by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
It occurs to me that Jesus needed to call home in the middle of the hassles as much as I did. He was surrounded by people who wanted food and disciples who wanted a break. His heart was heavy from the death of John the Baptist. He needed a minute with someone who would understand… So he… chatted with the One he loved. He heard the sound of the home he missed. And he was reminded that when all hell breaks loose, all heaven draws near.
Max Lucado, “In the Eye of the Storm,” p82-3 (based on Matthew 14:19)
Riding Out the Storm
There are two types of life-storms. The first type catches us by surprise. These are the storms that are not the result of doing something wrong. Life and struggles just happen. I have a friend who is a fitness fanatic. She eats healthy foods and exercises all the time. She is 43 and is in better shape than most 23-year-olds, at least she was until last year when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. We’ve had a bit of a storm here this week with Ron announcing that he is leaving. No one sinned or did anything wrong. It is just part of life, but it’s hard. It is a storm.
The second type of storm is our own fault. We do something that brings the storm into our lives. This is the type of storm that hit David’s life. Last week we looked at the beginning of the storm, the story of David and Bathsheba. David committed adultery and murder, and a whole list of other sins. When he was confronted with his sin he confessed his sin and was forgiven. But there were still the consequences of what he had done, and that caused the storm. That is where our passage today picks up. As David begins to put his life back together, he tries to ride out the storm. What I want to do this morning is look at how David did that because what he did is a good example for us as we ride out the storms of our lives, whether we have caused them or they are totally unexpected.
The first thing David did was to confess his sin. After Nathan confronted him he admitted what he had done. “I have sinned against the Lord.” If we are in any way responsible for our storm we need to start with confession. We looked at this last week so I’m not going to spend time it.
The second action that David took was to pray and fast. Nathan confronted David and then he left. Right after that the child got sick. David’s first response was to pray. “David prayed desperately to God for the little boy.” He also fasted which is a form of prayer. For seven days David’s life was focused on praying that God would let his son live. This was one of those times when God’s answer to prayer is “No.” The baby died. Nevertheless, the first thing David did to ride out the storm was to pray.
Ten to fifteen years ago Tanya and I read a series of novels by Susan Howatch. They are psychological/spiritual thrillers. One of them was called “Glamorous Powers.” Jon Darrow was an Anglican priest who had lived in a monastery for seventeen years. Then he had a vision that made him leave the monastery. The story is about how he deals with the storms that happen as he goes out into the world. At one point Darrow said this about prayer:
You must never think for one moment that a trained religious person necessarily prays more effectively than a devout layman. Prayer's the great leveler. Anyone can do it, and the only pity is that more people don't try.
Darrow’s words remind me of another quote I heard one time – actually in a sermon.
Prayer is our greatest privilege. Prayer is our greatest power. Prayer is also the most neglected part of the Christian life.
I don’t make any claim to be an expert at prayer. I struggle with praying as much anyone else. In some ways I feel very confident and comfortable with my prayer life. In other ways I know that I have lots of room to improve. What I want to suggest to you is that prayer is an essential part of riding out the storm.
Sharon church has gone through and is going through a storm. Therefore we need to pray. That certainly includes prayer by individuals. Each of you needs to spend time in prayer. That also includes groups of people gathering together on a regular basis to pray. What would happen if Session and all of our committees spent as much time praying as they did doing business? Maybe we need to start some small groups that focus on prayer or hold special prayer meetings. It would be wonderful if Sharon church became known as a house of prayer. I don’t know what that would look like. However, I believe God is calling Sharon to prayer. As we ride out the storms of life, God wants us to pray.
The third action David takes to ride out the storm is to worship. As soon as David heard that the child had died. “David got up from the floor, washed his face and combed his hair, put on a fresh change of clothes, then went into the sanctuary and worshiped” (2 Sam. 12:20 The Message). To put his life back together David worshipped.
Prayer, asking God for help is part of worship, so there is a connection with the first thing David did. However, worship involves more than just prayer. Worship is first and foremost adoration and praise. The word that is translated worship in our passage means to bow down, to acknowledge that God is superior. In the midst of a storm, when life is a struggle, one of the best things you can do is to praise God, to give thanks for the blessings that are still part of your life. Yes, Ron is leaving, but there are a lot of people staying and new people coming, people with gifts and talents. Maybe money is a struggle for you right now or you lost your job, but you still have enough of food to eat, and if you don’t have enough food I know of a wonderful food pantry that will help you. Maybe you’re facing some other struggle right now, but the birds are still singing and the flowers blooming. The beauty of creation surrounds us every day. In the midst of the storm spend time in worship, praising God for the many blessings that are still part of your life.
