Our best practice for life’s big storms is to find God’s way in the little storms, which are constantly coming. I’ve just weathered one, and getting to the other side with as little collateral damage as possible, struggling to find God’s way, has better prepared me for the next storm.
When the storm broke, waves of hurt and a burst of raw energy exploding in unexpected anger took me by surprise. The next day, waking up to the ache of a fractured relationship with a dearest friend, I didn’t know what to do. How was I to proceed? Where was His way in this storm? She was devastated. I was distanced. Her tears and grief were palpable. My heart was hard. If time heals all wounds, I was tempted to give it time. Forgiveness is a supernatural gift that you can will but God has to accomplish; faking it out of duty would kill the authenticity of our relationship in a heartbeat. It was a catastrophe at the intimate core of my life with no clear way forward. . . but that way was about to open up, as I reached numbly for a book I had shelved for almost a year.
Seeing God at work in the catastrophe
Catastrophe strikes and a person’s world falls apart. People respond variously, but two of the more common responses are denial and despair. Denial refuses to acknowledge the catastrophe. It shuts its eyes tight or looks the other way; it manages to act as if everything is going to be just fine; it takes refuge in distractions and lies and fantasies.
Despair is paralyzed by the catastrophe and accepts it as the end of the world. It is unwilling to do anything, concluding that life for all intents and purposes is over. Despair listlessly closes its eyes to a world in which all the color has drained out, a world gone dead.
Among Biblical writers, Ezekiel is our master at dealing with catastrophe. When catastrophe struck–it was the sixth-century B.C. invasion of Israel by Babylon–denial was the primary response. Ezekiel found himself living among a people of God who (astonishingly similar to us!) stubbornly refused to see what was right before their eyes (the denial crowd). There were also some who were unwilling to see anything other than what was right before their eyes (the despair crowd).
But Ezekiel saw. He saw what the people with whom he lived either couldn’t or wouldn’t see. He saw in wild and unforgettable images, elaborated in exuberant detail–God at work in a catastrophic era. The denial people refused to see that the catastrophe was in fact catastrophic. How could it be? God wouldn’t let anything that bad happen to them. Ezekiel showed them. He showed them that, yes, there was catastrophe, but God was at work in the catastrophe, sovereignly using the catastrophe. He showed them so that they would be able to embrace God in the worst of times.
The despair people, overwhelmed by the devastation, refused to see that life was worth living. How could it be? They had lost everything, or would soon–country, Temple, freedom, and many, many lives. Ezekiel showed them. He showed them that God was and would be at work in the wreckage and rubble, sovereignly using the disaster to create a new people of God.
Whether through denial or despair, the people of God nearly lost their identity as a people of God. But they didn’t. God’s people emerged from the catastrophic century robust and whole. And the reason, in large part, was Ezekiel.
THE MESSAGE, Introduction to Ezekiel
The “perfect storm” erupts in our life suddenly, when a rare combination of just the right circumstances come together to aggravate a situation drastically. Any one of those conditions, or even several of them, can present off and on, appearing and disappearing fairly harmlessly. But when all of them suddenly combine at once, their dynamic unleashes what we are powerless against.
For a couple of years the hurt would come and go, surfacing at odd times, sending me into moods that broke as soon as I saw her face, instantly “forgiving her” for my petty grievance in light of all she meant to me. I was using denial to manage the symptoms of the fracture between my friend and me. I didn’t even know there was a fracture. I’d tell myself, “It’s a small thing; it doesn’t matter. I should be bigger than this. I’m not going to hurt our relationship by bringing it up.”
But when “the right set of conditions” suddenly came together, pinpointing my vulnerability, triggering that pain worse than ever before, my denial turned to despair. And in the pit of despair I found the wild anger of my early life awaiting me, ruthless as a lion ready to avenge every injustice ever done to me.
The perfect storm broke, with the confluence of all “the right conditions”. We never lost it with each other, we remained civil and heard each other out. But the argument left us both so raw and broken that we needed distance.
This child of God was not in danger of losing her identity, but for the moment that identity was misplaced . . . and I was struggling to find His way in the storm.
Faith becoming sight
I thoroughly believe that God is at work in every circumstance. But the introduction to Ezekiel focused me to believe that He was at work in my storm, kindling faith that He was working in my catastrophe. When we believe that He is at work in our storm, that belief will exert its influence upon us–to become sight. Sight is seeing what God is doing–spiritually. Sight is how we find God’s way in every storm.
I assure you that the Son can’t do anything by himself except what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.
My faith that He was at work in what was taking place–as painful as it was–gave me the expectancy and the courage to unpack what was happening. I wanted to understand what He was targeting. I wanted to see what He was dealing with.
When we are desperate to understand God’s heart and His goal in the storm, we will see it. He will show us what He is after. The revelations that come to us in our storms are life-transforming. They may not take the pain away, but they enable us to overcome it.
The practice of listening prayer demands that we be open to all 360 degrees, so that no matter what direction His words come from, they will be able to find us. Scanning my emails, I came to an online devotional and opened it to find this:
What you keep on deposit, you’re more likely to withdraw and act on in a moment of weakness. Just as nobody knows when a dormant volcano may erupt, you can’t predict when an unresolved issue will resurface, turning your words into hot coals and your behavior into a blaze of destruction. Only by accepting God’s forgiveness, and forgiving yourself and others, can you break the hold your past has over you.
