Having lived in central Illinois for all but two months of my life, the word winter brings many images to mind. Words like subzero, insulated underwear, frostbite, and hazardous driving conditions. So quick I am to point out the negatives but there are also many beautiful images that come to mind. One of my favorite sights is the limbs of a tree glistening with ice in the first morning light. Oh, and what would winter be without steaming hot cocoa and crackling fireplaces?! No matter how you look at it, winter is just a natural part of life in most places. It is part of the ebb and flow of God’s incredible design for things. A time of rest and renewal I suppose maybe even a sort of hibernation. Things seem so dead and cold, even barren in the winters of nature but we understand the necessity for the season and do our best to make the most of it.
Can the same be true however, when it is winter in our very soul? Most of you have been there at some point or another, maybe some of you are even there right now. It is not a place that we desire to be but according to Job 5:7, “Man is born for trouble.” The disciple John reiterated this truth in chapter 16:33 when he records Jesus’ words, “…in the world you will have tribulation.” In other words, winter will come. It is a natural part of God’s design, not just in regards to weather, but also in our lives. So then the question is what do we do when we feel barren or cold, maybe even dead within? How do we handle the winters of life?
The Bible has much to say on this as well. First and foremost we need to remember that God is in control. He is in control of the delicate spring flowers, the warm summer breezes, the splendor of autumn, and the barren beauty of winter. Jesus ends the verse in chapter 16 by saying, “…but take courage; I have overcome the world.” You can be sure winter will come in some way, shape, or form, but there is no need to worry or fear because God has already won the battle. An awesome picture of this can be found in Acts 12:1-19. We can read here about how James was put to death by King Herod and when the Jews cheered him on he decided to go ahead and arrest Peter to. Peter is then guarded day and night by four squads of soldiers until the Passover season would finish and then he would be put to death. Sounds like winter to me. If I were Peter I think I would be tempted to feel barren and maybe even bitter about the circumstances. I mean here is Peter, serving the Lord with everything he has and by some strange set of events he finds himself sitting in a cold, damp jail cell.
I am amazed though at what I read in Acts. Peter’s actions show that he has a peace about who has “overcome the world.” He slept so soundly that the angels had to hit him to wake him even though he was to be killed the next day, sounds like the peace that surpasses all understanding to me! So step one for Peter was to trust God despite the circumstances. The popular song by Casting Crowns states it this way, “I will praise you in this storm and I will lift my hands because You are who You are, no matter where I am.”
Next step, get some back up. Peter has himself knee deep in winter but in the meantime the church is earnestly praying. They have not given up hope for a brighter tomorrow. (Reminds me of King David crying out to the Lord for his son’s life (Bathsheba’s child) knowing that God could change the situation with a single word) They have learned what Peter knows, God is in control. Not only were the people praying but they were gathered together to pray as a community. Often when we experience winter we run inside and hide, we try to shut out the bitter cold by closing things up. Nothing delights satan more than what I call spiritual hibernation. I once heard a pastor say about these times, “You will probably never desire community less but you will never need it more.” Peter knew that even though he was in grave danger, he was covered in prayer.
The last step you can follow is to cling tenaciously to hope. In winter you feel hopeless-dark but you MUST believe that God is at work even in your winter just as under the soil new plants are only preparing to spring forth. Be patient…rest and prepare for spring! Peter did not allow his surroundings to affect his hope. His hope came from inside, from knowing that he was in God’s hands. If you are familiar with the story of Peter then you know that God did indeed rescue him. As I mentioned earlier, he is sleeping soundly between two guards when the angel of the Lord comes to wake him. As he awakens the chains fall off of his wrists and he is escorted out of the prison to freedom. Spring has come for Peter and God is glorified by the temporary struggle. Remember the truth of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV emphasis mine) There is another awesome promise in God’s word. It comes from Psalm 30 verse 5. “…crying may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning,” (New Century Version) Peter had that joy and so can we, just cling to hope and God will not disappoint! He may not answer the way we think he should or as quickly as we would like but we must trust that He is a loving father who wants what is best for us.
I want to end with an incredible story. This is the story of Horatio Spafford. He was really a rather common man, the most noteworthy thing about him was that he served as lawyer and professor in Chicago. Though he was not well known, he was a close friend with the world famous, D.L. Moody and other Christian leaders of the day. He experienced a huge “winter” in 1870 when he lost his only son. Winter came again in 1871 when the Great Chicago Fire wiped out all of his real estate holdings. Things were barren by all earthly standards but Spafford continued to cling to hope. By the end of 1873, he was preparing to help Moody on a campaign to Great Britain. He sent his wife and four daughters on ahead of him and planned to join them after a few days. On November 22, 1873 there was a deadly collision of two boats and though Mrs. Spafford was rescued none of their daughters were. This was the mother of all blizzards for Mr. Spafford. He boarded a boat and headed to meet up with his wife and comfort her. It was while he journeyed on the same waters that had just claimed his daughters lives that he penned the well known hymn, "It IS Well With My Soul" I will close with the words to that hymn and hope that Mr. Spafford words will be our words as well.
It Is Well With My Soul
When peace, like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul
It is well (it is well) With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Tho satan should buffet, tho trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul!
My sin-O joy of this glorious thought-
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I wbear it no more:
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul!
And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll.
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend,
“Even so” – it is well with my soul.