Sometimes in life we get hit by the perfect storm.
I live in the Lower Blue Mountains of NSW – west of Sydney. At present, we are experiencing a perfect storm – hot temperatures, long term drought, a build up of combustible and dry material, high winds and a terrific fire storm.
Since September 5th 2019 there has been fires burning in NSW and Queensland, which at the time of writing, has burned through 3,900,000 hectares, claimed 8 lives, and destroyed 829 properties.
It is understandable that many have fears and concerns.
And while natural disasters cause collective concern, there are so often times when individuals experience there own personal perfect storm – an unexpected medical diagnosis, the loss of a job, a car accident, sickness, depression, family dramas, breakdown of relationships, financial pressures, death of a loved one.
What do we do when we get hit by the perfect storm – or any storm?
To lament is human and it can be good. Psalm 13 puts words to our lament.
In six short verses, this Psalm moves from anguish to hope.
For the director of music. A psalm of David.
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
In the first two verses, David, the author of this Psalm – cries out to God. Four times he says ‘How long?’ He is in distress, he feels forgotten, he feels as if God has looked away, he feels alone, and he feels defeated.
I can not imagine what it would be like to try and make a living from the land – and to experience years of drought, watch livestock perish, watch crops wilt – and then to have a bush fire go through my property effectively putting the nail in the coffin. Our farmers are rightly distressed, they may feel forgotten, they might assume that God has looked away, many are alone, and many are just defeated.
David in this Psalm, doesn’t know why he is being afflicted. And as we read, we have no idea of how long David has experienced this distress or for how long it might continue.
Despair often leads to questioning – this psalm does not shy away from crying out to God and questioning him – it acknowledges a despairing reality.
What is presented here is a real and godly way to deal with hardship. The burden is not downplayed, we are not assuming that all things should be good or happy, there are no trite expressions calling for people to have a ‘stiff upper lip’, or to ‘make the best of a bad situation’.
What this Psalm teaches us in times of distress – is that it is okay to question God.
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
In the next two verses (vv. 3-4) – we see that David is not lost in despair. He prays. He calls out asking that God would ‘look’, and ‘answer’, and ‘give light’ to him. While still acknowledging a bad situation, David prays to the one who seems so far away – he puts his feelings and his fears aside and puts his faith in front. He calls upon God to help.
This Psalm teaches us how to pray when we are in times of crisis.
It shows us who we are when we pray – it shows us to be mortals who stand on the earth – totally at the mercy of God. And it calls us to be people who don’t push God aside or take matters into our own hands – especially as so many of those matters are things that we have to depend upon God for: rain, end of drought, control of the weather, extinguished fires.
It is to God whom we can appeal for help, support and comfort. Despair has a place to go – and it can be towards hope.
So, cry out to God and question him. Pray and ask him for help and…
… trust and hope in him.
Trust & Hope
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
At start of verse 5, there is a ‘BUT’!
David shows us the alternative to despair. He puts a stake in the sand – he stands his ground – no matter what is happening, he stands with God. He knows that there will be a time ahead when the burden will lift, the trouble will pass, the light will shine and the sky will clear.
And it is at that time (whenever that is), when he will be able to look back as see that God has been standing with him at each point. And at all points, how God has been his salvation.
In times of distress, when answers seem few and far between, trust and hope is what we hold onto. Not a blind trust or a vain hope, but one which helps us put our suffering into perspective.
It may help, to consider how God suffers! And we see that most clearly in Jesus.
He sent Jesus to be one of us – to experience all that we experience including the suffering, the distress, and the burden. And when Jesus was born (as celebrated at Christmas), he was presented to an old and wise man of the temple named Simeon who looked at Jesus and said:
‘My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of the all the nations: a light to all people’. (Luke 2:30-32)
Simeon saw in Jesus what David prayed for – God looked, he answered, he gave his light – he gave his salvation in Jesus.
God is not ignorant of the distress we are under, he has not forgotten us, he has not looked away, he has not left us alone – he joined us in suffering through Jesus.
And it is in Jesus that he has also offered us his salvation – so that we might trust and hope in what he has prepared for us.
What do we do when the perfect storm, or any storm hits?
Cry out to God. Pray to him for help. And…trust and hope in God.
May ‘the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will he himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast’. (1 Peter 5:10)
As Psalm 13 encourages, here is a prayer for times when the perfect storm hits (especially if it is fire or drought):
Dear God of all creation,
Creator of trees and bush, oxygen and combustion, water and rain, life and work.
We are feeling out of control and scared. We are powerless and at the whim of the weather.
We can see the path of the fires and we are feeling frightened for our community and for those at the fire fronts. We are dismayed at the situation that our farmers and bush communities are experiencing because of the seemingly endless drought.
But, we trust in your grace, even when it is not our first inclination. We trust in your wisdom, even when it is hidden from us.
We want you to send rain and relief, we want you to protect those in the bush who are doing so tough, we want you to protect and refresh and strengthen those fire crews who are serving us. We want guidance and strength in order to be your people and to depend on you through Jesus.
Have mercy upon our land, which you have richly blessed with such beauty and majesty. Help us to see with clarity or to look back on this time in days or years to come and see your goodness, faithfulness and presence.
Hear us as we cry to you for help. We ask this in Jesus name Amen.