Society of Fellows
Snoopy was writing a novel when Lucy came up behind him and offered this advice: Snoopy, you will never amount to very much as a writer of novels because all great novel writers always begin their novels with Once upon a time, and you always start your novels with It was a dark and dreary night. Lucy, having given this advice, went on her way and Snoopy started writing Once upon a time it was a dark and dreary night!
Every pastor has been through his dark and dreary night. One pastor who was in the midst of such an experience was asked by a friend, When did you first realize that things were not going well between you and your church? The pastor responded, When I happened to glance at the churchs marquee and discovered that my name had been written there in chalk! Sooner or later, we all take a turn in life and discover that we are on the street named Sorrow.
Jesus said, In the world you shall have tribulation...1 The word tribulation means pressure or anguish. We have our Saviors word, You are going to experience pressure and anguish. These pressures are not new; they have been with us since that tea party that afternoon in the Garden of Eden. We are, nevertheless, compelled to say I never thought it could happen to me. I never thought life would be so unbearable.
In a telephone conversation, a professor tells me that his son has been diagnosed bipolar. A pastor calls, concerned over a called deacons meeting the night before. The stock market and NASDAQ set near record lows...unsettling news for anyone contemplating retirement! More important is the call from a weeping, heartbroken wife informing me that cancer had claimed the life of her 44-year-old husband. These storms, each with their own intensity, came into the lives of these individuals and then into my life, all within an hour as I was preparing this sermon.
In our text the disciples of Christ encountered an unexpected storm as they were crossing the Sea of Galilee. They feared for their lives. Pastors often discover that they, too, are in the midst of a storm that is raging about them. The response to these storms in our ministry can be varied.
The pastor may worry. A black preacher exclaimed, One day there is a knock at your hearts door. You open the door to discover an ugly individual standing there and you ask, Who are you, and what do you want? He answers, My name is Worry, and I am here to babysit your thoughts. You invite Worry to come in. A few days later there is another knock at your hearts door, and you open the door to find an uglier individual standing there. Who are you and what do you want? He answers, I am Depression. You are overworking Worry, and I am here to relieve him. You invite him inside. A few days later, there is another knock on your hearts door. You open the door to find an even uglier, more grotesque person standing there and you ask, Who are you, and what do you want? He answers, My name is Oppression, and Im here to relieve Depression. You stand aside and allow Oppression to enter the door of your heart, and you know the rest of the story.
The pastor may give up. Facing the fierceness of the storm and the uncertainty of the darkness of the night, we are told that many pastors do just that. They give up and they leave the ministry.
The pastor may complain. We know complaining is wrong, but we do it anyway. Over the years, some of us have achieved a high level of expertise. A wise person has said that there are two reasons one should never complain. First, because half the people you complain to have bigger problems than you do. Because of their own problems, you should never complain to them. Second, because the other half of the people you complain to are quite glad that you finally got what was coming to you. As you complain to them about your problems they respond Ho. . . Ho. . .Ho. If you could speed up their response, they are actually saying Ho, Ho, Ho.
The pastor may pity himself. Some of us do. We throw a big pity party and invite a host of friends to come, but alas, no one shows up. What do we do? We proceed with the party! We must not succumb to the temptation to use the debris left by the storm as material to construct an altar at which we bow down and worship our hurts and wounds.
A pastor may become bitter. Of all the responses available to us, this one should be avoided at all costs.2
Each of these responses provides an appropriate, temporary shelter from the storm. We must, however, avoid applying for or setting up permanent residence.
What response should we give to the storm raging about us? Trust God with it all. Vance Havner tells the story of the hypochondriac who had exhausted the patience of her physician. Exasperated, he said to her, Maam, you simply must put your faith in God. The lady exclaimed, Oh my! Has it come to that?! Vance Havner said, Sooner or later it always comes to that, so we might as well start with that. You trusted God to save you; you trusted God when you surrendered your life to the gospel ministry; keep trusting Him through the storm.
A mother was on a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean when a storm came up that threatened the security of the ship. The captain was checking each cabin to ascertain that no passenger was left behind. Coming to a particular cabin door, he heard this mother singing hymns of faith. Opening the door, he asked her, How can you sing when a storm is raging all about you? She replied, Its easy. You see, I have two daughters. One, Mary, who lives in New York City, and one, Martha, who is with Jesus in heaven. If the ship does not go down, I will be with Mary tomorrow in New York City. If the ship goes down, I will be with Martha tonight in heaven. Either way is fine with me. Oh, for such a faith!
A farmer was building an odd-looking fence out of stone. Odd in that the fence was wider at the base than it was tall. A neighbor passing by said to the farmer, Why are you building such an odd-looking fence? The farmer said with a twinkle in his eye, The wind blows hard around these parts. If it ever blows hard enough to blow this fence over, I want it to be taller than it was before. God is looking for those pastors who, when the winds of the storm blow hard enough to blow them over, will be taller than they were before.
A pastor sat before me, his heart breaking. With chin quivering he said, Everything is gone. I have no home for my family, I have no church, nothing. All my dreams for my ministry have gone up in smoke. I told him of another person whose dreams also had gone up in smoke. One day Joseph felt the safety and security of a seemingly happy family; the next day, all his dreams evaporated as he was sold into slavery by his eleven brothers. It is important to consider how Joseph reacted to his storm. What did he do? I believe he took all the ashes (thats all he had left of his dreams), laid them at the feet of God and said, Lord, this is all I have left of my dreams. I give them to you. God took the ashes of Josephs dreams and used them as a foundation upon which to build a more beautiful and magnificent building or useful life. God desires to do the same for you, and He will as you bring Him the ashes of your dreams.
