“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
What do you do when life’s troubles overwhelm you? When you’re confronted by a mountain of pain and suffering, do you stay and trudge through? Do you run away and try to find a safer place?
Many people encounter these moments and become shaped by the storm, much like sand near the ocean is shaped by the movement of the waves. The troubles of life will always change you, but the question is, are you going to participate with that change and influence the outcome, or will you let the storm carry you and remain unaware of your destination until you get there?
It’s easy to get lost in the immediate problem in front of you, but I can tell you from experience that every storm is either a threat or an opportunity, and how you choose to react and perceive it will make all the difference.
Perspective is the Key
A few years ago, my wife was pregnant with twins and I was working in a job at a great company, but my position was draining my joy and couldn’t provide the income we needed to feed and house two more children. Catherine and I prayed through our options and felt that God was leading me to launch a career in real estate. That launched us into some of the most difficult years of our marriage.
Starting a business requires massive investment on the front end and we faced many months of financial hardship, even while our family kept growing. Even though we saw great blessing in clients and closings, it wasn’t enough to meet our family’s needs and we found ourselves stretched to the breaking point in the face of a storm that seemed to keep blowing harder.
There was a moment in the middle of those years where something happened. I saw that the struggle wasn’t ending and I had a choice to make. I could either take our situation as a sign of failure and quit, which would have been the path my younger self would have taken, or I could press into God and find a way forward. It was in that season that God taught me how to not just weather the storm, but to let it make me stronger.
As I sought God in prayer, He began to show me that the reason we were so overwhelmed was because I had my eyes focused on the power of our problems and my own ability to handle them. The truth is, I had no ability to handle them! They were far bigger than I could manage and clearly we were sinking despite my best efforts. I began to shift my approach to our problems. I made a choice to believe in the promises God had given us and to trust His power more than the power of the storm. I continued to apply myself to the things I knew could help make things better, but I started to do so with much less fear or frantic activity. Peace started to take over.
Resting in Turmoil
There are two interesting scenes in the New Testament that perfectly illustrate how this works on a spiritual level. The first takes place in Mark 4, where Jesus and his disciples are traveling across a sea by boat and the disciples are terrified by a storm that threatens to sink them. Jesus sleeps during what seems to be a dire time and though he wakes and calms the storm after the disciples insist, he rebukes them for their fear. They saw the storm, but they didn’t pay attention to what God was doing in the midst of it. He had consistently shown His power and protection over them, and His posture of peace and rest showed they were in no true danger. They saw the storm, but forgot the promises that lay on the other side of it.
In the second scene, Jesus faced a spiritual storm in the garden of Gethsemane. One he went all the way through, instead of making it go away. Because the storm wasn’t physically apparent to the disciples, they slept as Jesus wrestled in prayer. Jesus was facing the core issue directly with His father regarding His sacrifice that was to come. Jesus had a habit of withdrawing to face these storms in private with God. That’s the place where God triumphs over our pain and problems and shows himself strong on our behalf.
If we wrestle through Gethsemane, we’ll have the confidence to sleep through the storm on the sea. If we take the core issues of our storms and struggles and submit them to the heart of God, wrestle through them with Him in prayer and hear the life He’s offering through them, then the symptoms of the storm lose their power because we know the goodness He’s providing on the other side. For my storm, the core issue was actually trusting in God, and once I wrestled and committed myself to a resolution on that, our circumstances lost their power over me and the power of God over our circumstances became visible all over the place.
Here are a few things I’ve learned in my storm seasons:
1. Don’t add wind to the storm. It can be easy to make things worse by allowing the struggles of life to magnify our own preexisting fears and insecurities. But usually, the problem in front of us is enough all by itself. Face one thing at a time and ask God where you should be placing your energy for peace and growth.
2. Find the root issue. I don’t believe God causes our storms, but I do believe he causes life to flow out of them if we bring them before him. Getting insight on the core issue or lesson at the center of the struggle is essential for us to get full victory out of the situation.
3. Get help in community. God designed us to be in relationship with others who can see things we might miss, surround us with prayer and support, and who may actually benefit from watching us process through the storm. You never know how much your pain can actually bless someone around you who might have gotten stuck on the same issue.
4. If it’s not good, it’s not the end. Some storms we endure for much longer than we expect, and much deeper than we feel we can tolerate. Sometimes despite all our best efforts to grow and push through, all we can do is wait it out. But God promises he will work all things for the good of those who love him. Isaiah 40:31 says, “they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles;” We may feel like life is over, but God is faithful to his promises. If it’s not good, it’s not the end. If we keep our hearts tuned toward him, we will see his promises fulfilled in our lives.
Have you weathered any major storms, or are you in the middle of one now? What has helped you get to the other side? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.