Facing the Storms of Life with His Strength
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”
What’s the difference between the person who hears and obeys Christ’s word and the one who doesn’t?
We naturally (and correctly) think, “The one who hears and obeys Christ’s words, his life can endure the storms and the winds. His life will endure till the end. The person who does not listen to Christ and does not obey, when the storms come, they will have nothing left.”
Yes. That’s exactly correct. Now notice what’s similar between them: the storm.
Life is full of storms, whether you are Christians or not. Life will always have tumultuous storms, desperately long hurricanes, moments of darkness, and pain that lasts for what feels like eternity. There is nothing you can do about the storms, they will always come. You can’t change the storm, but you can change how you face them. God never promises that your life will not have storms, but He promises you that you can get through them.
When we look at Joseph’s life in Genesis, Joseph went through some terrible storms. The worst part was that many times, Joseph’s life got worse right when he thought things were about to finally getting better. Every time it looked like a storm was passing, a stronger one replaced it!
And that sucks right? But we know what that feels like right? We have all had moments when it seemed like things were finally working out, things were finally getting better, then it all falls apart again. Why does God do this to us? Doesn’t it sometimes feel like He is just toying with our hopes and dreams? It especially hurts because we allow ourselves to hope and then we get dropped and we feel foolish for even hoping. Why does God allow this?
Every time life was getting better for Joseph, Joseph probably thought, “Aha! Now God is with me! Because my dream is coming true! Things are working out for me!” And if that’s the case, Joseph would inevitably conclude that God’s Presence meant Good Circumstances. So, whenever things go well, Joseph would conclude that God’s presence is here.
But notice what God does. God allows Joseph to be hurt and disappointed. But this it’s not to discourage Joseph’s faith in God, it’s to discourage Joseph’s faith in this world.
To go back to our storm example, the reason why God allows storm after storm in Joseph’s life is so that he stops depending on clear skies to save him and to start trusting the rock that his house is built upon. Joseph learns that his salvation, his hope, his life is not found when the storms go away, but his life is in God, and that his life must be built upon God’s unshakable faithfulness instead of the changing weather of circumstances.
We see the apostle Paul share a similar thing in 2 Corinthians.
"For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead."
2 Corinthians 1:8-9
Even in the Apostle Paul’s own life, God had to let Paul struggle to the point being burdened by life itself until Paul finally began to rely more and God rather than himself! And we see this happen in Joseph’s life. That is how when the time comes to trust God in interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph doesn’t hesitate as if God is far. Joseph doesn’t shrink or waffle about. Through slavery, through prison, Joseph’s faith has gotten stronger rather than weaker. Because through the hardships, Joseph finally began to learn how to really depend on God.
Joseph no longer fears any storm because his faith is on the unchanging Rock rather than the weather of circumstances.
The spiritual benefit of hitting rock bottom in your life is that you get to see what is the rock at the bottom of your life. And Joseph finally began to see that the rock at the bottom of his life ultimately wasn’t his hopes and dreams, it wasn’t comfort and ease, it was God and God alone.
In 1871, a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago lost everything in the great Chicago fire. He lost so much because of the fire. And top of that, in the same year, he lost his son to pneumonia. Two years later (1873), his wife and four daughters got on a boat to Europe. Four days into the water, the ship collides with another ship, and within 12 minutes, though the wife survived all 4 daughters passed away. Now imagine the anxiety in this man’s heart. He hears that the ship has sunk, and he has no idea who made it out. Days pass when he finally gets a message from his wife, rescued and now in Wales. The heart broken message was simply, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”
The lawyer left everything, got on a boat and headed out to see his wife. Four days later, as they passed over the shipwreck that took their daughters, the lawyer wrote to himself:
"When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul."
"For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If [the Jordan River] above me shall roll,
No [pain] shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul."
Horatio G. Spafford
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
What does this passage even mean? Look at it in verse 35! The early Christians, they were going through tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword. They were being killed all day long, sheep to be slaughtered! And Paul is saying this in the midst of persecution that none of this has separated you from the love of Christ? Why? Because they are tempted to think God forgot about them! They are tempted to think that God no longer loves them. Because life is so hard. And there is so much intense pain.
