The decision to leave did not come without a lot of internal debate. I was torn by the weight of responsibility. My Dad had come down to help me settle in a new ministry position which was taking longer than expected. We’d only been in Naples, Florida for three weeks and had just started to build relationships with those in my church. Being from Canada and having never experienced a hurricane I had to take my cues from others. As the minutes turned into hours, it was clear that evacuation was the only sensible choice.
We were lucky to escape. We had flights booked for Saturday but something in my spirit told me we needed to get out earlier. After writing a public letter to an airline and garnering the public attention of Canada’s The National, more seats began to open up. After scouring the internet, my heart skipped a beat when I found two seats for a Thursday flight. God had provided a way out. When we arrived at the Fort Myers airport, we learned they would close Saturday morning. Our original flight plans would have left us marooned and in the direct path of a category four hurricane.
Back home in Canada with nothing but a carry-on with a few clothes and my computer we watched as Hurricane Irma assaulted and decimated SouthWest Florida, including Naples. We still do not know the extent of damage done, but there’s plenty of hard work ahead of us.
In the midst of any storm, literal or figurative, it’s easy to wonder where God is. Perhaps even more difficult is choosing to worship God despite the circumstances around us. As humans, we are exactly that: human. We are often guided by emotion. Where as emotions are an important part of the human experience, in the train of life they make a great caboose but a lousy engine. What ought to be driving us and informing our choices is the truth of God’s Word.
When God looks into the future, he never learns anything new. Hurricane Irma didn’t take Him by surprise and in his permissive will, He allowed it to happen. Why it happened may not be revealed to us this side of heaven. But the more pressing question we ought to be asking is, “How will we respond?”
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9
Does God’s worthiness change when natural disaster strikes? Is God any less ‘good’ when we lose our earthly possessions? Is the greatness of God diminished when lives are (seemingly) needlessly lost?
The answer to all of these things of course is a resounding ‘no’. So how can one sincerely worship in a time of a catastrophe and calamity? It’s a choice birthed from an accurate understanding of the Gospel.
Part of the trouble in North America is that some people have put their faith in a Gospel different than Jesus taught. The call to ‘come and die’, ‘deny oneself’ and ‘share in the sufferings of Christ’ presented by Christ in Matthew 16 has been softened and replaced with promises of wealth and prosperity in some circles. Such teaching produces shallow faith when the flood waters rise and has some looking for the exit door when disasters like Irma strike.
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” – Philippians 1:29
More important than our possessions, more important than our comfort and even more important than our happiness is the glory of God. That’s His chief concern. Our greatest purpose as believers is fulfilled when our lives are used up and spent on the greatness and glory of the Almighty.
More often than not, the crucible in which God does the greatest, deepest healing work in our lives comes through suffering. Our worship takes on a new dimension when it’s birthed out of brokenness.
There’s a lot of broken people in SouthWest Florida. As worshippers of the one who is King over the flood (Psalm 29:10), I pray we all submit our lives to our greatest calling: to be emptied, denied and brought low so that the greatness of God and the glory of His Son can be filled, affirmed and lifted high in our lives.
Travis Doucette is Associate Pastor of Worship and Leadership Development at Harvest Bible Chapel Naples. A native of Canada, he is a published songwriter, avid record collector and aspiring bicyclist. He blogs weekly at travisdoucette.com