When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
— Isaiah 43:2 (NIV)
In the past three months I’ve navigated, without question, the biggest and arguably most unexpected storm of my life. The details aren’t so important here, and some of you reading this know them anyway, but trust me when I say the pain, grief and sense of loss was at times almost overwhelming.
For interminable day after day, I felt like a was in a lung-busting sprint just to barely keep up. Some days it felt hard to breathe and sleep, far from being a blessed relief, brought me twisted almost vindictive nightmares. One day, in particular, I cried for nearly five straight hours; I simply couldn’t stop myself, I thought at one point my face had sprung an actual leak.
Now as some of you may know I’m British and it’s fair to say I used up the allotted tears for about two decades worth of the average English bloke — maybe longer. I might even be refused entry the next time I pass through the immigration gates at Heathrow Airport. Wish me luck, folks.
Yet during this time, I’ve never felt the presence of God more clearly and more closely.
As Matthew 5:4 (NIV) tells us: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” While Psalm 147:3 (NKJV) reminds us “He heals the brokenhearted. And binds up their wounds.”
The simple truth is we all face storms of varying degrees and many (many) people have walked through far worse than my own personal sad set of circumstances. Storms, like death and taxes, are an inevitable part of life, all of us will face seasons of great sadness and darkness just as we will enjoy seasons of great prosperity and happiness.
We are absolutely not promised a pain-free existence in fact we’re told that in this life we will face trouble. Life is not an endless string of kumbaya moments, far from it. Life is often pushing water up a hill only to get to the top to realize there’s a Himalayan sized mountain range still to overcome.
So, what should we do as Christians in the terrible moments? How should we handle the agony and despair? What can we do when the proverbial chips are down?
First, we need to remind ourselves that God is always with us. Always. He has not forgotten or forsaken us, and he certainly isn’t going to start with you. You can take that to the bank as they used to say. Here’s a reminder from the Psalms:
Psalm 46:1 (NKJV)
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
What I love about this verse is that God is not only our source of strength but also our refuge: our hiding place, our sanctuary, our home from home in the middle of the storm. And note, too, the use of “very”. God is not just “a help” in times of trouble, nor is he just a “present help” — he is a “very present help”, the word “very” connoting a special divine degree of closeness. Put more simply, In the hardest of times we need to turn to God.
It’s also important to remember that you can be both in the middle of the storm and also in the center of God’s will.
1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NIV)
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
I’ve no doubt that this time in my life is a precursor to something I’m meant to do for the Kingdom. Now in the natural, maybe that doesn’t look like a lot. Maybe it does, not that it matters. But I do know this time is preparing me for something fresh, something significant for the glory of His mighty name. This storm I’ve gone through is going to get me to a new season where God needs me to be, and I can rest in peace in that very thought.
Back to the verses in Thessalonians for a minute. We learn something else pretty important about how we should tackle the storms. We’re told to rejoice which yes here on earth can seem counterintuitive. But rejoice is precisely what we should do, giving thanks in all circumstances. There’s that tricky little three letter word “all.” All circumstances mean all. It doesn’t mean when you get that promotion, or the object of your affections agrees to go on a date with you or when the legend that is Steph Curry leads the Warriors to another title. It means everything regardless of what that looks like. As the old hymn goes “rejoice again, I say rejoice.” This powerhouse of a verse also tells us to pray continually, a thought we see expanded on in Philippians.
Philippians 4:6–7 (NIV)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Another way to tackle the storms is to focus on the promises of God and not our current problems.
We need to fix our eyes on our Lord and savior when all that is around us seems to be on fire and there’s nary a drop of water in sight. Look at the words of Jesus in Mark 10:27 (NKJV) But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” So, when the doubt comes, and it will, resist it and remember that there’s nothing our God cannot do — with him all things are possible. It’s quite a promise isn’t it? And I especially hope if you’re struggling right now this verse brings you some comfort and some motivation that however things might look right now, hope is just around the corner. Don’t let the fear, the hurt and the trouble overcome you as Isaiah 41 promises us:
Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
And finally, this week, one last simple thought about facing storms — keep showing up. In the hard times we have a tendency to turn inward, to shut down, to try to block it all out. The Bible tells us in Matthew 17:20 that: “if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Google tells me that an average mustard seed is two millimeters. That’s not a lot now is it? So, keep showing up, be faithful in the small things and know that the storm you’re in, despite what you might think, is temporary and better times are ahead.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
— John 14:27 (NIV)