I have always enjoyed watching the weather – no, not spending hours at a time watching the Weather Channel, but sitting outside and watching as the clouds begin to build and the storm front approaches. Even the most sunny day will give way to an afternoon thunderstorm as temperatures begin to rise sharply ahead of a descending cold front. I’ve never been to a professional weather-spotting class, but I have watched storm fronts developing long enough and in various locations that normally I can have a rough idea what to expect before the storm hits my area. Types of clouds, refraction of sunlight, and the wind actually undergo some changes as the storm approaches and the first rumble of thunder is heard. Needless to say, because of my love of watching the weather, I am rarely caught off guard by the storms when the “weather begins to turn” – a phrase I picked up from living in southwest central Louisiana that describes a change in weather that occurs suddenly.
It wasn’t until a while back ago that I could even remotely see the “storms of faith” or recognize the warning signs of trials and difficulties as they approached. I was often caught off guard by them and for that reason, there were times that the spiritual storm I was facing caught me off guard. Looking back, it wasn’t that the storm suddenly appeared out of nowhere, but that I was not paying attention to what was happening with me, with the ones I was associating with, or even how far I had begun to wonder away from the Lord. Yes, I believe that God does warn us of approaching storms and times of great trials. During His earthly ministry, Jesus even challenged the Scribes and Pharisees: He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? (Matthew 16:2-3). For much of my life, I believed and as many pastors, Sunday School teachers, and other Christian leaders have taught that this is about the end times. I now believe that not only is Jesus talking about what is yet to come for society but what is yet to come to the individual follower of Christ.
There are times we know when we can expect storms and spiritual difficulties to challenge us. Just as my love of the weather has led me to a better understanding of what to watch for, our love for the Lord Jesus Christ should also give us a better understanding of what we can expect to face. Back when I was pastoring a small church in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, I had an older woman approach me after a Sunday morning service to tell me that her faith in the Lord was so strong that she had never experienced a storm or even a ripple of spiritual difficulties. I will never forget the expression on her face as I asked her the one simple question I ask anyone that tells me this: “Are you sure you’re saved and have completely trusted in Jesus Christ alone as your source of salvation?” It was not out of disrespect for her that I asked this question. It is because as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, you will experience times where you will be tested, you will face storms, you will face nights so dark that you’ll begin to question if the Lord is still there. Satan loves to discourage Christians, our pains and our fears are reasons for his rejoicing especially when we become ineffective for Christ and unable to tell others about His love for us.
We can expect to face a spiritual storm when we continue to dwell in sin. I can actually and unfortunately speak from experience here. Earlier in my Christian walk and before I began to take my faith more seriously, I held on to the sins that I had enjoyed before I became a Christian. I often used the excuse that “God understands that I am only human” and with a less-than-heartfelt and sincere apology, I continued to live within those sins. Looking back at my life before 2006, I was overdue for a spiritual storm. I had ignored the pleadings and later warnings of the Holy Spirit. I had all but ignored the advice offered by God through the Bible. As a child of God, when we no longer are listening to the reasoning and the pleadings of the Holy Spirit, God has no other choice but to use a spiritual storm to get our attention. Even the apostle Paul understood this and provided us this warning and explanation: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth (Hebrews 12:6). If I were to continue in sin and in disobedience and not experience the loving and corrective hand of the Lord, then I would not be one of His children.
The second type of storm we all face is what I call the “spiritual growth storm” because it normally comes right before or after a leap in our spiritual growth process. These storms come to test our resolve in remaining faithful to God. These storms come to teach us; David, the psalmist and king wrote, Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart (Psalms 26:2) and that is exactly what these storms are, God proving the reigns of our hearts. It’s not for His benefit that He does this, but because He wants us to see our progress, or in some cases, lack of progress. He wants us to see that our faith has grown, where we still need to seek His help, and that we can always depend on Him no matter how long the night seems or how dark it gets. Even the prophet Jeremiah understood this and was led by the Holy Spirit to write, I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings (Jeremiah 17:10).