The pioneer period of American development (1840-1890) was a period of rapid expansion into the western half of the United States. Families sold their possessions in the east, made their way to Missouri, launching a journey that would change them and the country. They typically bought a covered wagon, joined a group of fellow pioneers, and headed into an unknown land with an unknown future.
Leaving from Kansas City they took either the Oregon Trail, the California Trail or the Santa Fe Trail. Regardless of the chosen route, they would all travel similar landscapes of the western United States, each landscape having its own challenges and rewards.
The Christian life is like the pioneer’s journey west. None of us has traveled this way before. We have heard stories of previous spiritual pioneers but until we travel it ourselves, it remains a theory, mystery, or fantasy. Like those early pioneers, we may take different routes but we will all encounter similar spiritual landscapes: prairies, deserts, mountains, storms, and valleys. In each one God will develop us and show His glory.
Moses led another group of pioneers. They left Egypt, stopping at Mt. Sinai to get refitted on their way to the Promised Land. In Exodus 33 we are told that Moses took this opportunity to ask God for two things. One was that God’s presence would go with them and the other was that God would show Moses His ways so that he could know Him: “Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight” (Exodus 33:13).
Moses was not just interested in getting from point A to B but in what that journey could teach him about the God he worshiped. We, too, can learn from the ways of God during our journey. Or we can moan and groan our way along, considering the various landscapes intrusions and obstacles to endure.
Each landscape along our journey is an opportunity for God to reveal an aspect of His nature in order that we can more fully see His glory. He leads us . . .
by way of a place (landscape)
where we experience a feeling (an emotion or need)
in order to discover God’s nature (touch or presence)
so we can learn to respond correctly
Consider the common landscape we will call The Way of the Storm. In the storm we experience vulnerability in order for God to show us His power of deliverance or protection so that we will learn to hold on to Him in faith.
The storm is a place where circumstances are beyond our control. Our ship is being tossed around by the wind and waves. We are at risk of capsizing. We are in a survival mode. Life becomes moment by moment.
Nature’s storms are one of the areas man does not control. We can prepare for them, but we do not control them. Likewise our personal storms are usually out of our control. They vary in strength and duration, some last for only a moment while others last a lifetime. Sometimes there are only storm clouds looming in the distance, threatening but never appearing. But when they materialize we feel vulnerable, overwhelmed, helpless, exposed, and defenseless.
It is into this experience of vulnerability that God shows up as our Deliverer or Protector. Sometimes He delivers us out of the storm and other times He protects us through the storm. Either way God meets us in the storm, experiencing Him deep in our souls at a place that vulnerability has opened up. In the storm we can discover a peace from His presence that is not dependent on outward circumstances but on the power of His company.
Fanny Crosby, one of most prolific songwriters of our time, wrote more than 8,000 songs and hymns. They include hymns like Blessed Assurance, Pass Me Not O Blessed Savior, To God Be the Glory, He Hideth My Soul—all this despite the fact that she became blind when only six weeks old.
Later in her life, having experienced God’s presence in her storm, she wrote these words: “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank Him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow, I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”
There are numerous “storm stories” in Scripture that illustrate the presence and plan of God. I don’t imagine any of those caught in the storms would have initially chosen this particular landscape. But they are recorded to encourage us to see beyond the weather to the touch of God.
Through a storm God proclaimed His power and Gospel to a small group of unbelievers when Paul was shipwrecked on the island of Malta on his way to Rome (Acts 27-28).
Through a storm God deepened the faith of His disciples as they experienced vulnerability on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:23-28). We, like they, often cry out to God in the storm, “Don’t you care?” But into this feeling of vulnerability, He deepens our trust and confidence in His presence.
Through a storm God corrected the disobedience of a missionary and proclaimed His holiness to a pagan nation (Jonah).
It is in the storm that we can learn to hold on by faith to the promises and character of God. In the storm life doesn’t get easy, but it often gets really simple, focused. Storms have a way of stripping away the clutter of life and cause us to see the essentials. I remember crossing a large lake in Canada with my dad when a storm came up unexpectedly. In a small aluminum canoe life got real simple. We were not thinking about our plans for next week or even what we were cooking for dinner that night. We had two objectives: keep the bow of the canoe pointed into the waves and paddle hard!
In the landscape of the storm we discover that God is not asleep but powerfully present, delivering us out of the storm or through it. We do not control them but God does, setting their limitations and boundaries. Although we do not control the storms, we can prepare for them. Developing a strong relationship with Christ through a daily devotional life is one of the best ways to prepare for our spiritual storms.
One practical resource we recommend for developing the spiritual practice of meeting with God in the Scripture is a resource called HighQuest. The important thing is to find a tool that works for you and develop this critical habit.
This is the first in a series of articles by Ron Bennett on “Discovering God in the Landscapes of Life.”