Are you struggling in the midst of life’s storms? I write this in 2020, and it is not only shaping up to be an active hurricane season, but 2020 is filled with other storms too. Political upheaval, Covid-19, racial injustice. Each of these have affected just about all of us in very personal ways. Are you feeling scared? Increased anxiety?
It could be that you and I need to hear the message from God, “Take courage!” Paul heard it numerous times from God, and we can hear it as well. While we might not have a Paul right by our side getting a vision from God telling us, “I am with you,” we do have the promises of Jesus that he will never leave us or forsake us.
That does not mean that life will always work out. We know that. When Jesus says, “I will never leave you nor forsake,” he means that he will be with us in the storm. There will be storms. We should not expect that this life will not have storms. But we can expect that he will be with us in the storm.
I know it can be hard sometimes to make that personal, to make that promise matter in the midst of the difficulties of life. Jesus doesn’t promise that our hardships will end or that they won’t lead to death. Not to be morbid, but we have to stare death in the face, and say, “Because of Jesus, I have hope of eternal life, and I do not fear you.” It might be an act of convincing yourself.
I believe Paul’s point of “have courage,” is that even when life seems hopeless or overwhelming or just too much, when we feel battered and shipwrecked, we Christians are people who fight hard against the temptation to allow ourselves to be ruled by fear and despair rather than by faith, hope and trust. It can be a battle sometimes to fight the negativity we feel. But battle anyway. Wage war against fear, trusting in Jesus, that he is who he says he is. Stepping forward rather than hiding. Over and over in scripture (more than 300 times) we read “do not fear”. Is it possible that we have temporary amnesia, forgetting who is living in us. We are adopted children of the King. And he is a good good God. A good Father. He loves us. He does not promise ease. But, he promises he is WITH us.
Of course we use wisdom when we respond to the hardships that life brings. Consider Paul’s approach to the storm. Paul could have said, “God said we’ll make it through this alive, so let’s just kick back and let God do all the work.” It sounds more spiritual maybe. But kick back and let God work is not what Paul did. What did he do? He urged everyone onboardl to eat food, and he warned the centurion about the sailors trying to escape on the lifeboat. To have best chance for all to survive, Paul knew everyone needed the energy from the food and the expertise of the sailors. He wasn’t freaking out and living in despair. He took practical action steps, and he encouraged those steps with confidence in God’s care, not in panic. He faced the storm with courage because of who he is in Christ, not in hopeless desperation. He was very wise and realistic, even though he already had the promise of God that they would all make it alive through the storm! What we see is that practical realism is perfectly compatible with trust in God.
In the midst of times when you feel a bit broken, beaten up by the things of life, sit with Jesus. Remember who he is. Make a list of his character traits. Mediate on them and not on your circumstances. Keep a regular, growing, physical list (on your fridge, on your bathroom wall, or in a journal) of the ways you have seen God move in your life, the ways he has shown you who he is. Choose to think of those things in the midst of pain and struggle. It does not make the struggle go away, but it helps to keep despair and hopelessness away.
You know what else we see that Paul did in Acts 27? He was helping others in the midst of the mess they were all in. He did not sit in a corner and just look at his own pain. He saw how the storm was affecting others, and he was part of directing them to God and to the presence of God. When life’s storms are pounding, be one who not only rests in the presence and promises of God, but help others do the same.