Take notes in the storm
Recently, I was invited by a good friend and pastor to join him on a podcast to talk about what God has been teaching us in the midst of a lot of pastoral difficulties. I wondered if it would even be fruitful to talk about our struggles while we were still in the middle of them. He told me that many pastors are going through similar struggles and it might be helpful for us to share our “field notes.” Both of us had been reflecting on and taking note of the various struggles, inward battles, and evidences of God’s faithfulness in the hardships we were in. This was a practice proving fruitful for both of us: to take notes in the middle of the storm.
The lighthouse keeper’s notes
I love New England lighthouses. I find them both beautiful and fascinating. What is also fascinating is the role the lighthouse keeper would play in the observation of storms. Much of what a lighthouse keeper does is record information. They note when upkeep happens, what ships pass by, what wear and tear is affecting the lighthouse, and other such things. But also they record everything they can observe during a storm. They observe the sky, the clouds, the waves, the wind, the rain. They do all this so that others can glean from that observation and understand better how storms affect the sea and how ships can safely get to shore in the midst of those storms. This practice of taking notes during the storm is invaluable.
We all go through storms
Scripture has much to say about storms. Like all hardship in this life, scripture is clear that God is sovereign over the storms of life, whether actual storms or proverbial storms (ex. Ps. 107:29; Zech. 10:1; Mk. 4:35-41; Mt. 8:23-27). Often, storms are used metaphorically to describe our own pain and turmoil (ex. Prov. 1:27; 10:25; Is. 54:11; Jas. 1:6). The reality is that we all go through storms. Some storms are more violent than others; some are longer than others. But we all go through hardship, pain, and distress in this life.
We also know that storms have a transformative quality to them. We often grow through the hardships we experience. God uses all our pain to make us more like Jesus Christ. We have all learned valuable lessons through the storms we have gone through. However, because of our fickleness and impatience, we often don’t realize all that our hardship is accomplishing until long after the storm has passed. This only goes to compound the suffering we experience. We start to lose hope and doubt God’s faithfulness. Our perspective needs to change.
Adjusting our perspective
We need to be reminded that God is doing something in our storms. First, storms reveal areas of need or sin. I thought I was a patient person, until I had kids. I thought I was pretty smart, until I went to seminary. I thought I was a hopeful person, till we lost a child in the womb and our world was shaken. It is often in the storm that God reveals how much we need his grace and strength.
Second, storms make us desperate for God. The Psalms are a prime example of this. It is often when we go through trouble, that we “cry to the Lord, and he delivers us from our distress” (Ps. 107:28). It wasn’t till Peter started to sink that he turned his eyes back to Jesus (Matt. 14:22-33). When our cares abound, we are reminded of whom we must cast our cares on (1 Pt. 5). Rather than shaking your fist at God, allow the storm to drive you to him.
Third, storms create glorious good for us. All things work for our good, even storms (Rom. 8:28). And not just good, storms are producing glory! This is why Paul says we need not “lose heart” for our “light momentary affliction is working for us an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). God uses even storms to create glorious good for his children.
Finally, storms teach us. The heavy hand of God in our lives shows his love for us so that we might partake in his holiness (Heb. 12:5-13). Storms teach us to trust. They make our faith real (1 Pet. 1:6-9). They affirm our union with Christ (1 Pet. 4:13). And in specific ways, God uses storms to teach us what it means to imitate Christ, fight against sin, live as exiles in this world, and to hope in the promises of God.
Truly, God is doing all these things and far more in our storms. If we don’t have a perspective that sees the sovereign ways God is using our storms, we will quickly fall back into despair.
Taking notes in the middle of the storm
The decision to reflect on what God is doing (while in the middle of the storm) may seem foolish to us. After all, who would stop rowing their boat to take notes while a storm is raging around them? Well, that’s just it. Often, we feel like the storms in our life could easily “take us out” and it is up to us to “make it through” on our own. But really, a better analogy is the trusty lighthouse keeper. The lighthouse keeper sees and feels the intensity of the storm; however, the keeper is safe because his lighthouse is secure. He also knows what he is meant to do and takes notes so that others can benefit from what he is learning in the storm. In the same way, those who are in Christ need never fear that the storms of this life will move us out of God’s caring hand or his sovereign will. In fact, God is the commander of the storms we go through. He is doing something glorious in them.
So take notes. Note what is happening in the storm. What is happening in your life? Is the storm long? Is it intense? What are the particular areas of hardship pressing upon you? What particular struggles are you facing? How is the storm evolving and changing over time? Note what is happening in your heart and mind. What lies are you believing? What truths are encouraging? What pains are you feeling? What cares must you cast upon God? What areas of sin or need is God revealing to you? Note God’s faithfulness and his care. What ways is God providing for you in the storm? What people has he brought around you to care for and encourage you? How have you felt his presence? How has he prepared you with his Word and prayer for the storm you are facing? Finally, note what God is teaching you. How is God showing you truths from his Word that apply directly to your situation? How is he teaching you to trust in him and his promises? What are the proper ways we should respond to hardships like this? How might others benefit from your experiences?
Our storms are not just for us
Hear the beautiful truths Paul expresses in 2 Cor. 1. These have often encouraged me in the midst of my storms.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
2 Cor. 1:3-7
See Paul’s logic. First, we will experience suffering. Second, we will also experience God’s comfort. Third, any comfort we receive in hardship should be passed on. The same comfort we receive is what we use to minister to others in their storms. Paul even says that his affliction is not for him, but for them. Truly, how short-sighted is our vision in the midst of suffering. Allow your suffering to produce its proper fruit. God is using it in glorious ways both for us and others. Be like the faithful lighthouse keeper. Take notes in the storm.