Prepare now for troubles and temptations

Victor Hugo once wrote a story called "Ninety Three", telling of a ship caught in a terrific storm. When the storm was at its height, the frightened crew heard a terrible crashing sound below deck. Investigation revealed that a cannon had broken loose and was thumping against the inside of the ship threatening to tear gaping holes. Risking their lives, two men went below and successfully secured the cannon. The captain and the crew knew that the loose cannon was far more dangerous than the storm itself. The storm could toss them about, but a loose cannon within, would make holes in the side and sink them.

This story teaches a profound spiritual truth. During several decades of ministry I have witnessed many people who have gone through a variety of different kinds of personal storms or troubles. Whether it was in the form of relationship issues, health problems, financial worries or whatever, those who came through best were individuals who had previously sorted out their "inner life" or "spiritual life" so that they had no "loose cannons" rolling around inside them. Those who faired worst (in some cases even resulting in a nervous breakdown), were those who had never sorted out their inner thoughts or inner relationship with God, so when troubles came they were "sunk from within".

Often people will tell me how much they admire a certain individual because in spite of their troubles they are always smiling and always able to cope. They will then ask "What is their secret?" The secret to their survival is simple-prior to their troubles they are the kind of person who will have sorted out their inner spiritual life so that when trouble comes they are in a position to endure and survive it rather than be overcome by it. They will have developed their spiritual maturity to the point were they know for certain that God really does love them and that He is there beside them in their distress. They will have come to the point where they know the reason why they exist and their purpose on this earth and they will have attained a "sure and certain knowledge" of where they are going in the life beyond. These absolute certainties mean that they cannot be "sunk" or breakdown from "within" because their trust in God never wavers. It saves them from despair or bitterness of spirit, this knowledge placing them in a position of great spiritual strength with all the benefits and power of character which flow from it.

Individuals who aren't certain of God's love and purpose, however, are in a very different position. They are greatly disadvantaged by this lack of faith and their doubts are like a loose cannon within them. Doubts roll from side to side in their head with every trouble that comes along and they are far less able to cope, if indeed cope at all. As has been stated numerous times over the centuries; "Faith and Trust Makes all the Difference".

While all of this is simple commonsense, I seem to be encountering an increasing number of people today who are not only completely unprepared for the troubles of this world but even more alarming, who are making no attempt to get prepared. They are emotionally, psychologically and spiritually weak and yet are doing nothing to strengthen themselves for troubles which lie around the corner. I am astounded by the "head in the sand" mentality which is so prevalent today and I am astonished by the attitude displayed by so many- "I'll deal with bereavement when it comes and not before" or "I'll deal with the troubles of this world only when they come", or indeed "I will deal with God's Day of Judgement when I face it". Leaving a loose cannon in ones inner life until a storm comes is simply not sensible.

One summer task for crofters and farmers in the Scottish Highlands is to strengthen the roofs of their cottages and outbuildings so that when the winter storms begin they are confident that the wind won't blow away the roof! No one leaves this task until the wind starts-it is always done in the summer when the weather is calm. So likewise the Bible exhorts us to use the calm times we experience, in order to develop our spiritual knowledge and spiritual life for future troubles (and of course prepare for that Day when God will judge our lives).

So what form does this spiritual strengthening take? Well, it will of course differ from person to person depending on what weaknesses of character needs to be strengthened, but here are a few general examples; if an individual believes in God, but doesn't know WHY they believe; then they should learn about the evidence and proof for His existence . (Simply believing in God just because someone's parents or friends believe is not sufficient). An individual must know for themselves personally why they believe and why it all makes sense. Notice that the Bible never asks for a blind faith, but instead calls for a "reasoned faith" ie a faith and trust based upon sound logical reasons. Failure to adequately answer a fundamental issue like this when things are calm will only lead to "the loose cannon of doubt" when trouble strikes in the future.

Again, if a person doesn't feel they are right with God, then they should sort out what is wrong and fix it. They need to repent, sort out their lives and put the Lord in His proper place at the centre of their hearts. They need to start listening to their conscience and obey the Lord from the depth of their being in their thoughts and words and deeds.

Then again, there are those who know that they have specific weaknesses of character personal to them, perhaps in the form of attitude problems such as bitterness and complaining, or a lack of humility, a love of power or money, a lack of trust, an addiction etc etc. The time to work through all these various issues is now, when things are calm.

We must sort out all the "loose cannons" we have in our inner/spiritual life no matter what they maybe until they are "securely strapped down". We need to do this now while things are calm. Only if we do this will we be prepared for the great troubles which lies ahead.