9/13/12

Find the Shore of Safety in Your Storm

The storms of life threaten to overcome us when we don't have direction and a plan for survival. Whether our storm is a critical financial concern, a chronic illness, a crushing blow to a relationship or some other crisis, we need to prepare or we will crash against the rocks.

In January 2012, the cruise ship Costa Concordia, carrying 4,223 people on board, ran aground offshore Giglio Island in Italy. News reports showed the devastation of a ship hitting a sandbar and quickly listing to the side. Thirty passengers were confirmed dead and two others were missing as of the last report in April.


In August, when I saw a picture of the ship being salvaged, I recalled a powerful devotional by Richard Matteson, a realtor in Texas. In "Captain's Decision," Matteson expounded on the story found in Acts 27:21-44. "Paul was fourteen days on a ship that was being blown about by a vicious storm," Matteson said. "There was an immediate need to do something because their soundings indicated the depth of the water was shallowing. So, they first dropped 'four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight'  (27:29)."
"This was wise," Matteson said, "to slow themselves down and provided the time necessary to gain vision before crashing against the rocks."
In the midst of this storm, Paul urged the men on the boat to eat. When I first read that story, I thought, "What? Stop to eat? Why?"
Matteson explained Paul's reasoning. Eating was important for two reasons: "to provide nourishment for their weary bodies and encouragement for their souls because very soon they would need new strength to survive in the stormy water (27:34)."
But the most important decision was yet ahead. As dawn broke, the men spied a sandy beach in the distance and they decided to make for the shore. They cut loose the anchors and untied the ropes stabilizing the boat's rudders. Regaining control of their boat, they hoisted the foresail and picked up speed.
It was a good plan. A logical plan. But they soon ran aground on a sandbar. The ship broke apart and the men were forced to swim for their lives. Each found safety on the shore.
Matteson paralleled this story to people crashing against the "rocks and sandbars" of life ~ blown around in the dark and without direction.

"To survive you need to slow down, get some light on where you are, find a destination out in front of you, release yourself from what is holding you back, untie the 'ropes' that you have used previously to keep your rudder steady, hold tightly to the helm and make for your new destination," Matteson said.

I laughed at his conclusion: "Now, that won’t guarantee you’ll make it without damage," he said, "but at least you’ll be able to say you crashed on your way to a destination."

I thought about all the times I let the storms of life dictate my direction rather than asking God for wisdom and moving forward at His command ~ no matter the outcome. God is sovereign, and sometimes we do not know His ultimate plan, but we can make plans for survival. That is wise stewardship of our resources, our time, and our abilities. 

Former president Theodore Roosevelt once said, "In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do. The worst thing you can do is nothing."  That sounds good and motivating, but better than the "best thing" you can do is doing the will of God in that moment of decision ~ and that might not be the best thing to do in the eyes of the world.

We are not left without choices when the storms come. Practical choices. Spiritual choices.

When we hear about a coming financial upheaval, for example, we can stock a reasonable amount of food and examine our purchases. When we sense that a relationship is deeply strained, we can reach out to address problems with love, wisdom and the power of forgiveness ~ before the problems explode. When the doctor gives a dreaded report, we can turn our face toward the Father and grow in our intimacy with Him. We can do all we can, and leave the results to God.

We can remember the powerful presence of God in these times. Paul said, in Romans 8:31, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" God is with us; God is for us. And He enables us to overcome with power. Paul declared, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens us" (Philippians 4:13). No matter our circumstances, we can declare with John that the power of the One who dwells within us is greater than the power (and agenda) of our enemy (1 John 4:4). Things that are impossible with man are totally possible with the Lord (Matthew 19:26).

We can also purpose in our hearts, in the midst of our storm, to give God glory throughout the ordeal (2 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Peter 1:7). We can testify to the goodness, love, and grace of God. It is this light in the darkness ~ a testimony born in struggle ~ that will most reveal the true character of Christ in us. Our wise Father uses our trials to strengthen and perfect us (1 Peter 5:10), and the world will see the transformation.

I have watched this played out in the life of my friend, Carrie Gaul, who is dealing with cancer. I have never seen her more radiant. Her life is poured out in praise for Father God as she casts her concerns at His feet. She is living out the hope-filled message of the book she wrote, Joy in the Midst: A Study in Philippians. God can give us joy in the midst of every hardship and adversity.

I've discovered that when we are tossed about in a heavy storm of circumstances, we must remember four things: (1) God has a good plan for us in and through our trials, (2) He gives us wisdom and insight in the midst of our struggles, (3) He comforts us when we are frustrated and confused, and (4) we can have hope because He is in control (see James 1:1-13).

We may crash. We may be thrown into the sea, struggling to swim for our lives. But God will be with us, and we will either find the shore of safety in this life or the next. We are completely safe in Him.

Have you found the Lord to be your "Shore of Safety" ... or are you still struggling. I'd love to hear from you.