August 25, 2016

Strengthened in Your Storm!

Written By Cary Schmidt

Has God led you into a storm? Are you seized with worry, fear, confusion as the winds howl around you and water builds up in your boat? Feel like you’re sinking?

Read on. This post just might be for you!

This past Sunday we marked our 4th anniversary at Emmanuel Baptist Church. It’s hard to believe four years have come and gone, and to God’s glory, His church is healthy and flourishing with gospel vision. It’s all a testimony of His grace and power.

Four years ago, our family drove across the California state-line with tears, and several days later, crossed the Connecticut state-line with fears (mixed a bit with hope). We knew God was bringing us into overwhelming challenges; but we also knew He was bringing us into fellowship with gracious, devoted people who would become our new family.

Throughout the drive across country I was hounded by intimidating questions like:

—How can I “senior pastor” when I’m not “senior-pastor-ish?”

—How will I understand and realize God’s vision for the ministry?

—How will this ministry survive, and will it ever thrive?

—How will God hold us together if it all falls apart?

—How will we survive this? (For it felt like our hearts were being ripped out!)

It really was a scary, stormy journey, and my small faith seemed to be no match for the size of the waves beating against and pouring into our small boat! These were honest, heart-wrenching questions.

The one thing that compelled us forward was the knowledge that this was absolutely, positively God’s call and will for our lives. He had made that undeniably clear in ways that actually moved us to fear and awe.

Coming into a storm, all you see is wind and rain. Looking into a storm, all you see is danger and an urgent need to fight for survival. Coming out of a storm, you usually see sunlight, beauty, maybe even a rainbow.

In Luke 8, Jesus is asleep in a boat, tired after a long day of ministry and teaching. He’s on his way to another demonic encounter, another heart rescued, and a region about to be saturated with the great news of the gospel! During the night, a storm whips up on the sea of Galilee—a deadly storm. The disciples panic and make every attempt to stay alive, all while Jesus sleeps soundly below deck. Here’s Luke’s version of the story:

“Now it came to pass on a certain day, that he went into a ship with his disciples: and he said unto them, Let us go over unto the other side of the lake. And they launched forth. 23 But as they sailed he fell asleep: and there came down a storm of wind on the lake; and they were filled with water, and were in jeopardy. 24 And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Master, master, we perish. Then he arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 And he said unto them, Where is your faith? And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him.” (Luke 8:22-25)

Through our first four years at Emmanuel, we’ve seen a lot of storms—both meteorological  and spiritual. Through them all, we’ve rediscovered, again and again, God’s faithfulness and presence. As the storms have exposed our weakness, we have run to Him and cast ourselves over and over upon His broad and powerful shoulders. We have collapsed over and over into His strong hands, crying to Him for His help and grace.

May I share with you some wonderful truths that we’ve discovered on this journey into, through, and looking back on the storms?

1. Jesus Leads Me into Storms

This is a paradoxical thought. Jesus didn’t happen into a storm. He led His disciples there. What does this mean?

No mistake! My storm is not an accident. It didn’t sneak up on God. In fact, just the opposite is true. It is entirely possible, even probable, that you arrived in your storm by obeying Jesus!

We tend to think that the phrase “obedience brings blessing” implies the absence or prevention of trouble or storms in life.  Obedience does bring blessing; but often that blessing comes through hardship or trouble. Yes, I’m saying sometimes the storm is the source of the blessing! And sometimes obedience results in immediate testing.

Didn’t God use the storm of the cross to bring the victory of the resurrection and seal the good news of salvation? Didn’t God use the storm of a whale to save Jonah from suicide? Didn’t God use the storm in Luke 8 to remind His disciples “Jesus and all of His power was still in the boat?” Over and over, in God’s word, we see that suffering usually precedes great blessing.

How does it change your storm to know that Jesus actually led you there? There is no mistake!

2. Jesus Is at Rest in My Storms

Storms and rest are counter concepts. They don’t generally go together. If you are in a storm, you probably aren’t resting, and vice-versa. But Jesus shows us another paradox—storms don’t ruffle him. What does this mean?

No worries! Storms usually wake us up and keep us up—stewing, pacing, frantically strategizing survival. Not Jesus. He sleeps as soundly on a boat in a raging storm as he does in dry land in a soft bed. He is always at rest.

I can see the ship tossing back and forth. I can imagine Jesus below, clutching a pillow, literally zonked! He’s soundly sleeping, though being tossed about in His bunk, on the brink of earthly disaster. How can He do this? Not merely because He’s physically exhausted, but because He is in control. He’s not in any real danger—and neither are you.

If Jesus is at rest in my storm, and Jesus is in control of every storm, then I can be at rest as well. I don’t have to be seized by worry or fear. I don’t have to allow my heart to run wild with panic or fear. If Jesus can sleep in the storm, so can I.

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Jesus is essentially saying, “Your heart will be troubled. Your heart will be afraid. But restrain it. Retrain it. Refuse to let fear rule your inner life. See your heart as a shapable, direct-able asset. Take up the reigns of your heart and refuse to let is run wild with fear or worry.

You might be wringing your hands, but Jesus isn’t! Because He is at rest, you can be too!

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

How does it change your storm today to know that Jesus is at rest?

3. Jesus Is the Lord of My Storm

Storms appear to be random forces of nature. Such are the storms of our lives. On the surface they look random and out of control—terrifying. But, again, what if your storm is God’s work in your life?

Jesus never made a random decision. He never took an idle step. Every miracle, every journey, ever personal interaction was by design. Every aspect of His journey was fore-ordained by His Heavenly Father. Therefore, no part of Jesus life or ministry was arbitrary.

