I write this on a rainy day. Personally, I love the rain; I find it soothing. It’s usually during an evening storm that I get the best sleep. But for many people, storms are not closely associated with joy and happiness. It’s not what you see on TV when positive emotions are being conveyed. Throughout art and literature, storms give us just the opposite feelings. And when we talk about the human soul, we know exactly how someone feels when they say, “I’m going through a storm.”
Spiritual storms are anything but pleasant. We have all found ourselves there at some point. Sometimes it’s a simple rainstorm that does not take long to pass. Other times, it is a hurricane. Chaos. Confusion. Misery. Pain. Loneliness. Hopelessness. These feelings hit far too close to home when the storms come upon us.
Think back to the last storm you found yourself in. It shouldn’t be that hard, because I’ve found they can be quite frequent. Perhaps you’re even in the midst of yours now. Think about the emotions that you experience in this darkness.
Now ask yourself this: do you feel close to God? Do you feel “Christian?” Perhaps not. I know I usually don’t when I’m in those dreadful storms. And that’s the point. Our feelings are weak. Our feelings fail us. They lie to us. As soon as the winds pick up, our feelings are blown out of our control.
Now hear me. This is why faith needs knowledge. I do not plead with you to grow in the knowledge of your faith just so that you’ll be a smarter human being. No, one reason we need to grow is because the storms are coming. And we survive storms not on what we feel. We survive because of what we know.
SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT
I recently heard a sermon from Alistair Begg, who is the pastor of Parkside Church just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. And just to lighten the mood a bit I will say that he has a sweet Scottish accent. But in this speech Alistair was comparing feelings and knowledge, specifically when it came to worship song lyrics. (Note: This is not a knock on any particular worship style. I honestly don’t care much for the “worship wars” anymore. So please don’t let that be what you take from this.)
When we are in the storms of life, what we feel will not sustain us. We must know truth in our minds and our hearts.
I feel tired…but I know God gives strength to the weary. (Isaiah 40:29)
I feel alone…but I know Christ has promised to never forsake me. (Isaiah 41:10, Matthew 28:20)
I feel afraid…but I know God has given me a spirit of power, love, and sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)
I feel disappointed…but I know God’s grace is sufficient. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
I feel broken-hearted…but I know God will comfort me. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders…but I know I can cast all of my burdens on the Lord. (1 Peter 5:7)
When we know these promises, we know the truths of Scripture, then we can withstand the storm. Our feelings may fail, but we know that God will not.
SHIFTING OUR FOCUS
Many times, what we feel is based on experiences that have happened to us, understandably. However, our feelings can begin to control us when we focus on ourselves too much. In good times, focusing on ourselves can make us prideful. But in the storms, a focus on ourselves can bring fear, anxiety, and hopelessness. For compared to the power of the storms, who are we?
We need a shifting of our focus. When we take our focus off ourselves, and even off the storm, and shift our focus from our feelings to the promises of God, then we see our hope renewed. I’m reminded of Matthew 14:22-33 when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water towards them, in the middle of a storm. Peter then wanted to go to Jesus, to walk on the water and meet Him. So, by the command of his Lord, he stepped out of the boat and onto the waves. With his eyes fixed on Christ, Peter withstood the storm, and he walked on the water. The key here is that his eyes, his focus, was on Jesus. Not the storm. Not himself. Jesus.
But unfortunately, like the rest of us, Peter began to get distracted. He began to focus on the storms, and he began to focus on his circumstances and the potential danger that he found himself in. Then what happened? He couldn’t walk anymore. He crashed into the water and began to drown. Kicking and shouting, no doubt waves crashing over his head, salt water rushing down his throat, Peter was being overwhelmed by emotion and circumstance. Based on feeling, perhaps Peter now felt defeated. How familiar is this experience?
EXAMINING OUR FOUNDATION
Similarly, just as we need to focus on Jesus, we must also build our lives on His Word. Jesus tells another parable in Matthew 7:24-27 about two men building houses. One built his house on the rock, the other on sand. “The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded [those houses].” (v.25) However, the house built on the rock stood firm, while the house built on sand collapsed. “And its collapse was great!” (v. 27)
The rock in this parable is the Word of God. The Bible. Jesus says, “Anyone who hears these words of Mine and listens to them is like the wise man who built his house on the rock.” (v. 24) When rains fall, the winds blow, and the storms consume us, we will only survive if our foundation is solid and unshakable.
Now, the key is that to experience the hope of these promises, you must know the promises. You must know what the Bible says. This is where our knowledge of faith comes into play. Knowledge is not merely for making us smarter. Knowledge, when used correctly, can push our faith forward when other factors such as feelings fail us, as they so often do.
Here at seminary is perhaps the most intelligent theologian I have ever personally been around. He is my Systematic Theology teacher, Dr. Malcolm Yarnell. By all means go read his books and listen to his talks. The guy got his Ph.D. at Oxford! But in his class, he emphasizes theology and learning (obviously. It’s a systematic theology class at a seminary.) But he is always telling us that he is not wanting us to learn theology to be smarter theologians. His desire is that learning theology and learning the Word of God would make us better followers of Christ.
This is what I hope this blog will encourage you to do as well. My hope is to help you see, if you do not already, that our minds are just as important to our Christian faith as our hearts are. There is old hymn called “Standing on the Promises.” But it’s hard to stand on promises that you don’t know exist. We must focus on Christ, and set His Word as our foundation. Only then can we endure the storms that are most certainly on their way.