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The trouble appears more manageable than the God of the universe. Logic would say, “I have a better shot at fixing the storm than bending God toward my desires.” The reasoning goes like this: “If I can manage my situation, it will be through my self-reliant efforts because I’m not sure God will cooperate with what I want, and He may not want what I want, the way I want it, when I want it.” I recently counseled a lady in a not-so-delightful marriage. She has been in this marriage for nearly three decades. Her thoughts were predominately on how she had messed up and how her husband needed to change. Her thought processes were normal for people in bad marriages. Why not hope and pray your marriage partner will change?
It’s not a wrong prayer. If he changes, she will get what she wants and be happy. However, what the Lord might want for both the husband and wife is missing in this line of reasoning. While it is wise to make sober assessments of how you may need to change or how your spouse needs to change, the more important thing to think about—the one thing that will steady your mind—is the Lord, who is in charge of the storm. While I affirmed my friend for carefully reviewing the sin patterns and how change needed to happen, I appealed to her to think more about her Heavenly Father, the Sovereign Ruler, over all storms. It was hard for her to consider how God might be in her bad marriage. He seemed to be a distant Influencer at best.
Additionally, she believed her decision to marry, and all the ensuing trouble from that decision was outside God’s ability to alter. Though she did not say it this way, she did imply that she had made her bed and must now sleep in it. God was a distant bystander, and it was all her fault. She reasoned, “Because it was my fault, things will not change unless I figure it out and make the appropriate changes.” I suggested she re-prioritize who is really in charge of her mess. She may have made mistakes, but God is in control. His grace always overrules our messes. He is not just in our messes; He is super-attentive to them. He cares too much for us not to be in our messes, no matter how harsh our messes may be or who appears to be the cause of them.
Do you understand the depth of God’s love for you? I mean, really? Do you believe God may bring unremitting pain into your life because He loves you so much? Let me remind you of the gospel if you have trouble understanding this perspective. Carefully think through the scripture below. You could say these things happened because of the evil of men, and you would be correct. Like how my friend sees her situation: her life went bad because of the badness of her husband. She is correct.
And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him (Matthew 27:28-31).
Whether it was her sinful choices or her husband’s, her life has gone wrong in many ways because of multiple influences. But there is another way to think about what is happening, using the gospel story as an illustration: God was orchestrating the gospel events, as the Gospel of Matthew reveals, for His glory and our benefit. We must juxtapose and interact with man’s free moral will and God’s sovereignty. Both are valid and practical in our lives. Somehow, man’s free choices work within God’s total control of everything. If we do not interact with these two truths simultaneously, we could quickly become an emotional shipwreck, especially when trouble comes into our lives.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief (Isaiah 53:10).
God is in your mess just like He was in the crucifixion of His Son because you are important to Him. You’re so important that He would orchestrate the crushing of His Son to save you. The Father loves you that much. He not only brought a storm into His Son’s life, but He will also bring storms into your life. We do not serve a sloppy or haphazard God. He is an active God who gets into the details of our lives—even the sad details. He is in our business in ways beyond our understanding (Job 1:8).
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they (Matthew 6:26)?
But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up (Jonah 1:4).
Our thoughts about our troubles must be about God and what He wants to teach us through those troubles. There are many illustrations of this in the Word of God. Jonah is one such instance. God had called Jonah to do a job, but Jonah did not want to do the job. So God hurled a great storm into Jonah’s life. He hurled this storm because He loved Jonah and did not want him to continue living as he had. You know the story. The word hurled pictures a man throwing a spear at a target. God was hurling a storm at a target. In this case, the target was Jonah. He did this to get his attention. Here is the twofold sequence: God launches a storm into your life; God wants to get your attention.
Our first thought must not be to run like Jonah but to discern what the Father has for us. Perhaps you could say God sent the storm because Jonah was sinning. Okay. Sure. That would be correct, but you cannot say God only sends storms to those actively disobeying Him. He may love someone who is sinning enough to throw a storm at him like He loved Jonah. But we know the storm He sent into Job’s life was not because Job was sinning (Job 1:1). We also know that the storm He sent into Joseph’s life was not because Joseph was sinning (Genesis 37-50). And we certainly understand the Savior was not sinning when He went through His storm.
Attaching all storms to a person’s sin can be dangerous, as though you will get a storm only when you sin. That is at the heart of legalism: “My performance determines how God will interact with me. If I’m good, God will give me favor. If I’m bad, God will hurl a storm at me.” Not only is this poor theology, but it makes a sinful judgment about the gospel. It says our righteousness matters to God and lessens His judgment on Christ. Legalism is dangerous ground. We have no righteousness apart from that which Christ gave to us. It is His righteousness, not ours. If God dealt with us based on righteousness, we would get more than a storm. We would get Hell.
