ride out a storm is that we must admit we are powerless to do anything that will change what we are going through.
The second thing that Jesus did was He stood up and took control of the situation. In some cases riding it out may not be the best thing. This is especially the case if we, or those around us are getting pummeled or lives are in peril. In situations like these we need to stand up and take control of the situation. There are times when we need to be passive observers and there are other times when we need to take charge. Jesus informed the forces and powers that be the madness has to stop. Jesus used a two-step process. He confronted the source of the problem directly (the wind) and then He spoke to what was causing the storm. Notice that Jesus did not go to Peter or one of the other disciples and ask them to speak to the storm for Him. Jesus also did not speak around or about the storm instead Jesus spoke to the storm. He did not describe what was happening or lament about the damage it was causing. He went directly to what was causing the problem and said this has to stop. If we do not confront the things that are creating problems in our lives directly they will continue to wreak havoc. When we decide to confront our storms we always need to go to the source. We need to identify whatever is creating or feeding the problem we are facing and cut it off at the source. If we cut off the air supply of whatever is feeding our storms or problems then we can starve the problem to death and it will die of a lack of oxygen.
This text provides us with a few lessons:
1. Storms are a fact of life – we are either getting ready to go into a storm, we are in the midst of a storm, or we are coming out of a storm.
2. Regardless of the stage we are at we have choices and the choice we make will determine how much damage we will experience from a storm – we can ride it out and endure whatever the storm throws at us or we can stand up take charge of the situation and speak to our storms directly.
3. The choice we make reflects what we believe – If we choose to ride a storm out, it says we believe we have no better option and are powerless in the matter and we are willing to accept whatever comes for as long as it lasts. If on the other hand we choose to stand up and take charge of the situation, it says we believe that the power of Christ in us is greater than whatever is happening to us or around us. It says we believe that God is a God of order and empowers His people through Christ Jesus to restore order wherever chaos reigns. It says we believe that the madness must end now!
Whether we choose to ride it out or speak to our storms both take saving faith. The fundamental difference is that there are more variables and unknowns involved in riding it out. We have no idea how long the storm will last, how much damage it will cause, or what condition we will be in after it has passed. When it comes to choosing which is the best option we must ask ourselves, do I want to live in distress or in peace? If we choose to live in peace then we will exhibit the kind of saving faith that Jesus exhibited. It is the kind of faith that says, “God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.” It is the kind of faith that says I believe that God has empowered me with the spirit of Christ to be a difference maker in my life and in the lives of others. The next time we find ourselves in the midst of one of life’s storms let us remember we do not have to take it lying down, but rather we can stand up and speak to our storm and we will see that it does make a difference.