Last Sunday was a beautiful, sunny day here in New Hampshire, and with morning worship and all the pastoral busy-ness that goes along with it behind us for another week, Lisa and I decided to seize the moment for a few moments away; specifically, taking our dog Ollie for a much needed and oh-so desired walk along a trail on the banks of the Contoocook River.
It was while we were walking that suddenly we heard, and actually sort of felt, a low, sustained rumble off in the distance that reverberated throughout the forest that borders the river. It sounded all the world like an approaching thunderstorm; not an unusual occurrence on an almost-summer afternoon in these parts, but the odd thing about it was that there was barely a cloud in the sky, nor had we heard any forecast that indicated that such storms were even a remote possibility. It was only after we’d returned home that we learned (via Facebook newsfeed, incidentally; you’ve got to love social media!) that there had in fact been a minor earthquake centered very near to where we’d been walking; an event that nobody saw coming and yet quite literally had the effect of “shaking things up” as a result.
It occurs to me that so many of the so-called “storms” of life are quite similar. You’re walking along the journey of life with relative ease and few obstacles to hold you back, and then suddenly you feel the rumbling: the doctor delivers a devastating diagnosis; news comes of a loved one passing away; the realization hits that a much cherished relationship has disintegrated, perhaps beyond repair. It can take a variety of forms, but however it’s experienced, it’s the kind of rumbling that hearkens the coming of a storm; and it leaves you shaken. One moment the way ahead seems clear; the next you’re caught up in more turmoil than you ever thought you could experience, much less endure.
How good it is, then, that we have a God who not only sustains us, but who actively seeks to lift us up in the midst of these storms.
“God is our refuge and strength,” writes the Psalmist, “a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” (Psalm 46:1-3) I’ve actually read those verses any number of times during funeral services; and indeed, they speak powerfully to the intense grief we feel in times of loss. But in fact there are a great many times in this life when “the mountains tremble with its tumult,” and the good news is that God offers the same refuge and strength in every circumstance. Storms are real, and as much as we’d wish otherwise or seek to avoid it, trouble is inevitable. However, you and I are given this sure and certain promise of God’s unending presence in whatever comes; so though we may indeed know the fear that comes in feeling the rumble beneath our feet, we can also find comfort and our peace in knowing that God is walking the way with us.
During our times of worship at East Church we regularly lift up prayer concerns for family, friends, church members and others who we may or may not even know. In all honestly, there are days that the list of those mentioned becomes quite lengthy, and the concerns that are expressed will sometimes feel overwhelming for the sheer weight of the burdens they represent; but therein lay the great necessity and importance of the church being together in prayer. In these moments, of course, we pray for healing; for strength and courage in the face of affliction and adversity; perhaps also for some sense of clarity amidst uncertainty and confusion; and, yes, for God’s whole peace and justice to be restored, and to prevail, in all things. Mostly, however, we pray for God to be present; that each one for whom we are praying will truly know in the midst of the struggles the face that “the Lord of hosts is with [them],” and that the “God of Jacob is [their] refuge.” (v. 11)
Because while the storms of life are real and can seem quite devastating as they are happening, the truth is that storms don’t last forever; so it’s a great blessing to have someone with us who is strong enough not to be moved as the storm rages on; and because of this, we can “be still” (v. 10) and truly know our God.
c. 2015 Rev. Michael W. Lowry