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Storms

Three weeks after moving from Washington State to the Midwest I found myself sleeping in a barn at a retreat in Kansas. In the middle of the night a violent storm jolted me awake. Torrential rains pummeled the side of the barn. The wind howled and thunder boomed louder than I had ever heard before.

As I sat on the hay listening to the storm, my mind kept running through scenes from the 1996 movie Twister. Watching Helen Hunt dodge massive tornadoes was the only way I had learned anything about these powerful storms.

Fear paralyzed me. I had no idea what to do, as I realized I was not in control. Repeatedly I imagined myself being sucked into the sky, standing at the pearly gates of Heaven quoting the line from the Wizard of Oz, “I don’t think I’m in Kansas anymore.”

It turned out that the storm was relatively mild and I had nothing to be concerned about. But I didn’t know that in the moment! The uncertainty and fear that I experienced was very real.

This type of fear surfaces when we discover that our perception of absolute control over our lives is an illusion. Any number of situations we face lead to this realization.

Natural disasters like the recent tornado outbreaks in Joplin, Missouri and Moore, Oklahoma turn cities upside down. Nations threaten war with one another, leaving citizens under the constant threat that their world could be very different the next day. The pressures of life push individuals to their breaking point. Jobs are lost. Tests come back positive for cancer. Loved ones tragically pass away much earlier than anyone could possibly have imagined.

It seems that the promise of facing difficult days becomes only stronger the longer we are graced to live.

Psalm 46 is a hymn to be sung by a congregation in worship as a reminder that even in complete chaos God is in control.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

The congregation confesses together that God is present in the midst of our present hardships. He is our strength and shelter when we encounter the unknown.

When God created the earth he separated the water and the land. Even if creation started to reverse and the mountains fell back into the seas, God would still be in control. Therefore, we have nothing to fear.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her;
she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of the heavenly armies is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

In difficult times, God provides sustenance to his people. Even though individual battles may be lost, we can have complete confidence that God is still with us. He will be there to help us pick up the pieces when a new day begins.

Nations rise and fall, but when God speaks the earth melts. If the Lord of the heavenly armies is with us we have nothing to fear when the nations are in turmoil. He is ultimately in control of the kingdoms of the world.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of the heavenly armies is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

The hymn shifts from a group confession to an invitation to those outside the community. The congregation calls the surrounding nations to, “Come and see the works of our God. See that no one has ever been able to stand against him. He is even Lord over the elements of war. With his words alone he causes wars to cease. Therefore desist your futile attempts to stand against him and know that the great ‘I am,’ Yahweh, is the one and only God. He will be exalted in the nations. He will be exalted in the earth. In the end, our God will ultimately be victorious in every way! The Lord who controls heavenly armies of angels is with us. Our protection comes from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who throughout history has been faithful to his people.”

When natural disasters turn our world upside down our God is still in control.
When we see our nations on the verge of war our God is still in control.
When we encounter incredible personal suffering our God is still in control.

The works of our great Enemy are futile against the plans of our God. On days it seems that battles are lost we still place our trust in Jesus. Even taking our last breath we can have complete confidence in him, knowing that one day we will rise again just as Jesus first rose from the dead. The great weapon of our Enemy has been defeated. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

If our God is for us, who can be against us? What could we possibly fear? The Lord of the heavenly armies is with us; the God of Jacob is indeed a fortress.

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