For David, worship probably included some sort of sacrifice. He may have killed a lamb and then eaten it, or poured oil or flour on the altar. Since Jesus offered himself as the ultimate sacrifice we don’t typically think of sacrifice as part of worship, but it is. You could be anywhere else this morning, but you have sacrificed your time to come here to worship. In a little bit we will take up our offering. You could spend that money in many other ways, but instead you sacrifice it by giving it to God.
Worship normally includes the Bible. For David that may have included writing or praying one of the Psalms or reading and remembering the story of the Exodus. We are so privileged to have access to the Bible, to God’s word for our lives.
I could talk for an hour about worship and how your presence helps worship. I could tell jokes about worship that would make you laugh, or at least chuckle a little bit. I could tell stories that would either make you cry or at least make you think. Your presence in worship helps me as a preacher and encourages everyone else who comes to worship. But I want you to hear why worship is so important. Worship is the place we come together to encounter the One who helps us through the storm. Worship is the place we come so that we can center our lives in God and are given the strength to live out of that center. Through regular participation in worship we can and will ride out the storms.
There is a fourth thing that David does to ride out the storm – he accepts the reality of his situation. For seven days David didn’t do anything except pray and fast. By the time he learned that his son had died there was a distinct aroma around David. Often, in a crisis, people ignore the daily routines of life – brushing your teeth and showering. The first thing David did was to get cleaned up. He took a shower and maybe even shaved. He changed his clothes. After fasting for seven days he was also hungry so he went and ate. Accepting the reality of the situation meant returning to the normal activities of life. In the passage that follows right after the one I read David joins his army in a battle against the Ammonites. That is where he should have been in the first place, to avoid this whole problem. He went back to the routines that were a normal part of his life.
David also accepted the reality of the situation by realizing that his son was gone. Nothing he could do now would bring him back. Look at verse 19. “Can I bring him back now? I can go to him, but he can’t come to me.” Part of riding out the storm is accepting the reality of the situation in which you find yourself.
Accepting reality seems obvious and simple, but it isn’t. One of great struggles of getting older is accepting that reality. People deny the reality that they no longer should be living on their own or driving. One of the hurdles that alcoholics face is the denial that they have a problem. We all have a tendency to deny our own sinfulness. We can point out everyone else’s, but accepting our own is not easy.
The way to survive the storms of life is to accept the reality of what life is like now. What changes will you need to make, in what you do and how you think? Get up, take a shower and change your clothes. Eat some food and move on, by accepting the reality of life.
Finally, the fifth way to ride out the storm is to serve other people. David went and comforted Bathsheba. He spent time with her and consoled her. There is an interesting detail about this story that I have never noticed before. Back in chapter 11 David saw a beautiful woman and wanted to learn something about her. He found out that her name was “Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite” (2 Sam. 11:3). Her name is not mentioned again in the story until our passage this morning. She is referred to as Uriah’s wife but not by her name. She is an object to be used and enjoyed, not a human being to be appreciated and loved. Her son is sick but there is nothing about David sharing the struggle with her. Finally, in our passage this morning it says that David went and consoled his wife Bathsheba.
When you are struggling with life, one of the best ways get through the storm is to serve other people. There are times when I’ve been down or struggled with depression. I’ve found that one of the best ways to get past that is to go visit other people, to listen to their stories, their struggles and their pain. It does two things. First, listening to others and focusing on their situation is a distraction from your own situation. It takes your mind off your own problems. Second, it helps you to realize that there are other people who are hurting just as much as you are, maybe even more. To ride out the storms of your life, become a servant, comforting and caring for other people, serving them in whatever way you can.
In the passage that Richard read the disciples got into a boat with Jesus. As they crossed the Sea of Galilee a storm came up. Being a follower of Jesus does not mean that we won’t have storms in our lives. Jesus never said that we won’t face storms. But the good news is that in the midst of the storm Jesus is with us. The disciples survived the storm because Jesus was with them.
We can ride out any storm, by spending time in prayer, by participating in worship, by accepting reality, and by serving other people. Above all, in the midst of our storms let us remember that Jesus is with us.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I'm clinging
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing.