You don’t have to live very long to realize that storms are always raging around us. Both literal and figurative storms are guaranteed to show up in our lives. Whenever something is guaranteed, wisdom tells us to accept it, even embrace it. Otherwise we set ourselves up for disappointment and disillusionment. Storms will come. If we fail to accept this fact, we’ll be tempted to react to the storms of life with anger and discouragement.
Yes, storms will come, but as Christ-followers, we don’t face them alone — ever. Jesus promised: “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, AMP).
As Paul and his companions continued their journey toward Rome, the voyage became increasingly dangerous. When their ship was overtaken with gales and hurricane-force winds (Acts 27:7–14), Paul warned the leaders on the ship that great danger lay ahead of them if they chose to continue sailing. He spoke from the experience of one who had survived many storms, both at sea and in his personal life: “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea” (2 Corinthians 11:25). Paul had already survived three shipwrecks! He knew the signs of an impending storm.
The only way to have the right stuff come out under pressure is to put the right stuff in.
What helped the apostle Paul be strong in the storms of life? Why are some people able to overcome fear and intimidation in the storms, revealing a supernatural peace and strength? I propose that two concepts offer a simple, yet profound explanation: proximity and surrender.
When his journey brought extreme pressures through physical suffering and trials, the apostle Paul pressed in to a closer proximity to his beloved Savior, drawing into deeper places of knowing God and worshipping Him. He honored Him, loved Him, and trusted Him through the worst of times. Paul surrendered, bowing himself in total release and acceptance of all that the journey entailed, as he relied on God for the strength and peace to endure.
Storms have a way of revealing our true character. Hard times strip away all pretense to reveal what we are made of. Under pressure, what is inside will come out. Squeeze a tube of toothpaste, and toothpaste will come out. It doesn’t matter if you want something else to come out; the only thing that will come out is what is inside the tube. What is inside us will come out under pressure. Sometimes the stuff squeezed out doesn’t glorify God and bless others; we find we are filled with the wrong stuff. Good or bad, godly or disappointing, what is inside needs to come out, making room for fresh truth, revelation, and strength for what lies ahead.
What fills our minds, hearts, and spirits? What things do we permit in the core of our being? Are they life-giving, worthy of the only life we have to live here on earth, or are they just junk food, which might taste good to our sinful and selfish selves but leave us feeling empty and dissatisfied? We need to drink deeply of God’s Word. We need to spend time in His presence so He can speak to our hearts and fill our minds with His truth.
The only way to have the right stuff come out under pressure is to put the right stuff in. The right stuff is God’s truth, God’s love, God’s presence, God’s grace, God’s wisdom, God’s peace — in other words, everything God offers to us through an active relationship with Him. Becoming a new creation when we accept Christ as our Savior is both an instantaneous work and an ongoing work of transformation. We are immediately a new creation, but our lives need to be transformed and shaped into His image every day. He promises that this will happen as we draw close to Him and live completely for Him. Transformation in Christ requires our active surrender to His ways and His will. The more we surrender to Him, the more we are filled with His holiness, His righteousness, and His love for others.
However, some storms that hit us are so dark and unexplainable there are no easy answers to our questions. In these types of storms, overcoming and victory can be a long hard journey, filled with days of great struggle. In those seasons, victory looks a lot like just being willing to stay with Jesus, not run. Overcoming involves tears and silent cries for rescue that become our prayers. Only in pouring out our pain and anguish can we gain the capacity to feel hope again. He doesn’t ask that we strive to look good. He doesn’t ask that we work harder and harder to be good. He invites us to draw close and let Him surround us with His loving arms and unchangeable devotion.
God offers incomparable peace and strength to all who draw near to Him and surrender to Him. We don’t have to will ourselves to want to do His will. We don’t have to obey Him and draw near to Him with our own strength. He promises to do this for us: “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).
What a relief! Having the right life doesn’t depend on my being good enough, strong enough, holy enough, or obedient enough. Having the right life comes through receiving what we need from God. We press in closer and closer to Him, surrendering and following Him into anything He asks.
Since we all experience situations that expose what’s inside us, we would be wise to view the revelation as a gift, one that provides an opportunity to confess where we fall short and miss the mark. When we go to the Lord and pour out our hearts to Him in honesty, telling Him how we have failed, it’s like pouring out a glass full of something bitter and unhealthy. The emptied glass can be filled up with what we need most — what heals and fulfills — His presence and His truth. If we fill up on Him, He can draw out what we need when we need it. When the storm hits my life, what is my response? To whom do I listen? What actions do I take?
Hard as I try, I will never travel my journey perfectly, but as I obey God I can take the right direction and travel in the right way. The ability to live my best life comes through spending time with God and reading His Word. We have often heard, “What you feed will grow. What you starve will die.” It’s a simple principle, and true to the core. Might that be true in our spiritual lives, as well? If we starve the things that hold us back and leave us empty, such as sinful words and actions, we lessen their strength and ease their grip. The less we focus time and effort on the wrong things, the more we can focus on good and godly things that will help us survive and thrive in the storms of life.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of Called to Serve, the Assemblies of God Ministers Letter. It is adapted from Kay Burnett's book, Voyage: Trusting Jesus in Uncharted Waters (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2017).