It could be that God has brought a storm into your life for other purposes. Rather than determining whether you deserve the storm based on your performance, it would be better to ascertain what God wants to teach you. Work with objective data, not subjective or speculative thoughts centered on your desires, wishes, or fears. Here are a few sure things you know about God. They will serve you when things are going bad: He is good; He loves you immeasurably; His storms are for His glory, and His storms are for your good. You can bank on these things. Rather than getting angry at the storm or the person you think is perpetrating it, it would be better to huddle up with God and discern why He loves you this way.
If you do not keep your eye focused on the God of your storm, your heart will go to some dangerous places. If you think more about the horizontal realities in your life—the people who may be causing your suffering, your mind will trick you into sinful thinking. In Jonah’s case, God hurled the storm at him because He needed to save Jonah from himself. Rest assured that if God has you in a storm, He somehow seeks to do redemptive work in your life. Creating a storm is one reason parents discipline children. The parent hopes the momentary suffering will warn and deter the child from continued self-destructive behavior. Don’t you agree—parents discipline out of love? Though it is painful for a season, the reward can be eternal.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
A discerning child will understand the storm is for their immediate and long-term benefit. If they are less about getting out of trouble and more about embracing the redemptive value of the storm, they will learn and mature because of it. God brought pain into Jonah’s life because Jonah was running from God. To some degree, we are all running from God. Think deeply about your storm. How does God want you to change? I am asking you a redemptive question. Even through the storm, Jonah did not understand how God could bestow His grace on undeserving people. He did not want to carry God’s redeeming message to the people of Nineveh.
So God sent a storm into Jonah’s life to rescue him from his sinful thinking. Sadly, Jonah did not get the whole redemptive meaning of his trouble. But God would not let go of His friend. So He sent a big fish so Jonah could cool his jets for a few days. This second storm did the trick. Jonah got the message from His loving heavenly Father, and he repented. It would have been better if Jonah had sought the Lord when the storm first came, but he did not.
The first question we must ask when trouble comes is, “What does God want to do for me?” The personal redemptive purpose of our storms is the most critical question we can ask when trouble comes because God is always in our trouble for a good reason. It is more important to discern God before getting involved in the trouble that is happening. Here are some examples of wrong beliefs about God amidst a storm.
God sends storms into our lives to intercept self-destructive behavior. The key is whether or not we will let go of what God wants to change in us. It does not mean God will stop pursuing us if we do not want to change. When the storm came, Jonah refused to change. Then God sent a big fish, which gave Jonah more time to think about his situation. A large fish did the trick for him. When we run from God, expect Him to chase us down. He will not let us go without a stormy intervention. His love for us is so great, and His grace is so immeasurable that He will pursue us even if He has to send a fish to get our attention.
A person in a storm is not entirely oblivious to what God could be up to with him. You may not know everything God is up to, but you will know part of what He is trying to teach you. My friend began to discern a few things God was working into her life through the storm. She had unresolved guilt, regret, bitterness, and anger issues. She also had a wrong view of God, pertaining to why the storm was happening. She did not see God in her storm, thinking her poor marriage was because of her regrettable decision to marry Biff. Poor theology created a relational distance between her and God. My appeal to her was to spend more time with God, thinking through these things.
The last thing she needed to be thinking is that God is not in her trouble. He is right in the center of it all, wanting to show Himself bigger than her problems. Having a God-centered view of trouble does not mean the problems will change. Her marriage may never change, but her perspective and experience with God must change. Who knows—as God begins to change her heart toward Him, she may be able to present a clearer representation of the Savior to her husband. Once she learns to die to herself, she may have a more redemptive effect on others, including her husband. Jonah became a minister of reconciliation when he stopped running from God. Isn’t this the case with us?
Every storm God has brought into my life has resulted in personal transformation. Once I stopped running from how my heart needed change, my usefulness in God’s work increased. How about you? Are you in a storm?
Rather than getting angry or fearful at the storm, lean into God. Discern what He is teaching you. Experience His love while in your storm. If you do this, you will learn what Joseph, Job, Jonah, and Jesus learned—the redemptive value of storms. Who knows, maybe your storm will go away. Maybe not. But one thing is sure: God will change how you relate to Him and give you strength because of the storm He hurls at you. Paul said it this way:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
When the storm hurler hurls the big one, stop and think deeply about what He is doing. He desires to remove all of you from yourself so your satiation and reliance are on Him completely. You will know when you have arrived. You will be a grateful person rather than an angry or complaining one. One of the characteristics of broken people, whom God strengthens, is their gratitude. Paul did not get a change of circumstance per his request. He got God instead, which empowered him to function despite his troubles. Through his weakness, God’s strength was made perfect.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).