Preparing for storm season

Preparing for storm season is part of life in Kansas. Powerful storms and tornadoes are usually the first thing that comes to mind whenever people think about my beloved home state. Even when I was in Ireland, once people realized where I was from, the first thing they asked about was if I had experienced storms.

It was either the tornadoes or The Wizard of Oz. No, I don’t have a dog named Toto. No, I don’t have ruby red slippers. Sorry to disappoint.

Tornadoes are scary things, which is why preparing for storm season matters. I’ve never been in a tornado per se, but I’ve been close to them. I’ve seen them from a distance, and I’ve felt the frightening stillness that proceeds one. I’ve witnessed hail that broke windows and shattered vinyl siding. I’ve seen torrents of rain that washed away roads and drowned wheat crops. And I’ve walked in the debris and rubble of the aftermath. Powerful, dangerous, deadly—tornadoes pose a terrifying threat to people who aren’t ready for them.

But what if you are ready?

In the last ten years, tornadoes have started venturing out of their traditional habitat, the central plains and Midwest. States like Missouri and Massachusetts and Alabama and Georgia have started seeing tornadoes more frequently, and the damage they do is unprecedented. Why? Because few in those parts of the country have ever experienced a storm like that before, and preparing for storm season isn’t something they think about.

In May 2011, an EF5 tornado slammed into Joplin, Missouri. Officially, 158 people died, and more than 1,100 people were injured.

Four years earlier, in May 2007, a gigantic EF5 wedge tornado struck the small Kansas town of Greensburg and leveled 95% of it. The tornado itself was wider than the town. Eleven people died.

Instagram image storm season prepIt was a similar-sized tornado, although the size of the cities was vastly different. So how can one city have seen so many die while the other only a fraction? That’s not to minimize the deaths of 11 people. Any death is tragic. But what made the difference?

There were many reasons, but I wonder if one has to be that the Joplin tornado of 2011 was only the third tornado to hit the city since 1971. That’s three tornadoes in 40 years. Greensburg, on the other hand, probably has at least one close call per year.

People in Greensburg were prepared. They had shelters, safe places, basements. They listened to the warnings and knew what to do and where to go. They were ready.

You can’t expect people who’ve never experienced a tornado to know how to withstand one.

Trouble is natural

Preparing for storm season is a great idea, but we don’t face tornadoes every day. Those aren’t the storms I’m talking about. Jesus told His disciples that facing trouble and storms in this life is something they should expect (John 16:33), and that holds true for us today. So many times, Christians think that life is going to go well for them. We expect to enjoy blessings and good harvests and problem-free lives, and to a certain extent, we are supposed to expect those things. But not from life.

Expect good things from God, but there’s no good thing that comes from life (James 1:17) . Anything good in life is from the Lord directly.

Instead, we’re supposed to expect trouble (1 Peter 4:12). We’re supposed to be on the lookout for storms. This truth shows up in Scripture over and over again. Think of Jesus’ story about the two men who built houses (Matthew 7:24-27). The foolish man built his house on sand; the wise man built his house on the rocks. And when the storm came, the foolish man’s house collapsed.

Storms will come in our lives. There’s no escaping them. So instead of denying that they’re possible or trying to outrun them, isn’t it better to prepare for them?

Preparing for storm season

Build your life on a solid foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10). When you’re putting down the bedrock of your life, be sure you’re building on unchanging truths. God is good. Jesus saves you. The Holy Spirit will guide you. And He’s working everything for our good and His glory, regardless of what it may feel like right now. If that’s your foundation, no storm can collapse it. Sure, the wind might rattle the glass, but your house will stand.

Nahum 1:7Have a safe place to run (Nahum 1:7). Storms hit us in every moment of our lives, and we need to be ready to run to God for help. Throw your worries to Him. Let Him carry the weight of your burdens. Stop trying to carry it yourself or stand up against the wind on your own strength. Rest in His strength.

Hear His instructions and obey (Psalm 32:8-10). God has given us the Bible so that we know what’s right. He teaches us how to live, how to be blessed, how to be wise. But many times, we just hear and don’t put what we’ve learned into practice. You have to do both (James 1:22).

