God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…—Psalm 46:1,2
He will be the sure foundation for your times,
a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.—Isaiah 33:6
Last week I was alone in the office when the building began to shake. For a few seconds, the floor beneath my feet shifted back and forth like one of those platforms suspended between ropes on a playground. The walls moved, which is not something walls normally do. I have only been in a couple of earthquakes in my life, and they were many years ago, so I’m not used to thinking of them as a real possibility. While it was happening, my train of thought ran something like this: “What’s that rumbling? Is that a truck outside? What kind of truck could make the building shake like this? This is way bigger than a truck. What could be doing this? Is it an earthquake? No. Yes? Is this really an earthquake? How long is this going to go on? Should I be doing something? Maybe get in a doorway? How do you know when it’s serious enough to get in a doorway? Is this really an earthquake?”
And then it was over. I know that in Chester, right near the epicenter, there was some moderate property damage, things falling off of shelves and whatnot, but here in Susanville the whole thing was pretty harmless. But for those few seconds, I’ll admit I was a little rattled. I wasn’t afraid for my life or anything like that, just thrown off by the strangeness of the experience.
It’s disconcerting when things that are supposed to be stable start to move. We go through our days assuming that things like walls and floors will always be there, in exactly the same spot. We know that not everything in life is certain, but we feel that some things should be. When you’re reminded that even the ground beneath your feet is subject to change, it calls everything into question. If I can’t even count on that, what on earth do I rely on? Is there anything in this life that’s truly certain?
It’s not only earthquakes that can cause us to feel this way. This past Sunday we said goodbye to Carlin and Sheri Hagen, who have been a part of Community Church for over 30 years. For many people, their presence in our church and their investment in our children has been as reliable as the ground we walk on. When someone like that is taken out of our lives, it shakes things up in a pretty dramatic way. When a pastor leaves, or a good friend moves away, or we lose a job, the change is usually farther-reaching than we are prepared for. When a loved one dies, life is altered, and we have to adjust to a whole new reality, where things we always counted on are no longer there for us. It’s disconcerting when things that are supposed to be stable start to move.
It happens physically too. I’m 47, and I’ve been pretty active my whole life, and it’s catching up to me. One of the realities of aging is that you have parts of your body that you’ve always relied upon, and have never had reason to question, and then all of a sudden they don’t work the way they used to. You find yourself thinking, “I’ve always trusted that joint, never had to think about it, and now it’s not proving to be as reliable as I assumed it was. Why can’t things just stay the way they are? Why are the things I’ve always counted on failing me?”
Of course, there is an answer to that question. The answer is that you were counting on something that was never going to last forever. As long as we place all of our hope in earthly things, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Whether it’s your health or your spouse or your pastor or your government or the very earth itself, everything on this planet is temporary, flawed, and destined to let you down at some point. The problem was in the assumption that these things were stable, immovable. They never were. They may have remained in the same place for a long time, but that didn’t mean they were permanent.
I hurt my shoulder a couple of days ago, and to be honest I’m a little angry about it. I spent the last several months rehabbing an injured knee, and now this. The day before the pool opens for the summer. Ugh. Carey says I push too hard, and she’s probably right. I don’t like admitting that I have my limits. I don’t like facing the fact that this body is only going to continue to fall apart. But it’s deeper than that. I know a pastor who says, “Our anger reveals our idols.” If something gets taken away from me and I’m mad about it, mad at God, mad at the world, it probably shows that that thing was a little too important to me. It’s possible I had given it too large a place in my heart, and placed too much of my hope in that temporary, earthly thing.
There is only One who can be trusted never to fail us. There is only One sure foundation. The Bible says that we need not fear though the earth gives way, because God is our refuge and strength. This means that when people move or die or just plain fail you, God is the One you can turn to. He can heal your pain and meet your needs. It means that if governments collapse and society falls into chaos, His people need not fear; we can be models of hope for hopeless, fearful people. I suppose it even means that when our bodies fall apart, we can have peace, and show the world what it looks like to trust God through all of life’s changes.
What have you been relying on? What do you hope for? Is it something that is destined to fail you? Or is it the Rock, the one who will always be there, now and in eternity? This week, try to identify some things you have placed too much trust in. Consciously turn away from those things and tell God that He is your one and only sure foundation.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”—Matthew 7:24-27