“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.” I Thessalonians 5:16-18
During and after Hurricane Ike, praying continually was not a problem. My continuous prayer started long before the first winds began blowing. Having been through this experience on a couple of other occasions, I was quite nervous anticipating what the storm would be like, as well as the potential aftermath. We made the decision to stay, largely based on our experience during the evacuation from Hurricane Rita three years ago, when it took us three hours to get less than 20 miles from our house, and we turned around and went back.
Our prayer list was not a short one. Our church has been pastorless since June, which has put me in the position of being the senior staff member who is “in charge.” So on our minds were our church members, particularly our senior adults. The neighborhood in which our church is located, which is home to more than 80% of our congregation, happens to be a couple of older subdivisions literally in a pine forest, with towering trees. Also, I once lived in Brazoria County, on the coast in the Lake Jackson-Freeport area, and served a church there. Though I have not seen many of those church members in years, I still thought about them and prayed for them. So the continual prayer began in earnest on Friday, as the winds picked up shortly after sunset.
Being joyful was a problem. To be completely honest, I was nervous and frightened. I honestly tried to be joyful. I prayed for joy, I honestly did. And as usual, when you pray, God answers. There were moments that came along to ease my anxiety and help me take my mind off the approaching storm. Whether I reached the point of being joyful, I can’t really say. Several weeks ago, at the beginning of my illness, I had to preach twice and teach a Sunday school lesson on a morning when my leg was aching, I could not stand for long, and taking a shower exhausted me. My prayer on that morning was, “Give me the strength I need to do this.” He did, just at the moment I needed it. My prayer, as I headed for the bedroom with the storm howling outside was, “Give me the strength to endure this.” And He did.
But how to give thanks in all circumstances, which I interpret to include the circumstances before, during and after a Hurricane? It depends on your perspective.
Corrie Ten Boom came across this very passage of scripture during a Bible study she was conducting with her sister while they were prisoners of war in the concentration camp at Ravensbruck, Germany. Imprisoned in terrible conditions with thousands of other women, Corrie’s sister Betsie began to list things for which she was thankful. After a few moments, she thanked God for the fleas that infested the room, the beds, the whole area where they lived and worked during the day. Corrie could not understand how her sister could be thankful for the fleas, until she realized that the fleas kept the German guards from entering the room, which enabled them to have the freedom to minister the gospel to the women in the room all day long.
That puts things in perspective. What we are going through here now is not nearly as bad as being a prisoner in a German concentration camp during World War II. In fact, it is not nearly as bad as a whole host of things most of the rest of the world has to face every day. Somewhere in this storm and its aftermath, there are circumstances that have been created which will open up ministry opportunities to plant seeds of the gospel and to touch people’s lives with the love of God that might not be there otherwise. Considering the needs of most of the rest of the world, a few days without electricity, or an hour and a half wait for gasoline, ice or water, is well worth it. We are alive, have a home that is relatively undamaged, and we will recover. That is a lot for which to give thanks.
Still, it is sometimes difficult to gain that perspective. Who am I to tell anyone else that they should be thankful in all circumstances? There are hundreds of thousands of people all around me now whose lives have been forever changed by this storm. There are thousands of homes, particularly along the coast, that have been made into kindling, and families who have lost everything they owned. So far, the loss of life has been low, but there are families grieving over loved ones. There are thousands who face financial hardships because they will be out of work for weeks until recovery. Among those, I have heard people give thanks that they are alive. I heard one woman say that things can be replaced, and that she was thankful to be alive, to have her family safe, and to have an opportunity to stay with her parents for a while, because she needed to be with them. I can say nothing to those who are suffering more than I am, I can only pray that if I were in the same circumstance, my faith would be that strong.
So many people in this area are without electricity. But yesterday, a cold front blew in, the air was crisp and dry today, with temperatures reaching only into the low 80’s, and tonight, it will dip down into the upper 60’s, which means that houses will be cool and comfortable even without lights. There are those who would say it is just a random act of nature. Perhaps that is the case, nevertheless, it is still something for which thanks can be given to God. He is, after all, the ruler of all nature.