Storms are scary

When the sky goes dark and the wind starts to blow, when thunder is rumbling so loud that it shakes you, it can be terrifying. And you can feel alone. But don’t. Because you’re not. And preparing for storm season means you don’t have to be afraid.

Life works the same way. If you’re a Jesus-follower, storms are going to fall on you. But you don’t have to be afraid of them. God’s already given you everything you need to withstand them. You just have to use it.

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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.

Living in a shelter might be a good idea this year

People who live in Kansas are intimately familiar with storm shelters. Especially this year. We’ve had some crazy storms in the last month. So when I read the verse this morning, I thought first of tornado shelters, but then I thought of one of my favorite movies.

Have you ever seen Blast from the Past? I don’t like romances, but that’s an older romantic comedy . . . with Brendan Fraser . . . so it’s really funny and goofy and I actually enjoy it very much. It’s about this crazy inventor and his family who are terrified that someone is going to drop nuclear weapons on the U.S. back in the late-60s. I think. I can’t really remember the dates. So this guy builds a huge bomb shelter under his house. Well, one night a plane crashes on their house. The guy thinks it’s a nuke and drags his pregnant wife down into the shelter and sets the locks for 30 years. His wife has the baby, and the three of them live in the shelter for 30 years until the locks open and the son returns to the surface looking for a wife. It’s a great movie.

In that movie, these three people lived in their bomb shelter. And it’s kind of funny to say, it made them a close family. The parents were completed invested in the son, and the son grew up adoring his parents. They loved each other. They were a little weird, but their family was strong. So you can imagine what happened when the son returned to the surface in the late 90s. The US wasn’t exactly the stronghold of family values anymore.

Obviously, something like that doesn’t happen in real life. I mean maybe people have tried living in a bomb shelter before. I don’t know. I haven’t researched it, so maybe I shouldn’t be saying it doesn’t happen. But generally speaking, people don’t live like that. If you take Blast from the Past literally . . . . maybe we should.

I thought about this when I read the verse this morning.

Psalm 91:1

1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
      will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

The family in the movie was a little off, yes. But they were loving and compassionate and considerate. The parents loved each other. The child respected the parents. The parents wanted the best for the child. They stuck together because they were everything to each other.

So . . . what is the shelther of the Most High? It’s beautiful language, but poetic metaphor doesn’t do very much for us practically speaking. And if God is telling me that I need to live in the shelter of the Most High, I want to know what it is.

Honestly, I don’t know. And I’m not a biblical scholar so I can’t decipher Hebrew or Aramaic. But I can share what I have discovered over my few years of life that I think is pretty close.

The shelter of the Most High isn’t a building or a cave underground, I don’t think. (Maybe it is. That would be funny.) But it’s a way of living life. It’s a perspective on life. It’s understanding that God is God, that He is sovereign, that He really does know what He’s doing, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises. It’s living your life with that knowledge being central to your every thought.

If you can live your life truly believing that, it changes everything. If you can live your life believing that, it doesn’t matter if you lose your job or your family or if you have to leave everything you’ve ever known or if you can’t ever seem to accomplish your dreams. If you can believe that God is God, that He is sovereign, that He really does know what He’s doing, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises, you understand that nothing ever happens by accident. You can wrap your head around the fact that even though things in your life seem to be going nuts, God still has a plan. And it’s a good plan too.

So when you can live in that knowledge, it becomes obvious how you can rest. You can take it easy. You don’t have to worry about your life or your food or your clothes or anything because God has your back. You can rest because God’s got you covered.

So am I advocating that you build a giant bomb shelter under your house and live there? In Kansas, it might not be a bad idea. That way you don’t have to run for shelter; you’re already there.

But no.

I think a lot of American Christians have forgotten–or never knew–what it’s like to live in God’s shelter. We’ve ventured out so far on our own we’ve either lost sight of it or we never knew it existed in the first place. And now that the storms are hitting us, we don’t have a safe place to take refuge. And that’s why we’re being blown around.

I bet all those people in Alabama and Missouri wish that they’d had a shelter to go to when the tornadoes hit them. Well, the storms of life are stronger, harsher and more frightening than any tornado. And we were never expected to weather them in our own strength.

If you’re tired and weary of all the wind this morning, go back to the shelter. It’s not being weak. It’s the smart thing to do.