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A Storm-Proof Faith

A sermon delivered by Robert F. Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on May 9, 2010.

John 14:23-29

How do you help someone whose life is spinning out of control? Perhaps you know someone who is struggling to keep their head above water. Life, as they have known it, is rapidly and radically changing. They have more questions than answers and they are afraid and confused. How do you help someone in this situation?

I think these were the questions that Jesus had to deal with on the eve of his crucifixion. As concerned as he was for his own well-being, it appears he was even more concerned about his disciples. Life, as they had known it since responding to his call and following him, was getting ready to change abruptly. What could he do to prepare them and help them through this crisis?

John seems to answer this question in what we refer to as the Farewell Discourse, the words of Jesus to his disciples in the Upper Room the night he was betrayed and arrested. In their time together, Jesus spoke directly to the disciples’ fears, anxieties and feelings of despair.

 There is debate about precisely where this discourse begins and ends, but most scholars agree that today’s text is a part of the first segment, which runs from John 13:31 to the end of chapter 14. In all likelihood, the entire discourse runs through chapter 17.

What did Jesus do to help his disciples at this critical time? From John’s perspective, he told them the truth, gave them hope and challenged them to be faithful in the midst of adversity. I like what this teaches us about helping family members and friends with their struggles.

If you want to help someone who is afraid and confused, tell them the truth. Jesus did this with his disciples.

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer” Jesus told the disciples that evening in the Upper Room as he began this Final Discourse (13:33a). He repeated it several times, even when they interrupted him with resistance to what he was saying or voiced the difficulty they felt.

Why did Jesus tell them the painful truth about his imminent death? He loved them too much to do otherwise.

He certainly took no delight in doing this and chose his words carefully. They are laced with compassion and tenderness, but are, nonetheless, honest and straightforward. He wanted to prepare them, as best he could, for the changes that were coming. This is what loving and responsible parents do, and he was assuming that role in their lives on this dark and stormy night.

At times, all of us need to assume the role of prophet and parent and tell those around us what we sense and see. Living in denial or withholding vital information helps no one. As a matter of fact, it only makes a bad situation worse.

Because my dad believed this, he helped to prepare me for one of the most difficult times our family faced. When I was a junior in high school, my dad lost his business, a Ford dealership. Six months before this occurred, my father began talking to me about what he sensed and saw. Changes had already been made in our lifestyle, but he told me that more radical ones were looming. In all likelihood, we would lose our home and other possessions, which we did.

I know it was hard for him to talk to me, but he did not want me to be caught completely off guard. He was doing his best to prepare me for the changes that were inevitably coming. Even in my anger and confusion, I appreciated that.

Responding to change in a healthy way begins with discovering the truth, the brutal facts as some have referred to it. We cannot confront what we do not acknowledge.

Who needs you to be as honest as Jesus was with his disciples? Whose voice do you need to hear? Too much is at stake for you to refuse to do either.

If you want to help someone facing radical changes and stiff challenges, don’t leave them in despair, but give them hope. Of course, Jesus’ words about leaving them were disturbing and disappointing. They were not, however, the only words that he spoke.

He would never let death and destruction have the final word in their lives. This is why this discourse is filled with words of assurance, comfort and hope. Jesus cast a vision of a future shaped by God, not evil, in which He was always available to help them.

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” John 14:25-27.

Recently, I explained to my Sunday school class the meaning of this word, peace. From what I understand, it is not the absence of anything, especially turmoil and tears. Instead, it is the presence of someone, in this case, the Holy Spirit, who would do for them the very things that Jesus had done.

The Spirit would accompany them on their journey just as Jesus had because their hearts would become the home of God. He would listen to their prayers and respond with grace and compassion. He would instruct, guide, empower, encourage and comfort them. He would give them the courage to live without fear. Everything that Jesus did, the Spirit would do. At no time would they be left without the presence or power of God in their lives.

I have discovered that hope usually comes in the form of someone, not something, beginning with God, but including His people. The day my father’s business closed, one of his friends and local competitors walked into my dad’s dealership and told him that he had a car parked out front for him to drive. He then told my father that he had a job waiting for him the next day. 

Yes, hope comes in the form of people. This is why we talk a lot at Smoke Rise about being the presence of Christ in a broken world. What people who are struggling need is a listening ear and a helping hand. They need a safe place to fall. They need community, the birthplace of hope.

 If you want to help someone whose life seems to be collapsing around them, be there for them. Fill the gap. Listen to their story and graciously respond with compassion. Walk in their shoes. Roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. Be their advocate, counselor and encourager.

When you do, I think you not only offer hope and peace to others, but I think you also receive it. For you see, this promise is not addressed to an individual, but individuals in a group. All the pronouns in this text are plural. This peace was given by Jesus to a community of believers whose purpose was to share it.

Where can you find this kind of community? I hope you have found it in your family or among your friends. I am confident you will find it in this church, because I know the hearts of the members, and they are filled with compassion and grace. They will embrace you and walk with you along your journey.

Finally, if you want to help someone whose foundation is shifting underneath them, encourage them to remain faithful in the midst of adversity. Jesus also did this for his disciples.

“Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them” John 14:23.

You would think he would not ask anything of them during this crisis. Why add more stress to their lives? However, Jesus knew what he taught them would serve them well during these turbulent days. Trusting him and doing what he taught them would be their salvation. It would keep them focused and together. It would give them direction and guidance. It would provide just what they needed.

“Keep on keeping on,” I like to tell people who are struggling. “Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Persevere. It will be worth it.” Sometimes, just a word of encouragement will make a difference in whether someone makes it through a storm or not.

I have a friend who is making some lifestyle changes. This means he is overweight and out of shape and is doing something about it. Recently, he ran his first 5K. It was a challenge for him and he almost quit half way into the race.

He got his second wind when a friend came alongside him and offered words of encouragement. “Don’t quit,” he said, “you can do this and you will feel so good about yourself after you do.”

That’s all it took for him to stay focused and keep going. He did finish the race and yes, he did feel good about what he had done.

Who needs your encouragement today? What could you say or do that would lift their spirit and help them to” keep on keeping on?” I hope you will run alongside them this week and say it.