When I was growing up, our family was not a camping family, and I remember the weekend that became so. I was probably 9 or 10, and my Dad piled us into the station wagon and drove to a spot on the Appalachian Trail for a weekend in the wilderness. He had picked up an old canvas army tent somewhere along the line, and it must have weighed 150 lbs. There were two heavy metal poles to support it, and we could have easily fit another family of five in there (Adrian can be thankful he wasn’t born yet and missed this fun family outing).
After several hours of the hardest work I think I’ve ever done, Dad and I finally got the tent up. A few hours later, we climbed into our cots and sleeping bags for the night. And an hour or two after that, the rain started. This wasn’t a drizzle, it was a soaker, and while that tent was sturdy enough, it leaked like a sieve. We all spent the night sleeping in the car; if we’d stayed in the tent we might have drowned.
If only the storms in our lives were limited to wind and rain. No, our difficulties range from divorce to disease to death. Is there a tent that can withstand those?
The apostle Paul’s tent was strong and waterproof. Envision an old man in a Roman prison. Paul is about 60 years old and has been a follower of Christ for 30. He received 39 lashes on five different occasions. He was beaten with rods on three others. He was once left for dead. He has been imprisoned, deserted by friends and coworkers, and has endured shipwrecks, storms, and starvation. He’s probably half-blind, and is now awaiting trial before the Roman emperor, who has learned to curry favor with the citizens of Rome by killing followers of The Way—of which Paul is the best known.
But Paul also bears the weight of leading the new churches he helped birth. The members are bickering, and false preachers are leading the new Christians astray. Paul’s future is as gloomy as his jail cell. Yet to read his words, you’d think he’d just arrived at a Sandals beach resort. “His letter to the Philippians bears not one word of fear or complaint. Not one!” says author Max Lucado. “He never shakes a fist at God; instead, he lifts his thanks to God and calls on his readers to do the same. ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!’ (Philippians 4:4).”
Paul’s prescription for anxiety begins with a call to rejoice. How can a person obey this command? Is it possible for anyone to maintain an uninterrupted spirit of gladness? No. This is not Paul’s challenge. We are urged to “Rejoice in the Lord.” This verse is a call not to a feeling, but to a decision, and a deeply rooted confidence that God exists, that he is in control, and that he is good. Paul held firm to this belief. He had erected heavy cast-iron tent poles in the center of his soul, and sealed his spiritual tent with the trust that comes from experiencing God’s continual protection and provision. Let Nero rage. Let false teachers self-promote. Let the storms blow. Paul’s tent of faith would never collapse. He had stabilized it with a sturdy belief system.
How is your tent holding up?
Prayer: Lord, the winds are picking up, and the rain is starting to come down sideways, but our tent is grounded firmly in you, and sealed with the promise that you are in control of the storms. Because of this, we will rejoice. Thank you!