Can You Stand the Rain
Way back when I was 19, I led my first Bible study, in a dormitory on the Penn campus under the supervision of my InterVarsity staffer Dave Lamb. It was on Jesus' story of building on rock versus building on sand, from the sixth chapter of the gospel according to Luke. I've led dozens of studies since then, but the first always tends to stick in your head, and that has been the case with me. This notion of building on rock and not on sand - it's harder work at first, but it's worth it in the end, if you believe that storms will eventually come, and of course they will - has been a foundational truth for me to go back to over and over again. As has a similar analogy from nature, that of the importance of roots: if you want to grow higher and bear more fruit, dig deeper.
So I could not help but call that to mind in the midst of the Philadelphia area's recent storm. I was on a deadline so did not stop long to observe the storm in action; in fact, a colleague of mine had to gesture to me and point out the window before I even looked, I was so locked in to my task at hand. But even a quick glance left an impact: hard rain, howling winds, and darkness everywhere in the middle of the day. In retrospect, I wish I would taken more than ten seconds to take it all in.
What I did take in more thoroughly was the storm's aftermath. Riding Aaron home on my bicycle later that day, and going for a run yesterday morning, I came across branches of all sizes hewn all over the place. A very stout tree was snapped in half like a toothpick. An entire street width was rendered impassable by trees on both sides having shed countless branches. I could not help but think of two thick branches I had yanked off the tree right in front of my house several months ago, after they had partially broken off after the last big storm; if I had not yanked them off myself and brought them safely to the ground, they would have easily come off during this storm, and landed right on top of our car.
The notion of "survival of the fittest" is incongruous with the Christian faith. Any belief system that holds fast to the notion that God is so strong that He can and routinely does do mighty things through the weakest of His members cannot agree with the sentiment of culling the weakest from among us. The Bible, church history, and our lives are testament to God's frequent shaming of the strong and exalting of the weak.
And yet, for the individual and for the group, there is a very real way in which we must strive, with God's help and for His glory, to be more strongly rooted and to identify and deal with our weak parts. For storms will come, and weak trees and weak parts of trees will not last. Life will sift, shake, and even strike us. Will we be lost among the wreckage? Or will we be like the centuries-old yellowwood in Bartram's Garden, which was directly hit, significantly damaged, but sturdy enough that it will once again grow to its former heights?
Sometimes even the weakest of trees can last if it is hit by only weak storms, and sometimes even the weakest of storms fells it if it is weak enough. Conversely, sometimes even the strongest of trees cannot last if it is directly hit by a mighty storm, and sometimes even the mightiest of storms cannot fell it if it is strong enough. It can all seem so capricious. Yes, I believe in the sovereignty of God over all storms, natural and metaphorical. But I do not claim to know His ways or reasons.
What I do know is that, however hard or unsexy it is to develop rootedness, it is the wise approach and the right thing to do. Investing the time and effort to build a house on rock and not sand, to cultivate deep roots, to prepare oneself spiritually for life's great storms: these are all things worth doing. In every way, may the carnage of past storms remind us to prepare for the next one.
I leave you with wise words from the boys from Roxbury, none other than 1980's R&B group New Edition. This is from "Can You Stand the Rain."
On a perfect day I know that I can count on you
When that's not possible, tell me can you weather the storm
Cause I need some body who will stand by me
Through the good times and bad times she will always, always be right there
Sunny days, everybody loves them
Tell me baby, can you stand the rain
Storms will come, this we know for sure
Can you stand the rain