This is not an accidental storm that is interrupting a good night’s sleep. This is Jesus unfazed, at rest, and in total control of a storm—in His sleep! That’s pretty impressive! What does this mean?

No Fear! You have no need to be seized by fright or panic. Every aspect of the storm is held within hands of your loving Father!

The storm in your life is not random. It is God’s work, and dare I say, it is God’s grace! It’s a gift to your life. It is God bringing about an ultimate outcome that only a storm could produce. If He doesn’t lead you into a storm, you would never see that He is Lord over the storm, and that He does marvelous things through storms!

If the disciples don’t come to the brink of death, they would never jolt Jesus awake and hear him say, “Peace be still!” If this night was just a calm sail across the Sea of Galilee, the group wouldn’t have arrived at the other shore in stunned amazement, jaw-dropping awe, and deeply assured trust and confidence!

Your storm is a raging force in your life designed to expose two things: your utter weakness and God’s massive strength! This is how your storm is a gift of grace. In the storm He’s giving you the opportunity to cry out to Him and witness His powerful intervention.

How does it change your storm to know that Jesus is Lord over it? Rather than let the storm cause you to forget who is in your boat—let it remind you. Rather than crumble and cower in the chaos, let your storm cause you to call out to Jesus.

Over these four years, I’ve worried about a lot of things. Even now I’m tempted to worry about a lot of things. Every day in ministry there are new reasons to fear. But here’s the reality: in my life, especially the last four years, everything I’ve ever worried about somehow ends up in my rear view mirror, and I wonder why I worried!

It’s exhausting and emotionally draining to worry. More importantly, it’s needless if you are the child of the loving, powerful, gracious Lord Jesus.

Jesus never fails, and His Lordship promises to hold me together eternally, no matter what falls apart temporally. The gospel doesn’t preserve my temporal world, but it brings me into an eternal one—which I can never lose!

4. Jesus Is Building Me through My Storm—God uses storms to do His deepest and best work in our lives. God uses what looks like chaos to bring about His greatest triumphs. When everything looks lost, God loves to show up and completely turn things around!

The last four years have brought a lot of tossing times! Water was coming into the boat—I mean the building, literally.

Our first spring at EBC, as rain began in abundance, so did the indoor water treatments! I’ll never forget walking into the lobby after a huge rainstorm and finding massive amounts of water soaked into walls and carpet all throughout the building. (Not to mention several inches of water in the basement of our home several times!) Those were the times I wanted to look up at God and say, “What are you trying to do to me!?”

Roof repairs were estimated to cost over $110,000—which, at that moment, may as well have been $100 million! All I could say was, “God, this is your church! If you’re going to save it from sinking, now would be a good time to do something!”

In the last four years, God has not only provided for the $110,000 roof repair—He’s provided for over $1.1 million for restoration work to be done in His church, affecting 100,000 square feet of building space. In our small Baptist church world, that’s miraculous!

Jesus builds lives, builds His church, and strengthens His servants through storms. It’s what He does! No storm is without purpose. The storm is His construction project in your life.

Don Sisk said it this way, “When God seems far away he is not punishing nor ignoring us. He is preparing us.” What does this do inside of us?

No despair! With confidence in God’s purpose, I can press into—even lean intothe storm with anticipation that God is building, strengthening, preparing my heart and life for His greater blessing!

In retrospect, there is not one storm in my life that I would go back and “undo!” The outcome of every storm has made the journey through the storm worth it!

This is exactly what God meant when He said, “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1:4)

How does it change your storm to know that Jesus is building you through it?

—No mistake! Jesus leads me into my storms.

—No worries! Jesus is at rest in my storm.

—No fear! Jesus is Lord over my storm.

—No despair! Jesus is building me through my storm.

Every Story and Storm Is God’s Unique Work

Everyone has a story. God reveals Himself uniquely through each of our stories, and nobody’s story is particularly any more special or powerful than any one else’s. Yet, our stories are God’s gift to us through which He makes Himself known or more visible to others.

As Paul shared his story to magnify Jesus, this is why I share this story—not because it is unique or particularly exceptional—but because I want you to see the God who drives my story also drives yours! He is real, and He is at work in your life in ways you cannot fathom.

Your story is no less significant and providential! Your storms and your story are God’s story—He’s revealing Himself in your life, and through your life to others.

Today, Emmanuel is not necessarily a big church; but it is a healthy church. We are not driven forward by growth goals, but we thirst after gospel goals. We are not pursuing size, but we are pursuing Jesus and His call.

I’m still a struggling pastor trying to “fit the role.” I know every day that I’m treading in water way over my head. Today’s challenges are just as stormy in their own respect as any others in recent years.

Yet, I’ve seen Jesus leading me into storms, at rest in those storms, Lording over those storms, and ultimately building my heart and our church through each one. I can’t yet say I “like the storms.” It’s not that I am wishing for “more storms” for Christmas!

However, I can say, “I love what Jesus does in and through the storms.” I love the product of the storms.

Frankly, He has torn down and completely reconstructed my heart through storms over the last six years of my life. As such, those storms have become cherished memories—almost friends—precious expressions of God’s grace and deep work in my heart. And those storms have resulted in newly saved friends and a church family without which I cannot imagine my life!

Make friends with the storm. More importantly, draw close to your best friend—the Lord of the storm. Rest in Him. Hold onto Him. He will hold you together in the storm. At just the right moment He will say, “Peace be still!” At which time, the raging will cease.

Shortly thereafter, you just might see what Jesus saw when His boat reached Decapolis—a radically transformed life (whom we know as the maniac of Gadera) and salvation that comes to a multitude of people on a distant shore!

Now that would make any storm “worth it!”

Psalm 37:7 “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.”

1 Peter 4:19 “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”