Bob Gass, The Word for You Today
Only the day before, my friend, choked with tears, had told me how my anger had cut her to the core. Now I saw the hurt I’d kept on deposit… Now I saw the dormant volcano of anger that had erupted without warning. Now I saw the hold my past had over me.
I saw my anger, and I saw how it has given me strength to bear the loss and pain in my childhood. . . and I saw its swath of destruction, that God has been mopping up for years. I saw that my anger was not a good thing, but I had given it a place in my life, because it gave me strength to survive.. . but surviving at a cost God was now opening my eyes to see.
This is important. God’s revelations do not come to condemn us, with the intent to shame and destroy. No! He uses storms to get through to us, shaking us, so that we will see the destructive way in ourselves, before it destroys what is crucial to us and precious to Him.
Feeling guilty does not cure what’s wrong with us. Being right about how deeply someone else has failed you does make the pain go away. Being changed inside by the revelation of what only God could show you does both.
When a storm hits, be sure that God is at work to deliver, to reveal, to transform . . . whether it is our own soul, the soul of our nation or the soul of His church. He forgives, yes. But those who understand forgiveness in only a shallow way, do not understand the storm in which He comes to take down and destroy what has been in His way.
That morning as I sat with Him, I saw that He was taking away what does not belong to His way . . . even if He had permitted it for a very long time. He had borne with my anger, understanding that in my brokenness it gave me strength… but no longer. Forgiveness does not allow something to remain that has the power to destroy what He is intent on preserving.
God brings forth His people using disaster
In the Fall of 2012, a group of women were called to pray for our nation and for the church for 21 days. The first morning we met was the morning after Hurricane Sandy came ashore. All of us had seen the pictures and knew the devastation. The first to pray that morning, a woman whose heart always seems to beat with God’s, quietly mourned as she saw in Sandy the picture of another storm coming.
I had risen hours earlier, and one picture from the Internet had grabbed my attention. I knew it meant something, but I didn’t know exactly what.
The picture showed the remains of what had been a place of worship, with only a shrine left to mark where it had been. The storm had demolished the structure, leaving only rubble with the evidence of fire. What did this picture mean in God’s dialogue with me? I knew it spoke something about churches in the coming storm. And every time I considered that picture, I felt a warning: that churchianity is not going to stand in the coming storm, marked by its shrine to the teaching of men instead of the teaching of God.
But I had trouble grasping what that looked like, until one night when our friend Tom was visiting. Stretched out before a fire, he described the wrenching experience his church was going through, with the exposure of the pastor’s inappropriate relationship with his assistant. This pastor was one of Tom’s best friends. The pastor had been placed on leave with full pay to begin the restoration of his relationship with God and with his wife. Tom paused for a moment, and then remarked softly, “I’m so used to going into church and stopping by his office to talk. It ‘s surreal. I walk into the church now, and his office is empty and dark.” Instantly the picture from Hurricane Sandy leapt into my mind.
The way we’ve been doing church can be gone overnight. The ministry where the fear of man has been enshrined, but the fear of God is missing, will be exposed and brought down. In the coming storm God is going after what is destroying His people.
The scandal of the Christian men and church pastors whose names are listed on Ashley Madison (the online site where one can commit discreet adultery) . . . it is a storm that has just made landfall . . . where God is at work exposing and bringing down ministry that does not belong to Him.
The man is not the ministry. In the excruciating storm of humiliation and suffering for these Christian leaders and their families, it is not the man being brought down, but the ministry that has not been of God. . . God is not out to destroy the man, or to condemn him, but to save him from the compromise that is destroying him.
The foundation laid in Christ will hold, but whatever we have built upon it is going to be tested by fire. Where we have made a shrine to something which is not of Him, it will be removed.
There are two parts to understanding what God is saying. There are the words, the pictures, the symbols, the orchestrated events, the collusion of coincidences that He brings in divine dialogue. These are like puzzle pieces we don’t know how to put together. The second part of understanding what God is saying is the waiting, in listening prayer, for Him to give the correct interpretation.
Whatever I try to figure out on my own is pure speculation, an empty counterfeit of the revelation, which only God can give.
I do not know what storm is coming, or when it will come, or what the series of events will spawn it. God is certainly speaking to us through the Harbingers since 911, in the coming Shemittah and in the climax of the blood moon tetrad this September. These are pieces of a puzzle we do not know how to put together. So let us wait in listening prayer for the revelation only He can give… understanding that He is going to be at work in that storm getting rid of what is destroying His people.
The Internet groans under the weight of speculation, as some make bold pronouncements of what to expect. Shrines are being built to honor various eschatological theories, but what is not from God will be brought down.
We have puzzle pieces, bits and pieces of a message that give me no reason to fear this September, but much reason to listen in prayer so that we might find His way in whatever storms, large or small, come upon us.
This I know and cling to: God is good, and God is at work in all storms to target what threatens our identity as His child and His people.
If we are going to find His way in the storm, we need to see like Ezekiel. We need to see as Jesus saw. We need to see our Father at work in the wreckage and rubble, sovereignly using the disaster to bring forth His people purified.
And we need each other, my precious friend, holding each other as we cling to Him in the storm… so that even if we misplace it for a moment, we do not lose our identity in Him…. emerging from our catastrophe more His than ever.