Reading for today: Psalm 91 and John 18:1-14
My wife’s mother was terrified of storms. Under the little farm house where they lived (and my father-in-law still lives) was a rough-cut cellar, unfinished and dug out of the Tennessee limestone. It was dusty and dank and dark. They used it to spread out potatoes from the garden and to store the jars of green beans she put up every summer. When the storms would come, Granny would usher all the kids into the cellar and make them ride it out. Even after Doris and I were married, if we were visiting and it was storming Granny shewed us into the root cellar.
It is important to know where to go when the storms come. Storm Tracker 5, our local weather station is always cautioning, “Now is the time to go to your safe place.” In middle Tennessee we know, go to Krogers and buy all of the bread and milk and then get in the basement. Under the stairs, in the bathtub with a mattress over your head, your mother-in-law’s cellar, everybody needs a shelter to run to. That’s true physically. It’s also true emotionally and spiritually.
The Psalmist says, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (Psalm 91:1-2). A couple of verses later it reads, “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.” (verse 4) Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind when about this time of the week He stood on the edge of Holy City and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let Me.” (Matthew 23:37) Even at the very time He is facing His own terrible storm, Jesus is concerned about providing a safe place for the people.
This week a college buddy of mine lost his wife. I talked to a young couple yesterday that is facing real financial ruin. Last week a woman came in to Branches so oppressed by fear and anxiety that she could barely sit in the waiting room until her appointment time. All of us at one time or another will face the storms and wonder where we are supposed to take shelter. Aging parents, job loss, wayward kids, terminal illness, the storms have many different names but the need for a safe place to hide is the same. Jesus, says “Come to me all of you that are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) The Psalmist says, “If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.” (Our pastor ends every service with that each week. I like that.)
So how do we get to the shelter when the storms come? Here are some ideas that might be helpful, faithful people, familiar places, and fervent prayer.
The whole Upper Room Discourse, John 13-17, Jesus has surrounded Himself with those He knows best. He doesn’t isolate or withdraw, which we sometimes want to do in the stormy times. He sits down with people that He loves and that love Him. In the 12 Steps, we talk about making the phone call. In church, we call it small groups. I have a bunch of guys I meet with every Thursday morning. Wherever you find them, it is essential to cultivate a few faithful friends that will be there for you when the wind starts howling.
The second suggestion is a familiar place. Jesus went to the Garden. Apparently, He frequented this place a lot when He needed to pray. So much so that Judas knew he would find Jesus there in John 18. This is one reason a church is so important. Maybe you go back to the old homestead. I have a room in my house where I go for my devotions each day. In the stormy times, Doris knows she can find me there.
Finally, prayer. All of John 17 is Jesus praying. Do you think He needed to pray? Did the Father not know what the Son was thinking? Was the Son not sure of the Father’s attentiveness to Him? I think Jesus prayed because it made Him feel better. It was a shelter to turn to. In hospital rooms or counseling offices, I have found that prayer, not only causes God to move on our behalf, but calms us and brings us to a place of safety and shelter.
Perhaps you are facing a storm right now. If you are not, hold on, you will soon enough. Maybe the windows are rattling and Storm Tracker 5 is saying, “Now is the time to get to your safe place.” Invite a few trusted friends over, sit down in that comfortable chair where you have devotions each day, and just pray. It doesn’t have to be eloquent or dramatic, just easy, from the heart, conversational prayer. You will be amazed how the storm moves on, leaving you high and dry.
One other thing, don’t answer the phone. When my mother-in-law was in the cellar and the storms were blowing outside, I couldn’t help myself. I would call the old wall phone that I knew was right beside her. I also knew she couldn’t resist picking it up. “Hello,” she would say in a shaky voice. To which I would respond, ”BOOM!” I have always wondered why she didn’t like me very much.