In the Middle of a Storm: does prayer turn hurricanes or hearts?

The Lord is good,
    a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,

Nahum 1:7

So there is a lot of excitement, anxiety, trepidation, concern and more in Florida this week, with the promise of Hurricane Ian smashing into the Tampa area as a major storm. Even over in Orlando, where our grandchildren live, it looks like the impact will be significant.

Tampa has not had a direct hit in more than 100 years. Lots of close calls, but always enough deviation to make the difference between inconvenience and catastrophe. We lost power any number of times during our 17 years in Brandon, but the effect of a direct hit pushing wind and water up into Hillsborough County from the southwest would be a calamity without precedent.

So I hope and pray that the usual forces of inconsistency will jog Ian’s trajectory to avoid such a worst-case scenario. But at the same time my prayer is modified by the following story that played out in the 1980’s, back when we lived in Pensacola.

Some pesky hurricane (I forget the year and the name), was wandering through the Gulf of Mexico and tracking directly at our home in the Florida Panhandle. A friend called from Sarasota:

  • “We’re praying for you,” she said. “And we’re believing God can turn this storm around!” (They went to one of those churches where there was a lot of “name it and claim it” stuff going on).
  • “I don’t doubt that God can do anything,” I responded; “but I’m not sure sending this hurricane somewhere else is a better option.”
  • “My prayer group are claiming God’s favor for you!” she insisted. Then someone else in her circle apparently “commanded” the storm to turn around “in Jesus’ name…”

Sure enough, the storm changed course.

So I called back. “Nice job,” I said. “Now it’s aimed directly at Sarasota! Now what?”

My point of course was/is that there were likely people in many communities praying that the storm would go somewhere else. Is it a competition? Are some people better at storm-steering prayers? Does God “favor” one person’s prayer over another?

God’s promise is to be with us!

Instead, I like the focus of trusting that God will be with us in the middle of whatever storm we may find ourselves in. If my prayer is about changing anything then let it be about changing me.

Meanwhile, back in Orlando, the grandchildren seem to have the right spirit. “You don’t ever see unhappy people playing the ukulele,” Rebekah often says.

– Beks and Geoffrey playing uke

We were talking about this during our morning devotions today, discussing people who seem to think that worship should be so serious and dour the life is sucked right out of it. “The shorter catechism instructs us to find joy in our salvation,” Rebekah said. And salvation, I always say, is this daily imperative to participate in God’s initiatives of love, mercy, light, grace, peace, justice etc.

Storms come and go, and I pray that this particular hurricane will do much less damage and cause far less distress than is forecast. Yet, more than anything, I pray that those in its path will know the peace, the comfort, and the assurance of experiencing God with them regardless.

Love, grace, and – most of all – mercy – DEREK


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