Pastor, have your dreams for your ministry gone up in smoke? I encourage you to do with your ashes what Joseph did with his--bring them and lay them before God. God will use the ashes as a foundation upon which to build a more effective ministry than the one originally envisioned. May the truth of the old hymn be real in your life today:
Could God have prevented the storm from sweeping into your life? Yes. But the fact is, He did not. Why? The answer may be found in Gods profound estimate of your ability to withstand the fierceness of the storm. A friend of the family dying with cancer stated in her testimony, I never dreamed God could have so much confidence in me that He would entrust to me this dreaded disease. You may ask me, Are you saying that I should consider this hurricane of a storm in my life at this moment a compliment from God? To which I reply, Yes!
The question we always ask in the midst of the storm is, Where is God? He seems so far away. I want to encourage you by reminding you that He is with you. You may not sense His presence, but He is there. For I will be with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.3 Soon you will be able to say with Jeremiah, But the Lord is with me as a mighty one...4
God is always with His children in the storms of life. The Bible is full of examples. Where was God when Adam and Eve sinned? Walking in the Garden asking, Adam, where are you?5 When Israel was in captivity, where was God? Preparing Moses to lead them out. The results of Adams sin, according to Dr. R.G. Lee, was ...a breach in the moral order of harmony in the universe...a conspiracy against the sovereignty of God...an insult to His holiness.6 But where was God when mankind was lost in sin? Let the Bible tell us: To wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses...7
God is a smack dab in the middle of it God. What storms are raging around you? Perhaps a friend has judged you unfairly. Because of an offense, he views his commitment to you less in importance than the offense itself. One of Jesus best friends betrayed Him. He understands, and He is with you. You may be as frustrated in your ministry as the swarm of termites that made a wrong turn and ended up in the petrified forest. God knows, and God cares! You may be so down that you feel that your church, including your wife and children, would vote against you in a called business meeting. Remember, God is smack dab in the middle of that situation.
I recall the time when our two daughters were learning to walk. I would place my daughter against the couch and move back a few steps and say to her, Come to Daddy. In response, she would place one foot out and then the other foot. Shortly, however, I observed her knees shaking and begin to buckle, and her big smile was replaced by an abject look of despair. She was aware that something tragic was about to happen to her--she was about to fall! And what was my response? Did I leave her to go to another room? No! A thousand times no! In fact, as she was about to fall my eyes were fixed on her more intently than at any other time. Before she fell, I did what every loving and caring father would do; I reached and took her in my arms and pulled her close to me and loved her. And so you are asking, Where is God in the midst of this storm raging about me? And I respond by saying to you that your supreme comfort in this moment is knowing that Gods eyes of love are fixed more intently upon you now than at any other time. Trust me. I know. But more importantly, trust Him! He knows.
It is important to remember that storms often come into our lives through no cause of our own. Job is a prime example of this truth. Even God said of Job, ...he is a perfect and upright man...8 Yet, storm after storm battered and assailed this man of faith. In the midst of the storm Job cried, O, that I knew where I might find Him. Job was saying, I am shut in on all sides. In front of me, all is dark; in back of me, all is dark; to the left and to the right of me it is no better. Sound familiar? It was the same no matter where we looked for an answer. However, as a pastor we must remember there is another direction besides forward, backward, right, left. IT IS THE WAY UP! Job could not find help AROUND him or WITHIN him. Nor can we. Job started LOOKING UP and said, He knoweth the way that I take. When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. Have faith in God. Stop looking AROUND! Stop looking WITHIN! Start LOOKING UP!!
A friend of mine told me of being caught in a hurricane while vacationing in Florida. While the strong winds shook the motel room, he and his family huddled together quoting scripture. I would encourage you to choose a verse of scripture and quote it until the storm in your life subsides. A verse that sustained me during a personal storm is Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope. As the storm churned about me, I quoted this verse and it brought to my heart and spirit an unbelievable calmness and peace. May it be so in your life, as well.
Dr. R. G. Lee said, God does not say, I will go with you part of the journey. He says that He will go with you all the way. He does not say he will put his shoulder next to yours until the burden gets pretty heavy and then leave you with the load by yourself. He does not say He will go with you until the hill gets steep and then leave you by yourself. He does not say He will go with you until you come to a deep river and then let you get across the best you can. He does not say He will go with you to the furnace door and not go in the furnace with you. He says I will be with you in the deep waters and they shall not overflow you; and in the fiery furnace, and it shall not burn you; and up the hill, and you will climb it with me; and along the road we will have sweet companionship together. 9
For years I could not understand our Lords response, Where is your faith?10 to the disciples cry for help, Master, Master, we perish!11 Justification for our Lords rebuke is found at the beginning of the story where Jesus said to His disciples, Let us go over to the other side of the lake.12 Christ plainly informed them that they would arrive safely to the other side. The disciples plea for help revealed their lack of faith in Christ.
Like the disciples, you find yourself in a storm. There is help for you today. God is indeed with you in your storm. When you trusted Him as your personal Savior, He said to you, I will take you safely to the other side. That is, to the heavenly shore, and on to heaven. As you go through your dark and dreary valley, your ultimate safety and destination are certain.
Written by John D. Adams
1 John 16:33
6 R. G. Lee, The Must of the Second Birth (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1959), p. 26.
7 II Corinthians 5:19
8 Job 1:8
9 R. G. Lee, Bread From Bellevue Oven (Murfreesboro, Tennessee: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1947), p. 114.
10 Luke 8:25
11 Luke 8:24
12 Luke 8:22
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. John Adams has been Vice President for Campus Ministries and Church Services at Union University since 1982. He holds the BA degree from Union University and the Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Robbie, have two daughters.