Steadfastness in the Storms of Life

I love thunderstorms. I love watching how, as they roll in, the wind picks up and begins to throw all of nature into disarray. In particular, I really like to watch how the wind rushes through the leaves of the trees. Tossed about relentlessly, many are blown off of their anchor on the tree’s branches, and it’s not long before they are out of sight.

But the tree itself remains. Its trunk may bend at the fierceness of the wind’s push, but its roots bind it securely to its spot. It is unmoveable.

What a great picture of the steadfastness that Jesus calls us to in the midst of the storms that hit our lives. I wish I were steadfast like that tree.

I wish I were steadfast at all.

Sensing a window of quietude, I sat down to organize some of my thoughts for this post one afternoon while the little ones I watch were sleeping. I had just begun writing when the baby woke up. I stopped briefly to encourage him back to sleep. I hadn’t been back at the computer more than five minutes when my three-year-old announced that he was hungry and ready for a snack. Several interruptions of similar magnitude later, my heart was on its way south. I was getting irritated while trying to write a blog on a steadfast heart! Such is the truth of Jeremiah 17:9 played out in my life every day…with a heart like mine, how can I possibly be steadfast in my faith?

So it is with great hope that I often read Psalm 1. This psalm is such a comfort to me, particularly the first four verses:

Psalm 1:1-4 (ESV; emphasis mine)
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

I’ve very recently begun reading and studying the Book of Philippians in more depth, and I see a great example of steadfastness in that letter. The Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Philippi from his prison in Rome. Hearing of his imprisonment, the church he began in Philippi a decade prior sent him a financial gift, and upon receiving it, he wrote Philippians both as a letter of gratitude and of encouragement to persevere. I’ve often heard that the words “joy” and “rejoice” are found more often in this book of the Bible than any other; indeed, though Paul is in prison, the overall tone of his letter is full of hope and joy. He’s solidly grounded in Christ as he very clearly states that whether he lives or dies, it’s all good (Philippians 1:21). His hope is fixed in Christ, not in a certain outcome to his current circumstances of imprisonment (Philippians 1:20). He is steadfast.

But it’s actually not Paul’s example that I’m talking about; it’s the members of that early church in Philippi. Read below how the NavPress (The Navigators) Philippians study guide I am using describes this period of Paul’s ministry:

After the council in Jerusalem, Paul left Antioch with a new partner, Silas, to revisit the churches Paul had founded in Galatia…Paul wanted to spend more time in Asia Minor, but the Holy Spirit seemed to be guiding them away from further evangelism there. Then Paul had a vision of a man urging him to “come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9)…The first city they visited was Philippi, a Roman colony planted to guard the Roman road across Macedonia.

Because it was primarily a military outpost, Philippi contained too few Jews even to have a synagogue, which required ten adult men. Furthermore, Romans were notoriously anti-Semitic – about the time Paul arrived in Philippi, the Emperor declared Judaism a superstition and expelled all Jews from Rome. So, the few Jews and sympathizers met at a “place of prayer” outside the gate of Philippi (Acts 16:13); they were probably banned from meeting within the city limits.

The Jewish women and Gentile “God-fearers” at the prayer place received the gospel warmly. Among them was Lydia, an independent businesswoman from Thyatira in Asia. Lydia invited the mission team to stay in her house, and for some weeks the converts continued to meet the missionaries at the prayer place. However, the team ran into trouble with the Roman authorities when Paul delivered a slave girl from demonic oppression. Her owners, who had been profiting from her ability to prophesy, accused Paul and Silas of disturbing the peace and trying to convert Romans. The city officials had Paul and Silas beaten and imprisoned.

That night, an earthquake shook the prison and freed all its prisoners. The jailer accepted Christ because of this miracle, and Paul and Silas agreed to remain in the prison. The next morning, the city magistrates ordered their release, but to protect themselves and future missionaries from similar mistreatment, Paul and Silas informed the officials that they had been treating Roman citizens like ordinary subjects, and demanded that the officials escort them out of town to uphold their honor.

So, Paul’s mission team was scarcely in Philippi for a few weeks or months when they had to leave the fledgling church. The new believers had to live in a city where some people had been hurt economically by the missionaries, the magistrates had been embarrassed, and almost everyone was prejudiced against a supposed Jewish cult. Subtle discrimination and outright persecution were inevitable, yet the church flourished.

I have to think it would have been easy for the early Philippian church to have disbanded. They didn’t have much in the way of leadership at that point, but what they did have was enemies. I have to think they faced a lot of fearful storms in their lives as new Christians.

And yet they flourished. They persevered. Far from being tossed about by the storms they must have lived through, they remained steadfast in their faith of the promises of God as fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And so, as I consider the unwavering faith of the Philippians, it begs the question: How can we Christians today – how can I – cultivate a steadfastness within my own heart, when the storms that hit my life come rolling over the horizon?

Again, I would point to Psalm 1. It seems to say that it’s as easy as staying in God’s Word. “He who meditates day and night on the law of the LORD is grounded, like a tree.”

But it seems that something that “easy” can really be pretty hard. I have spoken to dozens of people who are seeking the groundedness that Psalm 1 speaks of…but who can’t seem to find time to read their Bibles. I can relate to those people. I know there are times in my life when I am so busy looking for shelter from the storms in my life, I can forget that the key to finding solid ground is sitting on my bookshelf, gathering dust.

Can you relate? Do you long for the peace that transcends understanding (Philippians 4:6-7) but can’t seem to find the motivation to turn off the TV and pick up your Bible? Do you desperately want the rest from your heavy burdens that Jesus promises (Matthew 11:28-30), but instead of slowing down to read God’s Word, you find it more appealing in the moment to continue to embrace the hectic schedule of your life?

Yeah, I know. I know what that’s like to “not have time.” I know how hard it is to stop focusing on the storm that’s brewing right outside of your window long enough to search for real, lasting answers in the pages of a book. And most keenly, I know what it’s like to not have a heart for God that wants to make time for Him. I know what it’s like to think you want Jesus, but to not have the motivation on your own to actually do anything about it.

I also know that God will change your heart, if you ask Him. Jesus said we have simply to ask, and it will be given (Matthew 7:7-8). So ask. Pray that God would change your heart to make you want to care about what His Word says. I believe He will honor even our weak, half-hearted prayers for a changed heart. God’s Word tells us that those who ground themselves in Him, constantly and consistently, will not be swayed when life’s storms hit. So ask God to give you a heart that wants steadfastness. He will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

James 1:5-8 (ESV)
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

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