Present in the Storm
Fire swept through the home of a family of six from our church. Although the father and son survived, the father was still hospitalized while his wife, mother, and two small children were laid to rest. Unfortunately, heartbreaking events like this continue to happen again and again. When they’re replayed, so is the age-old question: Why do bad things happen to good people? And it doesn’t surprise us that this old question doesn’t have new answers.
Yet the truth that the psalmist puts forth in Psalm 46 has also been replayed and rehearsed and embraced repeatedly. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (v. 1). The conditions described in verses 2–3 are catastrophic—earth and mountains moving and sea waters raging. We shudder when we imagine being in the midst of the stormy conditions poetically pictured here. But sometimes we do find ourselves there—in the swirling throes of a terminal illness, tossed by a devastating financial crisis, stung and stunned by the deaths of loved ones. It’s tempting to rationalize that the presence of trouble means the absence of God. But the truth of Scripture counters such notions. “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (vv. 7, 11). He is present when our circumstances are unbearable, and we find comfort in His character: He is good, loving, and trustworthy.
In Our Weakness
Although Anne Sheafe Miller died in 1999 at the age of 90, she nearly passed away in 1942 after developing septicaemia following a miscarriage and all treatments proved to be unsuccessful. When a patient at the same hospital mentioned his connection to a scientist who’d been working on a new wonder drug. Anne’s doctor pressed the government to release a tiny amount for Anne. Within a day, her temperature was back to normal! Penicillin had saved Anne’s life.
Since the fall, all human beings have experienced a devastating spiritual condition brought about by sin (Romans 5:12). Only the death and resurrection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit has make it possible for us to be healed (8:1–2). The Holy Spirit enables us to enjoy abundant life on earth and for eternity in the presence of God (vv. 3–10). “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (v. 11).
When your sinful nature threatens to drain the life out of you, look to the source of your salvation, Jesus, and be strengthened by the power of His Spirit (vv. 11–17). “The Spirit helps us in our weakness” and “intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (vv. 26–27).
The comic book hero is as popular as ever. In 2017 alone, six superhero movies accounted for more than $4 billion (US) in box office sales. But why are people so drawn to big action flicks?
Maybe it’s because, in part, such stories resemble God’s Big Story. There’s a hero, a villain, a people in need of rescue, and plenty of riveting action.
In this story, the biggest villain is Satan, the enemy of our souls. But there are lots of “little” villains as well. In the book of Daniel, for example, one is Nebuchadnezzar, the tyrannical king of much of the known world, who decided to kill anyone who didn’t worship his colossal statue (Daniel 3:1–6). When three courageous Jewish officials refused (vv. 12–18), God dramatically rescued them from a blazing furnace (vv. 24–27).
But in a surprising twist, we see this villain’s heart begin to change. In response to this spectacular event, Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” (v. 28).
But then he threatened to kill anyone who defied God (v. 29), not yet understanding that God didn’t need his help. Nebuchadnezzar would learn more about God (and himself) in chapter 4—but that’s another story.
What we see in Nebuchadnezzar is not just a villain, but someone on a spiritual journey. In God’s story of redemption, our Hero, Jesus, reaches out to everyone needing rescue—including the villains among us.
A friend of mine—okay, it was my counselor—drew a stick figure on a sheet of paper. She labeled this the “private” self. Then she drew an outline around the figure, about a half-inch larger, and named it the “public” self. The difference between the two figures, between the private and public selves, represents the degree to which we have integrity.
I paused at her lesson and wondered, Am I the same person in public that I am in private? Do I have integrity?
Paul wrote letters to the church in Corinth, weaving love and discipline into his admonitions to be like Jesus. As he neared the end of this letter (2 Corinthians), he addressed accusers who challenged his integrity by saying he was bold in his letters but weak in person (10:10). These adversaries used professional oratory to take money from their listeners. While Paul possessed academic prowess, he spoke without eloquence. “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words,” he had written earlier, “but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). His later letter revealed his integrity, “Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present” (2 Corinthians 10:11).
The Savior Who Knows Us
“Dad, what time is it?” my son asked from the back seat. “It's 5:30.” I knew exactly what he'd say next. “No, it's 5:28!” I watched his face light up. Gotcha! his beaming smile said. I felt delight, too—the kind that comes from knowing your child the way only a parent can.
Like any attentive parent, I know my children I know how they'll respond when I wake them up. I know what they’ll want in their lunches. I know countless interests, desires, and preferences.
But for all that, I'll never know them perfectly, inside and out, the way our Lord knows us.
We catch a glimpse of the kind of intimate knowledge Jesus has of His people in John 1. As Nathanael, who Philip had urged to meet Jesus, moved toward Him, Jesus pronounced, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” (v. 47). Startled, Nathanael responded, “How do you know me?” Somewhat mysteriously, Jesus replied that He’d seen him under the fig tree (v. 48).
We may not know why Jesus chose His knowledge of this particular moment to share, but it seems Nathaniel did! Overwhelmed, he responded, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God” (v. 49).
Jesus knows each of us like this: intimately, completely, and perfectly—the way we long to be known. And He accepts us completely—inviting us to be, not only His followers, but His beloved friends (John 15:15).