Many of you might remember the Biosphere project near Tucson. It was an experiment in living in a contained and close to perfect environment. It was an amazing idea and there is still work that goes on there, but the scientists have learned some interesting things. They grew trees in this near perfect environment, but the trees fell over before they fully matured. It made no sense because the environment was so close to perfect. And then they realized this near perfect environment was lacking something…wind. Wind provides the stress trees need to ensure they grow strong enough to support themselves. You see, many of us would love to have lives without storms, stress, and challenges. It would just make things so much easier. But that is not what we have been given because like the trees in the biosphere we need the storms, wind, and challenges so we can put down deep roots. That is what having a relationship with Jesus does for us. We grow stronger when we are in Him and in His word. I saw a sign once that said, “A Bible that is falling apart belongs to someone who isn’t.”
Here is a quote from a book you don’t often hear of…Zephaniah! “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17. God is speaking to the residents of the Southern Kingdom of Judea. They have strayed from God and His covenant promises to them. They have seen the destruction that occurred when the Assyrians overran the Northern Kingdom, scattering the people. But they are hardened and pay no attention. Judah is weakened because of storms, winds of fighting and now they are in the presence of Mighty God. But instead of fleeing in the face of danger, God will save His people. And when He does it is time for celebration…singing and great joy. God will be with us in the middle of the storm.
We see pictures of God’s presence in the storms of our lives in many places in scripture. In Matthew 23:37 Jesus laments over the upcoming storm that will strike Jerusalem. “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” It is a picture of shelter in a storm. This does not mean there will not be storms. There will, sometimes just squalls and other times the storms will roll over us like a hurricane. But Jesus is good in storms. In Matthew 8:26 we find Jesus and the disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is exhausted and lies down for a nap in the boat. A fierce storm blows up and the disciples are terrified, certain they will drown. They wake Jesus and he stands up in the boat and rebukes the wind and the waves and immediately there is calm. Our storms do not always pass that quickly, but Jesus is in the middle of them nevertheless.
The psalmist reminds us in Psalm 107:29, “He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.” It is interesting that many of the pictures of Jesus in the midst of a storm involve water. Perhaps because when we have troubles, challenges, struggles, wind, it feels like waves are crashing over us and sometimes it feels like we can’t even come up for air. Jesus is in the midst of all that…always.
Jesus warned us that even life in Him would not be smooth sailing. “I have said these things to you that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble but take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33. When the winds blow in our lives, when waves crash and storms engulf us, we long for peace and connection. We need to know, to feel, like we are not alone. We want to know we are not walking in the darkness alone. Jesus went out of His way to pay the debt of our sin and make a way for us to spend eternity with Him in heaven. But He also taught and preached and showed us that in Him we have a place of refuge. This year in particular there have been a variety of storms. And just like the Atlantic hurricane season with its 30 named storms, we have felt buffeted by storms that seemed to come from every which way. Jesus was and still is in the middle of all of them.
Storms are never fun, and they can be destructive. But they give us a chance to rebuild our lives stronger than they were before. They cause us to move even closer to Jesus because He is our safe place. Storms and wind and challenges make us strong. We learn to face into the wind knowing that everything in our lives to that point has made us stronger.
Paul says this about storms and wind. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Most of us would find it peculiar to rejoice in suffering but not Paul. For him that meant he was worthy to endure some of what Jesus did while on earth. I don’t know anyone who has suffering, storms, challenges, or wind on their bucket lists. But they come anyway. The good news is that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.
The wind will blow. We will know challenges. And they will make us strong, not in our own strength, but in the strength Jesus gives us. That is the best strength there is.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W