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March 9, 2015

Navigating Change

“All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

The only permanent thing in life is change. The Bible reminds us, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NKJV). Change is just a part of life. The winds of change will either make you stronger or knock you down. In marriage, the problems and trials will either draw you closer together or destroy your relationship. In your body, illness and injury can destroy your spirit or make you stronger than ever. In your career, a lost opportunity can snuff out your dream or inspire you to fan the flames more vigorously. It all depends on your response.

The Bible offers proven principles you can put into practice that will enable you to survive the winds of change and fill your sails to propel you forward. Paul, a prisoner on a ship headed for Rome, describes a perfect storm of biblical proportions: “Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the ‘northeaster,’ swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along.” (Acts 27:14-15).

When the ship first encountered the hurricane-force winds, the crew tried to fight it. They tried to sail into the storm, perhaps to find the calm center, but soon they realized the futility of their efforts. It’s hard to stop a storm in progress. Change is inevitable, and you can waste a lot of time and energy trying to fight it. If you don’t learn to adapt to life’s unexpected situations and move along with them, your ship will be destroyed. In the midst of life’s worst blows, you can be tempted to cling to the past and romanticize the way things used to be. We all know people who just can’t adapt to change. The wind shifts direction, and they scramble for security. They get stubborn and think back on how much better it used to be.

The reality is that, if we don’t learn to adapt to the winds of change, we’ll never enjoy life. Change is frightening, uncertain, and threatening; but, it can also be healthy, dynamic, refreshing, and necessary. We must embrace the facts that life is a voyage and our ship will encounter storms at times. If we remain in denial, attempting to control or clinging to the past, we will never be fulfilled. Life is not found in navigating around the winds of change; abundant life is found in these life changes. Alfred Souza observed, “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time to still be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”

We can learn and grow through inevitable changes in life if we will rethink the way we perceive change. Paul was no stranger to this. For fourteen days, he and his shipmates were surrounded by driving rain and inky skies, without any stable landmarks by which to navigate. “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” (Acts 27:20) They began to lose hope because they couldn’t see through the storm. You probably know the feeling. The storm has been raging in your life, and dark clouds have been swirling around you for days, weeks, or years. You’re on the brink of losing hope because you can’t see anything through the storm – nothing to help you get your bearings. If you are about to give up, don’t! As Winston Churchill put it, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

We can learn from Paul’s example; he remained calm in the midst of the crisis. He was the only one on board who stayed confident because he chose to look beyond the storm. He could see beyond the raging waters and gale-force winds to an upcoming, positive change. Human nature inclines us to look only at the immediate problem and its collateral damage rather than any potential positive outcomes. We become negative, depressed, and desperate to escape from our pain and discomfort rather than looking beyond to the long-term effects. Often, we blame God and become bitter that He doesn’t immediately alleviate our situation.

God doesn’t cause the painful changes in our lives, but He uses them and wants to bring good out of them. One way He does this is by growing our character. Psychologist John Townsend says immaturity is demanding that reality adapt to you. In the storms, immature people think, If reality goes my way, then I’m really happy, feeling great. If reality doesn’t go my way, I’m miserable, and I will let everyone know it. Maturity, on the other hand, adapts to reality. And it’s never easy. We’re forced to acknowledge our weakness, set aside our way of doing things, and get in sync with a different, sometimes jarring, rhythm. Believe me; I’ve learned this the hard way.

Reality necessitates that we change how we view the world. Perspective can also help us clarify our priorities. During Paul’s storm-tossed journey, the cargo that had once been so important began to mean little when compared with losing their lives. In Acts 27:18, Luke recorded, “We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard.” The crew started unloading everything that wasn’t tied down to lighten the load so the ship wouldn’t sink. The very same cargo they were so careful to pack onto the ship –I’m sure “Fragile” was written on a lot of the crates – now came off in a careless hurry. What was deemed valuable, just a few days before, suddenly seemed worthless. Whenever storms blow into your life and your ship is being battered, you will be forced to reevaluate your priorities. One of the most important priorities will definitely rise to the top: your relationships.

While we must learn to adapt and change course to ride out the storm, we also have to know when to drop anchor and stay fixed in place. In Paul’s story, Luke wrote, “Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.” (Acts 27:29) You need an anchor that never changes: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) While everything else is changing around you, God never changes. He’s the same God as He was in Bible times. He can work the same miracles in your life today, and He’ll be the same God tomorrow. Paul was confident during the storm because he knew this truth and acted upon it. In Acts 27:23, he explained, “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me.” God anchored Paul with His presence and continues to anchor us the same way, even if we don’t have angels delivering the message.

When hurricane winds blow in your life, remember that He knows right where you are. Maybe it feels like He’s nowhere near and that you’re all alone. Even when you don’t feel His presence, God is still with you. He’s behind the storm, in the midst of the storm, and beyond the storm, always there waiting for you, ever present.

Right now, maybe the storms are beginning to swirl in your life as new clouds gather and the wind picks up. You’re afraid. Angry. Depressed. Anxious. Can’t see your way out. The storm may claim your cargo or, even, claim your boat – as it did with Paul. (All passengers survived; though, the boat finally crashed.) You may be seasick, wet, soul weary, and weak. But, you’re going to make it. God will see you through with the unmovable anchor of His presence and His Word.

No matter how devastating the storm, He will see you through it. He says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT) With God as your navigator, you will know when to ride with the storm and when to drop anchor and stand firm.

Personal Challenge:
1. What storms are you facing in your life today? Are they making you stronger or blowing you apart? Remember, you don’t get to choose what trials come into your life, but you do get to choose your response. What response will you choose today?

2. If you are experiencing the storms of change, make an inventory of items that you need to toss in order to keep your ship sailing smoothly.