Preparing For the Storms of Life

READINGS

Matthew 8:18-27 (Concordant Literal Version)
18 Now Jesus, perceiving the vast throngs about Him, gives an order to come away to the other side.

19 And, approaching, one scribe said to Him, “Teacher, I will be following Thee wheresoever Thou mayest come away.” 20 And Jesus is saying to him, “The jackals have burrows, and the flying creatures of heaven roosts, yet the Son of Mankind has nowhere that He may be reclining His head.” 21 Now a different one of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to come away and entomb my father.” 22 Yet Jesus is saying to him, “Be following Me, and leave the dead to entomb their own dead.”

23 And as He is stepping into the ship, His disciples follow Him. 24 And lo! a great quaking occurred in the sea, so that the ship was covered by the billows. Yet He drowsed. 25 And, approaching, they rouse Him, saying, “Lord! Save us! We are perishing!” 26 And He is saying to them, “Why are you timid, scant of faith? Then, being roused, He rebukes the winds and the sea, and there came a great calm. 27 Now the men marvel, saying, “What manner of Man is this, that the winds as well as the sea are obeying Him?

Apocalypse Explained 419
…in the spiritual world, just as in the natural world, strong winds and storms exist; but the storms in the spiritual world exist from the influx of the Divine into the lower parts where those are who are in evils and falsities. That influx, as it descends out of the heavens towards the lands, which are below, becomes denser and has the appearance of clouds which with the evil are dense and opaque, according to the degree and quality of their evil. These clouds are appearances of falsity from evil, and arise from the spheres of their life, for every angel and every spirit is encompassed by the sphere of his life. When the Divine goes forth powerfully from the Lord as the Sun, and flows into these dense and opaque clouds, a storm arises which is seen by the spirits there just as storms are seen by men on the earth. I was sometimes permitted to have experience of these storms, and also of the east wind, by which the evil were dispersed and cast into the hells, at the time when the Last Judgment was taking place.

SERMON
While life is pretty predictable for most of us most of the time we know that storms will come.  Some storms we can predict, others tend to come out of the blue.  But whether we see them coming or not what we can’t predict is how we are going to handle them, because knowing that we will have to endure storms in life is nothing like actually being in the storm and having to deal with the emotional upheaval that the often unwanted circumstances bring with them.  And that’s the thing with life-storms, they tend to be filled with emotional material that we just don’t seem to be prepared for.

But storms in the natural world serve an important use in clearing the atmosphere of impurities which, if allowed to build-up, would put the general health of the biosphere at serious risk.  So we accept that storms must come, we just don’t want them to come to us.  Spiritual storms bring about conditions in which impurities in our affectional and intellectual life can be dispersed making space for the processes of regeneration to proceed.  There is this wonderful passage from the Heavenly Doctrine that discusses this principle…

AC 842 [3] Before anything is restored to order it is very common for everything to be reduced first of all to a state of confusion resembling chaos so that things that are not compatible may be separated from one another. And once these have been separated the Lord arranges them into order. Phenomena comparable to this take place in nature. There too every single thing is first reduced to a state of confusion before being put in its proper place. Unless atmospheric conditions included strong winds to disperse alien substances, the air could not possibly be cleared, and harmful toxic substances would accumulate in it. The same applies to the human body. Unless all things in the bloodstream, those that are alien as well as those that are congenial, were flowing along together unceasingly and repeatedly into the same heart where they are mixed together, the vital fluids would be in danger of clotting and each constituent could not possibly be precisely disposed to perform its proper function. The same also applies to a person’s regeneration.

The Lord sees all, but we only see in part, and it is this partial seeing that makes the storms of life so difficult to deal with…

DP 203 [2] Consequently it is apparent that the Lord’s Divine providence is universal because it operates in the least particulars, and that this is an infinite and eternal creating, which the Lord has provided for Himself by the creation of the universe…A person sees nothing of this universal providence, and if he were to see it, it could appear to his eyes only as do scattered heaps and assembled piles of materials to passers-by, the materials out of which a house is to be built. But to the Lord it appears as a magnificent palace constantly being built and enlarged.

In storms our faith, or what we profess to believe is tested, and in those who are looking to the Lord through the practise of truths from the Word, these storms work to strengthen what belongs to the life of heaven.

So if we accept that storms will come, then the question is how do we best prepare for them?  The storm that arose in our reading today follows on from a conversation the Lord had with those who professed a desire to follow Him where it says…

18 Now Jesus, perceiving the vast throngs about Him, gives an order to come away to the other side.
19 And, approaching, one scribe said to Him, “Teacher, I will be following Thee wheresoever Thou mayest come away.” 20 And Jesus is saying to him, “The jackals have burrows, and the flying creatures of heaven roosts, yet the Son of Mankind has no where that He may be reclining His head.” 21 Now a different one of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to come away and entomb my father.” 22 Yet Jesus is saying to him, “Be following Me, and leave the dead to entomb their own dead.”

There are two things here.  The first is that following the Lord involves leaving what gives us a sense of security or stability in life behind, “The jackals have burrows, and the flying creatures of heaven roosts, yet the Son of Man has nowhere that He may be reclining His head.”  The second is that we are ask to leave what we, and perhaps others, feel needs attending to – that we first must attend to any loose ends that remain undone before we commit to following the Lord.  The principle here is that when we feel an impulse to follow the Lord then that is the time to respond.  The proprium will always present us with compelling reasons to hold off doing what spiritually we know we need to do.  ““Lord permit me first to come away and entomb my father.”  Yet Jesus is saying to him, “Be following Me, and leave the dead to entomb their own dead.””

