The prayer of Psalm 57 concludes with praise and a statement of determination to keep singing in the midst of threatening turmoil. These words caught my attention this morning after I had been reading about the steady progress of Hurricane Dorian, which one report described as a “monster storm.” Hurricane Dorian will change plans for and cause damage to the property of hundreds of thousands of people this next week. Animals will perish and beaches will suffer erosion. People will be injured; some may die, either as they try to ride out the storm by staying at home or as they attempt to flee from its powerful winds and torrential rain. I lived in coastal Georgia for six years. My work during the last three years of that time in Georgia required me to take several courses from FEMA on disaster preparedness and response. Our team reviewed projections on flooding and other damage that would occur if the area experienced storms of different strengths. I realize just how deadly this storm may become. However, that same study and experience reminds me how true this statement is:
“There’s not room for facts when our minds are occupied by fear” – Hans Rosling, Factfulness, p. 103.
Preparing carefully for adversity reduces uncertainty and fear. Having a “go bag” ready and a planned route for evacuation saves time when it becomes clear the family has to leave. Making sure that property is reinforced and secured before departure will reduce damage. Watching or reading newscasts about the projected path of the storm is helpful so long as we pay attentions to facts and don’t surrender to fear and panic.
How do we prepare spiritually for such an event? “Thoughts and prayers” are only part of our preparation, whether we are in the “cone” of the hurricane’s expected path, or watching from afar. Those who are not in the storm’s path may begin to consider how they will be able to help in its aftermath, remembering that government agencies and local organizations will take the lead in response. They too pray. While some may scoff at prayer’s usefulness, it retains an important role.
“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by” (Psalm 57:1).
Prayer reminds us of God’s care for us. The psalmist prays for protection, but he also realizes that the storm will pass. Part of us still wants to panic and forecast how dire our circumstances will be. As we pray, we trust that God hears and that he will show mercy. The psalmist prays, but he also sings in the midst of the storm, whether literal or metaphorical, that threatens him:
“My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody” (Psalm 57:7).
Trust and faith form the foundation of the believer’s response to disaster. Loss sometimes is only the preface to a new story. I don’t write those words glibly. Grief and loss have been too much part of my own journey. God’s love has sustained me through the care of concerned friends and compassionate strangers. The beauty that surrounds us in his creation has become even clearer and more treasured.
Last weekend, I preached to a church in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. My wife and I enjoyed the calming scenery and relaxing ocean breezes. We made new friends and relished delicious seafood. In coming days, many of those whom we encountered will respond to the approach of the hurricane. We pray that God will protect them and their community. And I hope that after the storm passes, that each of us will be able to pray along with the writer of Psalm 57,
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations, for your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (Psalm 57:9-11).
Storms testify to the dynamic power in God’s creation, but remind us also of the unfathomable resources of the being who made them possible. I know my prayers will remember family and friends in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida especially in the next few days. May our love for God, and our care for one another, sustain those who react to this storm in the days ahead.
* Quotations from the Bible are from the English Standard Version.
When thunder roars and lightning flashes, when winds blow fiercely and hail shatters, we want to cower in fear. We wonder whether we will survive and what costs we will pay if we endure the storm. Give focused clarity of mind and calm resolve to those who feel the brunt of this storm. May they prepare appropriately and flee safely if necessary. We pray for their health and for their security. May we discern in the days ahead how these events make us better as communities and as individuals. May we recognize what reminds us of your power and glory, whether the sheer force of the winds, or the unexpected kindness of a stranger in whom your image resides. Thank you for life, for beauty in your creation, and for the ability to appreciate it. In Jesus’ name, amen.