But Paul is saying, that not only is Christ’s love still with us, nothing can separate us from His love. In fact, even in death, we are more than conquerors. Because nothing can separate you from His victory. No matter what we go through, no matter how we suffer, no matter how heavy our cross is, nothing can separate us from the victory that Christ has promised us.
And that is what it looks like when God is the Rock at the bottom of our lives. We know that no matter what we lose in this life, they will never take our victory from us. Even in death, we will remember our victory! Because the Gospel of Jesus Christ has purchased and promised that victory for us. And the pain and suffering we experience in our lives is not a death sentence in a hopeless world, but rather they are reminders of what we are being rescued from.
So at the bottom of your heart, if this world and everything in it is the center of your heart, then when the storms come you will be devastated. You will lose everything. And ultimately death will rob you of all things. Your world will fall apart. But what we learn from Joseph’s life is Your world doesn’t have to fall apart if God is your world. And if God is your world, then you can place your hope in Him, the unshakable Rock instead of just trying to wait out the storms.
Furthermore, we can experience Christ at a deeper level by clinging to Him in moments of suffering.
"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and MAY SHARE HIS SUFFERINGS, becoming like him in his death"
Other translations translate this as the "fellowship of His sufferings." There is a special type of fellowship with God that can only be found through suffering. There are some experiences with God that you can only have through suffering. There are some experiences with God that can only be shared through suffering. Why?
Well, it’s not because as you suffer, Jesus finally comes to you and comforts you. That’s not it. It’s the other way around. Jesus is not joining your suffering, you are finally joining His suffering.
Does God understand Joseph’s pain in prison? Joseph was innocently betrayed by his brothers, sold and enslaved… but one day will save his brothers and all people. Yes, God understands what that feels like. Jesus was innocently betrayed by His brothers, the people of Israel, sold and held captive, beaten and tortured, nailed to a cross, and worst of all, He drank the wrath of God for you and me and for all believers. Jesus was crushed by the wrath of God to an unimaginable degree, consuming millions of eternities worth of wrath. And He did all that in love to save His brothers and all people.
So does Jesus understand Joseph’s pain? Yes. But will Joseph ever understand the depths of Jesus’s pain? No. But through the shared experience of pain, Joseph can relate a little and understand a little about the great love of Jesus Christ and what He was willing to endure for us. God has suffered what I have suffered, God has suffered much worse than I have suffered. The question is not, “Does God understand my pain,” but “do I understand His pain?” Through that experience, Joseph was able to fellowship with Christ a little through the pain.
Have you ever been hurt unfairly? Has anyone ever taken advantage of you? Are you tired of being patient with people? Are you tired of being disrespected? Are you tired of being poor, or rejected, or hated? Are you tired of being let down? Trust me, God knows how you feel. And Christians, we have an opportunity to not just fellowship with God in our moments of strength, but to also fellowship with Him in our moments of pain and suffering.
If you feel like God doesn’t know what you are going through, that is a lie. The truth is, you only think that because you have no idea what He went through.
In the early 1800s, there was a young man who lived a fairly comfortable life in Ireland. He eventually fell in love and proposed to a young woman and his heart was growing in excitement. The very day before their wedding, he watched her crossing a bridge on horseback when she suddenly fell from a horse and drowned in the water and it was too late by the time he came to her. He saw her drown.
Heartbroken and devastated, he left Ireland and came to Canada by the time he was 25. He became a leader at Port Hope and a respected tutor. While working there he fell in love with Elisa Roche. They were engaged but before the wedding, she got pneumonia and died.
This left him shattered. And he left it all and began to cut wood for people who needed it. He looked for the poor and afflicted and would chop wood for them. He often took no money for his work and even shared his clothes with others, always trying to help the lowest people. As he became weaker and sicker, one of his friends found a small poem he had written. He didn’t want anyone else to see it, but they found it. When asked about it, he simply said, “The Lord and I did it between us.” His poem was:
"What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!"
"Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer."
In the midst of his suffering, he grew in intimacy with the Lord, an intimacy found in shared suffering. And this is something that many men and women of God testify about, that God was most real when suffering was greatest.
It is often in our time of need, time of crisis, when our world is falling apart that we see God most clearly, because we are finally willing to let Him be our world. Church, if your world is falling apart, use this opportunity to fellowship with Christ in His suffering and let Him be your world.