“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
-Luke 7:24-27 (NIV)
One is the view I learned growing up in the South, in a town with lots of hills and twisty roads. We didn’t have snowplows. When it snowed, which thankfully was rarely, the department of public works would dump sand on the roads, not salt. It might be noted that sand does not melt snow and ice. As a matter of fact, it offers almost no advantage over driving on just snow.
I think the theory was that if we couldn’t see the snow, we’d all think we were at the beach.
What I learned from these experiences is that snow meant a day off. If the weather guy even whispered the word “snow,” the schools closed and Chattanoogans rushed to the grocery stores to stock up in milk and bread. (I never understood the stocking up. Whatever snow fell rarely stayed around longer than 12 hours. How long did we think we we’re going to be snowed in?) All the kids would bundle up, find our sleds, if we had them, and run out to play. No one tried to go anywhere. The city just came to a halt.
In fact, just last week Chattanooga was paralyzed by the same “storm” that did almost as much damage to Atlanta as the zombie apocalypse in Season 1 of The Walking Dead. Note that in some of the photos of cars scattered all over the road, people milling around, and so forth, you can actually see grass. Chattanooga, you’re my people and I love you. But if you can still see grass, it’s not a snowstorm.
I know that because, 22 years ago or so, I moved to Chicago.
I haven’t seen a blade of grass in my city since early December. We assume it’s still there, but we can’t say for sure, as it’s buried under a good foot of snow. Schools have been closed four days this year, but it’s been because of wind chills of -30, -40 degrees, and a lot of our kids walk to school.
They can, because the sidewalks are more or less cleared. Those who ride in buses or cars to school can get there, because the roads are plowed and salted. Snow doesn’t normally paralyze Chicago. That’s not because we’re a better city than Atlanta or Chattanooga or wherever. It’s because, up here, snow happens. And even when a lot of snow happens, and when it hangs around for a long time, like this winter, we can manage. We might complain. We might not have the best attitudes. But we can carry on. We go to school in the snow. We go to work. We have plows, and salt, and we expect it. So we’re prepared for it.
Ask any Boy Scout, and he’ll tell you that being prepared matters. Ask a good student. Ask an athlete. Ask an ad executive going into an important client meeting, or a mom going out with a baby, or a reporter about to go on the air. If you’re prepared, the odds are better that you won’t get surprised and that you’ll have what you need to succeed.
That said, there are some eventualities in life for which it’s difficult to be prepared. They tend to occur with no warning, or to be so catastrophic as to make preparation impossible: a serious disease, a lost job, a financial reversal, the death of a loved one, a broken relationship. They come out of nowhere and they strike at the very things that give you a sense of security, peace, and joy. They churn up a tsunami of fear, sadness, anger, and despair and tear away at the foundations on which you’ve built your life. Rarely do we see them coming, and when they do rarely do we bounce back easily.
And yet, it seems that we can be prepared, even for those life events for which there seems to be no preparation. It’s counterintuitive, though, because we don’t prepare for catastrophe or tragedy or even a major rearrangement by working at prevention or becoming adept at avoidance. We prepare for life’s big storms by doing something that sounds deceptively simple. We listen. We listen to Jesus. And then what we hear, we put into practice.
Doesn’t matter how extravagant a beach house is, or lovely the view from the porch, if it’s just built on a level place on the sand it’s not going survive a storm. The foundations need to go down to bedrock. It’s foolish to try to build without foundations; when the rain comes down and the flood waters start to rise, that kind of house is coming down. But a house with a foundation will survive.
To extend the metaphor a little: no house avoids all the storms. Some day the wind will blow and the rain will splatter against yours, too. A foundation is the difference between surviving with everything intact and a pile of debris being washed out to sea.
What gives our lives foundation is hearing and doing what Jesus says. You won’t always know how, but the discipline of listening to him and obeying him - even when it’s hard, even when it goes against our particular view of ourselves and the world - will help you trust him during difficult times. It will set you up for endurance. Listening and obeying him is the unwavering support for a life that isn’t paralyzed, even though the wind blows and snow piles up and the groundhog says six more weeks of winter.
Jesus’ words have been published and re-published in every language on earth. They’re all over the internet. His words are in Hollywood scripts, best-selling books, and popular TV shows. It likely wouldn’t take you very long to find his words, in one form or another, in your house right now.
Finding someone who’ll listen to Jesus? To really build a life on what he says? That’s a little more difficult.
Jesus may be the world’s most ignored man. Even in the church, we lift up his words, read them in solemn tones, carve them on our communion tables and project them on big screens. And we do all that so we feel better about the fact that when it comes right down to it, we don’t actually live by his words.
So when death comes, we don’t know what to do. When our standard of living is threatened, we panic. When faced with a debilitating disease, we lose our minds. When we don’t know what to do with our kids, we come to a screeching halt. The storms expose that we’ve been living lives with no foundation. We’re paralyzed.
So, may I presume to tell you to consider Jesus’ words. All of them, the unpopular ones as well as the popular ones, the harsh ones as well as the warm fuzzy ones, the ones that go down easy and the ones that disrupt the life you've built for yourself. Consider his words, and then live by them. Put them into practice. Do what he says. And just see if you won’t be better prepared for the storms that lurk just over the horizon.
If you’ll excuse me, I need to go make sure there’s gas in my snow blower.