As I write this, hurricane Sandy is morphing into a powerful nor’easter about to land a potentially devastating right hook to the east coast of the United States. Ordinarily, the hurricane would move out into the Atlantic, but a strong high pressure ridge of air off Greenland is blocking it, turning it eastward. The meteorologists predict a rendezvous with another storm moving across the country from west to east. These two powerful weather systems are expected to converge under a full moon amidst a blast of arctic air from the north. The perfect storm! It has been dubbed “Frankenstorm.”
Storms serve as an apt metaphor for upheaval in our lives. Sometimes that upheaval is merely a passing squall that disturbs us for a brief period of time. Other times it is more like Frankenstorm that threatens to overwhelm us and change our lives from that point forward.
A few years ago I wrote a book to help provide comfort, encouragement and direction in those times. It’s entitled, The Prayer of Jehoshaphat: Seeing Beyond Life’s Storms. I had noticed King Jehoshaphat’s prayer of 2 Chronicles 20:12 in its larger context of 2 Chronicles 20:1-30. It lays out a course to help us process those storms of our lives to our spiritual growth.
I want to share two excerpts that give a sense of the book’s purpose. They demonstrate how the process can be helpful to us in our personal struggles and as we would pull alongside others to help them.
So often when we face trials, our goal is simply to get through them, to survive them. But the God who governs every joy or trial, who is vested in our growth as His children, would have us take a different tact. The first excerpt explains.
Living at the beach growing up, I witnessed many severe storms. Often during a hurricane or nor’easter, I would walk down to the shore and take in the fury of the gray, white-capped, swelling, surging ocean. Sometimes the water would come all the way up, completely engulfing the beach, washing even over the boardwalk. It was an impressive sight.
When the storm passed and the waters receded, the beach would be littered with debris—a treasure trove of shells, driftwood and sea life left behind by the retreating tide. Remarkably, the only way those treasures could be found on the beach was through the storm. The wind and the waves served as the vehicle through which the debris was deposited.
Just as the seashore is strewn with treasures transported by the storm, so the crises of our lives bring to us the blessings of our God. Once the dust of turmoil has settled, we don’t want to overlook returning to the field of battle to collect the spoils. Just looking to surviving the tumult forgets the purpose of God in the storm and neglects the gleanings of grace from it in our lives. (The Prayer of Jehoshaphat, 105)
The second excerpt is found earlier in the book. It gives us needed perspective as we find ourselves engulfed in the storm.
We probably should not have taken off. The black clouds rolled in. Ominous peals of thunder reverberated in the distance. A light show flashed on the horizon charged with electricity. As we taxied to the runway, the first heavy drops of water fell to the tarmac, a prelude to a downpour. But the jet engine idled as we stood in the queue, waiting our turn to take off.
Though it was mid-day, the darkness suggested night had fallen. Blackness and bleakness dominated our view. Everywhere we looked it was there. We could not escape it.
The rumble of the engine inched us forward until there were no more planes in front of us. The pilot negotiated the turn onto the runway. The engine roared and the mass of metal surged forward. In a moment we were airborne, heading directly into the mouth of the storm.
As we climbed, the darkness swallowed us whole. The wind buffeted us about. But as quickly as the darkness had dominated, it gave way to brilliance as we broke through the clouds. The sun with its warmth and light greeted us on the other side. Though the clouds had obscured it, the sun was still there, communicating stability, giving its light of hope and encouragement. All was well.
Sometimes when great distress comes into our lives, it dominates us to such a degree that it’s all we can see. Everywhere we turn it is there, encompassing us from all sides. It will not allow us to ignore it. And sometimes it seems the only reality.
But just as the sun remains in all its beauty, glory and promise so God remains. The prayer of Jehoshaphat invites us to break through the storm clouds of our distress to see that God is still there, offering hope and stability and promise. The storm is not the final word. It is not the ultimate reality. As ominous as it is, it is only for a season, irrepressibly present but irrevocably fleeting.
In the face of the foe without and the fear within, we are told that Jehoshaphat “set his face to seek the Lord.” His eyes of faith penetrated the blackness of the storm that advanced toward him. God was still there. The storm clouds had not driven Him away or usurped His position as Sovereign Lord God Almighty. The brightness of His glory filled the expanse, despite appearances to the contrary. (The Prayer of Jehoshaphat, 29)