Clouds on the Kansas prairie at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What good is shelter if you don’t use it?

I’m sitting in my basement (on the couch with my roomie) watching the latest round of severe storms causing all sorts of damage across the Kansas plains. Because I’m just sitting here, I decided to write the devo for Monday morning. I’m so very thankful for my basement and my house, solid, safe places to go when the storms of the Kansas spring are too much to handle.

I know I’ve posted about this before, but it’s something that I was thinking about–having a shelter in the storm. Everybody needs one. Nobody is tough enough to fight off a tornado. I mean, you can try, but you probably won’t accomplish much.

Clouds on the Kansas prairie at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Clouds on the Kansas prairie at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 91:9-13.

If you make the Lord your refuge,
    if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you;
    no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels
    to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras;
    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

It’s just something that’s good to remember, especially when you’re in the midst of a storm. But what does it mean to make God your refuge? What does it mean to make Him your shelter? How can you do that?

I like to think I’m a fairly practical person, so just saying to make God your shelter doesn’t sound very useful. When I think of shelter, I think of basement, of solid, concrete, tangible protection that keeps out the wind and rain. And God isn’t really something that we can experience on that level.

Well, think about it. When you’re in a shelter–a basement or a safe room or whatever–what are you doing? You’re waiting for the storm to pass, right? But in relation to your shelter, you’re trusting that shelter to keep you safe. You trust your safety to that shelter, trusting it’s been built strong enough, trusting it will protect you.

How is that different from how God protects us? At least, that’s the way it should work.

God will keep us safe, although He may not do it the way we expect Him to. But He does. What I had to learn is that He’s less concerned with our physical wellbeing than our spiritual health, because it’s our eternal destination that matters more.

But whether you’re facing health issues or mental issues or financial issues or spiritual issues, God offers to be our shelter, our trusted place of refuge, and all we have to do is trust Him.

But basements or storm shelters don’t do you much good if you don’t use them. You still have to make the choice to get in your shelter when a storm is coming if you want it to protect you. So why do we think that God is any different?

We have to trust Him. We have to choose to take refuge in Him and not in our own abilities or strengths.

So whatever you’re facing today, remember that you don’t have to face it alone. And you don’t have to be vulnerable. God has offered to protect us. We just have to take shelter when He tells us.

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God is bigger than your storm

Storms are a part of life in the Midwest. It’s not that we get used to them; it’s just that they don’t really surprise us. That’s good to a certain extent because few people panic when bad weather approaches, but it can be bad too because sometimes I think we take the weather for granted and forget how dangerous it can be.

We’re entering into storm season, and the country has already experienced quite a bit of tragedy associated with our normal spring storms. Death and destruction always follow big storms, and it’s easy to get to the point where you think it’s too difficult to keep on. I mean, what’s the point of rebuilding when another storm is probably just around the corner?

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is John 16:33.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

The world is full of storms, both literal and figurative, but the difference between an actual storm and a stormy season in your life is that usually you can take shelter from real wind and rain and hail. And a stormy season of life is something you really can’t escape. It follows you everywhere. Almost like you have your own black cloud hanging over your head, and there’s nothing you can do to get away from it. It just follows you around, dumping rain on you constantly.

Believe it or not, you aren’t alone. You may feel like it some days, but you aren’t the only person to ever have to weather a storm. And there have been many others who’ve gone through the same storm you are. And many of them are just waiting for the opportunity to encourage and help someone else get through it, but they can’t help if they don’t know about it.

Today’s verse comes after Jesus sat His disciples down and pretty much told them that He was going to die and go away for a while. He wanted them to know that even though He was leaving, they would be okay and they wouldn’t be alone.

When we encounter storms in our lives, it’s easy to lose hope. It’s easy to give up. It’s much harder to hold on to faith, believing that there’s a purpose and that God can bring beauty out of the destruction. He can. He’s done it countless times throughout the history of the world, and our lives are no different. But when you’re in the middle of a storm, it doesn’t feel like anything can be beautiful ever again, and it doesn’t feel like anything has a purpose at all.

The disciples were going to feel that too. Jesus knew. And that’s why He told them this. No, I don’t think they got it right away, but we shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples. Many times we miss the point of what Jesus says too.

Everyone faces storms, figurative and literal. It’s part of being human. It’s part of living in this broken world. But what we should never forget is that God is bigger than our storms. Yes, a storm can cause immense damage and can take precious lives, but God is strong enough to help us through it. If He allows us to go through a storm, there’s a reason. There’s nothing random about God’s choices.

God is able to overcome any trouble we face, and for those who belong to Him, we don’t need to fear the world or anything in it. God is bigger than the world’s problems, and He’s strong enough to take disaster and make it beautiful.

It’s our job to remember that. It’s up to us to never give up. Hanging on to faith and hope is difficult, especially when you watch the storm tearing down pieces of your life, but we have to remember that God is in control and He never lets us go through anything without a reason. And no matter how impossible the obstacles in your life may seem, God is still bigger.

Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God’s voice is glorious in the thunder

Have you ever told God what to do? I hate to admit to it, but I do it frequently. I think I know best. I tell Him what I expect out of life, and I expect Him to give it to me. And when He turns around and does something that I don’t expect–usually something I don’t want–I get upset. I worry. I stress out. And while I don’t exactly doubt Him, I certainly don’t feel like trusting Him.

Where exactly do we get the idea that we can tell God what to do? I’m not sure if that’s just part of the human condition or not, and maybe it’s an older sister complex. I have always tended toward the bossy side. But seriously who gets to boss God around? Nobody. Especially not me. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. My proud heart is always full of words and possibilities and opportunities that I think I need to take advantage of, and God is crazy for not letting me do what I think is best.

Anyone else ever catch yourself thinking that way?

Today’s verses are actually an entire passage. I don’t do this often, but the whole chapter was just so good, I had to put the whole thing up, especially with what’s been going on throughout Kansas in the last few weeks with all the flooding and storms. The chapter is from the book of Job, and the person speaking in this chapter is a guy named Elihu, who sort of puts Job and his useless three friends in their places. But regardless of what is happening in this chapter (which is relevant, of course), the words Elihu says here are timeless. They’re still true today. And they are words we all need to remember as we tackle life’s ups and downs.

Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Job 37

“My heart pounds as I think of this.
     It trembles within me.
Listen carefully to the thunder of God’s voice
    as it rolls from his mouth.
It rolls across the heavens,
    and his lightning flashes in every direction.
Then comes the roaring of the thunder—
    the tremendous voice of his majesty.
    He does not restrain it when he speaks.
God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
    We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power.

“He directs the snow to fall on the earth
    and tells the rain to pour down.
Then everyone stops working
    so they can watch his power.
The wild animals take cover
    and stay inside their dens.
The stormy wind comes from its chamber,
    and the driving winds bring the cold.
God’s breath sends the ice,
    freezing wide expanses of water.
He loads the clouds with moisture,
    and they flash with his lightning.
The clouds churn about at his direction.
    They do whatever he commands throughout the earth.
He makes these things happen either to punish people
    or to show his unfailing love.

“Pay attention to this, Job.
    Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God!
Do you know how God controls the storm
    and causes the lightning to flash from his clouds?
Do you understand how he moves the clouds
    with wonderful perfection and skill?
When you are sweltering in your clothes
    and the south wind dies down and everything is still,
he makes the skies reflect the heat like a bronze mirror.
    Can you do that?

“So teach the rest of us what to say to God.
    We are too ignorant to make our own arguments.
Should God be notified that I want to speak?
    Can people even speak when they are confused?
We cannot look at the sun,
    for it shines brightly in the sky
    when the wind clears away the clouds.
So also, golden splendor comes from the mountain of God.
     He is clothed in dazzling splendor.
We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty;
    but even though he is just and righteous,
    he does not destroy us.
No wonder people everywhere fear him.
    All who are wise show him reverence.”

The view from Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Staying focused in the midst of the storm

I didn’t get to do some of the things I’d planned to do last night. I had every intention of getting some laundry done, and I wanted to do my dishes (seriously, I promise). But doing dishes would require me to stand by the window in the kitchen, and last night when I had planned to do my dishes, another massive storm swept through here. The sun is still coming up, so I haven’t been outside to check the damage, but three miles south of me reported tennis-ball sized hail. And I’m pretty sure I heard some that big when they were hitting the house. And when you have tennis ball size hail and 75 mile per hour wind, standing in front of a window isn’t a good idea.

So I sat in the basement, watching the weather reports so I would know how to prepare for what was coming. It was more than one storm cell with lots of pink, red, and yellow. But as I was sitting there, I got to thinking about all the things I could have been doing. Even as the hail started coming down, I thought about the things I would have been able to accomplish if the storm hadn’t interrupted me.

And then I kicked myself. Not literally because that would have taken dexterity I’m not capable of. But mentally because I had some things I could do remotely, using my netbook. Technology is a wonderful thing. So as the storm raged outside, I worked on drama team planning and some of the other writing projects I’d put off because I didn’t have time for them.

No, I didn’t get the dishes done. And my laundry is still dirty. But I did get quite a few things done in spite of the storm.

The view from Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

The view from Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verse is Ephesians 5:16.

Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.

Storms are going to come in our lives. Some are worse than others. Some leave us feeling beaten and battered, and others are more of an annoyance than anything else. But kind of like living in Kansas, if you don’t expect the storms, they’ll blow you off your feet. And if you don’t have a good foundation, you won’t be able to stand up.

You have to expect the storms. They’re part of life. You have to be ready for them, and you have to be able to keep functioning when they hit.

I think that’s part of the Christian life, honestly, is learning how to keep focused and keep doing what God has called you to do even when the storm is raging around you. It’s not easy, but God calls Himself a shelter and a safe place for a reason.

