Change is “trending,” apparently. And not just for me.
Among my own friends and acquaintances, so many are in flux: students facing college decisions… parents moving to assisted living… grandmas needing jobs… families who’ve lost loved ones… visionaries struggling to realize dreams… leaders dealing with life-altering illnesses…
How can we all keep our feet on the ground when the winds of change threaten to blow us away?
Don’t Just Drift
There’s a story of a ship full of Roman prisoners caught in the violent wind called Euraquilo. The sailors despaired of controlling the ship’s direction. The record says, “we gave way to [the wind], and let ourselves be driven along.” Soon they had to jettison the ship’s cargo, followed by the tackle, and still they ran reckless before the wind. No one was eating, everyone was panicking.
Except for one man: Paul, the Christian prisoner.
He stood up and calmed down the crew, telling them God had promised they would all survive. How could he do that? By living life focused on something beyond the storm. He was a man with a mission. That mission didn’t change even when he went from freedom to chains to stormy seas.
In their book, Living Forward, Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy make an excellent case for the importance of living life focused on our true priorities, with a clear vision for our future. Without focus, we will be like the Roman ship, driven along by each new situation, without any sense of direction. With focus, however, we can navigate more confidently in our desired direction, while others may be frightened and lost.
But we must pick our focus carefully.
“An Ever-Fixed Mark”
I recently heard Ingolf Schmidt, a pastor from the former East Germany, describe his journey of faith behind the Iron Curtain. He recalled the words of his grandfather, a disillusioned Nazi soldier, after the war: “I was fighting for the wrong things. Never fight for a wrong ideology.”
Yet Ingolf, growing up under communism, wondered if East Germany’s new ideology, too, might be wrong. During his mandatory 18 months in the communist army, he was ordered to shoot anyone who tried to escape over the Berlin Wall. He asked his superiors, “What if it is a woman, a child, a senior citizen?” It didn’t matter, he was told; shoot them.
Revolted, he turned to his favorite consolations, drinking and smoking. Then someone slipped him a Bible, and soon he forgot to drink and smoke in his fascination with Scripture. Stories he had once dismissed as fairy tales or religion for old ladies actually explained the reality of his lost condition—and offered hope.
He remembered Christian classmates he had known, whose faith made them bold. They had simply refused to recite assigned poems that countered their beliefs. He says, “I thought those kids were really brave, because I knew in the moment they do that, their future is over… They will never go to university because the communists will never allow that.”
Now Ingolf wanted what those Christians had. So he asked for it: “Jesus,” he prayed, “if you’re there, please save me.”
Pressure and Promises
Ingolf’s faith soon landed him in trouble. The army punished him with disgusting or meaningless labor. Then his father, a communist working with the secret police, kicked him out of the house. Called up for another stint in the reserves just as he was starting a family, Ingolf stated outright that he would never shoot someone, a position that got him jailed. “Selected” to work in the coal mines, he endured harassment at the hands of his superiors.
Yet his focus never wavered. Ingolf kept his eyes fixed on Jesus, whose promises proved true in every area, from finding him a wife to providing for his family during hard times. In the coal mines, Ingolf rescued a man from committing suicide and then shared verses from the Bible that encouraged him. That man became a Christian and invited others to come hear the good news, too; soon 23 men were meeting to study the Bible together. (Ingolf was then sent home for trouble-making!)
Changes Sweep the Land
Metamorphosis was overtaking East Germany about this time. Citizens were increasingly discontent. U.S. president Ronald Reagan was putting pressure on Russia to “tear down this wall” in Berlin. Still the communist government fought to maintain power. Secret police stalked underground churches like the one Ingolf and his wife held in their home. But when the Schmidts petitioned for permission to meet as a recognized church, five government officials interrogated them and then threw them out of the office, declaring, “We will never permit another church to be built here.”
Two and a half years later, the Berlin Wall came down, the communists lost power, and Ingolf’s church was free to meet openly. When he went back to the same government building where his request to permit his church was rejected, he learned of the tragic lives of those 5 government officials: one was a fugitive, two were in mental institutions, and two had committed suicide.
When change swept in, they lost their footing and were carried off.
Build on the Rock
Pastor Ingolf’s story reminds me that governments rise and fall, economies ebb and flow, and personal circumstances are transitory. Yet Jesus Christ can be depended on through it all. Having put my trust in Him above all else, I can lay claim to the promise that God has “predestined [me] to become conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29)
With that destiny in view, I will face life resolved to keep moving in the direction of Christ. By God’s grace, His Spirit will shape my decisions, my relationships, and my responses to the storms of change.
I hope the same can be said of you.
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