If there’s a storm blowing outside or even if you’re waiting for a storm to get to you because you can see it coming, you have a choice on how to handle it. You can hide from it or you can embrace it. And when I say embrace I don’t mean run outside and take photographs, although that’s perfectly fine. I’ve done my fair share of that.

But don’t use the storm as an excuse to hunker down and stop what you’re doing. Don’t use the storm as a sword to cut yourself off from people or from what God has called you to do. Yes, storms are scary, but weathering them alone is scarier.

You don’t have to stop working just because a storm rises up around you. Do what you need to do to survive it and push forward. Your other choice is to cower in fear of it and do nothing.

Maybe you’re okay with that. I’m not. There’s too much to do. There’s too much wrong in the world. There’s too much at stake. And I personally let too many opportunities pass me by.

So if you’re facing a storm today, don’t be afraid of it. God lets storms into our lives for a reason, and He never leaves us to face them alone. Ask someone for help. Tell someone what you’re feeling. And whatever you do, don’t focus on the storm. Focusing on the storm is what got Peter in trouble when he walked on water with Jesus. Instead, focus on Jesus. Focus on what He’s doing. Focus on what He’s called you to do.

You’ll be amazed at how the size and scope of the storm fades when you do that. And what’s more, you’ll be shocked at how quickly the storm passes.

My office window

A refuge you can trust

One of the hallmarks of Kansas weather is storms. And not just your run of the mill thunderstorms. I’m talking monster tornado-spinning storms with hail like softballs and 80 mile per hour winds. In May, June, July-ish, any storm has the capability of becoming something terrifying. So that’s why many homes around here are built with basements. Because during a tornado, the basement is the safest place to be. Tornadoes pretty much wipe out everything on ground level, which is why mobile homes are so dangerous. But honestly, if you get a really strong tornado, it will destroy everything in its path. You can’t stop it, so you just have to get somewhere safe until it blows over.

Life has storms like that too, in a figurative sense. There are circumstances and situations in life that you can’t control, and the best option is just to hunker down somewhere safe and wait until the storm is over before you raise your head again.

Everyone needs a safe place, a refuge. And those places look different to different people. For some it’s in the companionship of a friend. For others, it’s a more public place. For me, it’s my home. My home, my office especially, isn’t the safest place during a Kansas storm because it’s on the second level, but during the storms of life, there’s no where else I’d rather be.

My office window

My office window - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

But what about the times when the storms you’re facing are too big to escape? What happens when circumstances and situations in your life have isolated you to the point where you can’t reach a place of refuge? It happens. I think it happens more often than we are willing to admit.

Well, for those points in our walk with Christ, we have Psalm 59:16.

   But as for me, I will sing about your power.
      Each morning I will sing with joy about your unfailing love.
   For you have been my refuge,
      a place of safety when I am in distress.

This is one of David’s Psalms written while people were trying to kill him. He had nowhere to run. He had no safe place to be. He just had to keep moving and keep hiding and keep hoping that some day it would stop. But if you read the story of David on the run, you’ll notice that he doesn’t ever really stop and feel sorry for himself. He keeps moving. He keeps busy and active and focused on what he knew to be true — that God was in control and God would eventually work everything out. And when the really hard days came, David took refuge in God.

So how do we do that? Well, what makes a refuge safe? What allows us to feel safe in our refuges?

The answer is trust.

I trust that my storm shelter is going to protect me from a tornado. I trust that my house is a safe place for me to relax and be myself. Those of you who find refuge in friendships, you trust your friends. A refuge is a place you trust that will keep you safe and protect you from the distress of a storm in your life.

Trust is a tricky thing, though, because trust has to be earned. And if it’s ever lost, it’s hard to earn it back again. So maybe we don’t trust God because we feel like He let us down.

But did He really?

It’s inconvenient to go to my storm shelter. There are bugs. And it’s dark. But when the weather man says a storm is coming, he tells me to go there.

In our lives, God knows when trouble is coming. He knows the big picture, the big story, the whole thing from beginning to end. What would make you trust Him more? Would you trust Him more if He allows the trouble to come into your life without helping you prepare for it?

No. If He allowed difficult circumstances into our lives without helping us get ready first, then that would be reason to mistrust Him. But He doesn’t do that. He gives us only so much that we can handle with His help to start out with, and then when the real trouble comes, we’re ready.

He pushes us. He challenges us to grow and get stronger. Yes, a refuge is a place to hide. But you can’t stay there forever. Notice that David says that God has been his refuge. Not that God is or that God was. Has been. It indicates that he’s not hiding anymore.

A refuge is a safe place, but it should also be a place where you recharge your batteries so you can go back out into the fray and face life with fresh energy.

I trust God. I have for a long time, and I can say that He’s never let me down. He challenges me daily, though, and challenges aren’t easy. But they’re necessary if I want to keep growing. And on the days where I just need to be, He’s there. He understands. He’s always ready to comfort and heal and help when life has overwhelmed me. But He loves me too much and has too many plans for me to let me stay there.