On the surface these words seem incredibly harsh, and would have come as a forceful shock to the man certainly, but also to anyone else who heard them.  Following the Lord requires nothing short of a total commitment (AC 6138.2).  The Scriptures declare that we can’t serve two masters, our self and the Lord, for this constitutes a divided mind in which the things of self and the world are loved above all else making any acknowledgement of the Lord as something purely external that ultimately leads to a rejection of what is good and true of which the heavenly life consists.

Where the natural man looks to find its security and sense of self in the temporal things of the world the spiritual man seeks to find its security and sense of self in the Lord or what the Word teaches.  The natural man is focused on external life, whereas the spiritual man is focused on the inner things of the Word and their application to the life of the mind for it is in these things that our eternal security is to be found.  To forgo or put off the inner work of self-examination and repentance because we feel we have to attend to what belongs to external life indicates that we may have misplaced priorities in which natural things take precedence over and above spiritual things, in the end we can’t escape the principle that what we do freely is ultimately what we love to do.

To follow the Word requires that we leave behind the apparent security that we have place in our self with its unexamined self-derived assumptions, values, priorities, beliefs, its historical faith, and those natural relationships of outer life that feed so much into our sense of who we are.  The Word calls us away from these things so that we can examine them in the light of its truth. When our life is identified with outer dimension of life we tend to believe the appearances of our senses over what the Word teaches and it is this that blocks the life of heaven from being more fully established in us.  But in those moments in which we lay aside our reliance on our self and respond to the Word’s prompts to examine what were previously unconscious modes of being, then in that moment, we begin to move from one side of life towards the other.

18 Now Jesus, perceiving the vast throngs about Him, gives an order to come away to the other side….

For there are two sides to life, there is the outer dimension of life and there is the inner dimension of life.  The former belongs to a natural life while the latter belongs to the spiritual life.  So we see that as the “vast throngs” or what belongs to outer life press in the Lord calls us, “to come away to the other side…”   The challenge before every seeker is to leave behind what we are familiar with, that false security that the things of outer life provides and shift our focus onto our inner life where we can engage with those real issues that have eternal consequences.  To do that we are constantly being asked to follow the Lord or the Word into a boat…

23 And as He is stepping into the ship, His disciples follow Him…

To prepare for the storms of life we must leave the security of the shore and place our trust in a boat to carry us on what appears to be a relatively unstable medium represented by this body of water.  Note that it is “His disciples” that “follow Him” into the boat, for these are those who professing a belief in spiritual things are willing to act on those beliefs.  And whenever we act on what we say we believe then we can be sure that our commitment to those beliefs will certainly be tested.  For it is not until we act on what we profess to believe that we are able to discover what beliefs we actually live from.  The boat in this story represents our belief structures, or those ideas we have pulled together from various sources that we use to navigate through life.

That the Lord is present in the vessel shows us that this structure called a “ship” or “boat” represents those thought structures that are able to contain spiritual ideas.  These can only be strengthened by being put to the test in times of turmoil, and so upon entering the boat the disciples find themselves confronted with a storm.  This illustrates the nature of seeking to live a spiritual life.  There is a time for collecting and building up an intellectual sense of what such a life involves, and it is times of relative peace that afford us an opportunity to do that.  So we need to use our time wisely by taking every opportunity to develop our understanding of spiritual realities so that when the emotional storms of life come we have something that can sustain us through the worst of things.

The boat we construct may appear to be unable to cope with what presents in the midst of our life-storms, but this is just that, an appearance.  If we have been looking to the Lord as the Word and making a conscious effort to make spiritual things a priority in our lives then the boat we find ourselves in is well able to carry us because the Lord is in it.  That the Lord is said to be asleep is a comment on our own tendency to forget that the Lord is in full control of every circumstance and situation we have to face, and in our forgetfulness He appears to be asleep to us.  In the midst of the storm while we are battling to keep our heads above water we find ourselves seemingly cut adrift from the very principles that can keep us anchored in a spiritual perspective.  The natural tendency is to look to our own self derived resources to save us, but these storms we have to face are designed to bring us to a place where we see that in and of ourselves we are really powerless.

This realisation is only something that can really hit home when we are brought to the brink, for it is only when it appears that all is lost and that the illusion that we can save ourselves is truly exposed that we remember our true selves by turning to the Lord and what is higher in ourselves.  This turning to the Lord is what is meant by “rousing Him” and saying, “Lord save us! We are perishing.” For the Lord to awaken in us is for us to look to the Word as the source of our life, for in it are those higher ideas that, once worked into our life, bring the presence and power of the Lord into our conscious awareness.  When we are aroused to the presence of the Lord in His Word we see that our own self derived fixed ideas about Him that make up our historical faith are found wanting.  We discover that the faith that is truly saving is found only in those things of the Word that we have firsthand experience of and have made one with our life through practice.  Such faith is unshakable being the Lord Himself with us.  When we remember this and call upon the Lord through making an effort to have what is higher rule our emotional life so we will find that these higher ideas are able to rebuke the wild winds and the turbulent seas of the inner storm so that there is at once a “great calm.”  In these times it will be said of the Word…

27 What manner of Man is this, that the winds as well as the sea are obeying Him?

Amen

About David Millar

My passion revolves around supporting people to engage with the Lord's Word, or Divine truths in the form of sacred texts, to cultivate an intentional spiritual practice. Through the works penned by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) we find that the Biblical texts contain a deeper meaning that, once understood, enables them to be applied in ways that open the human mind to the realisation of its spiritual potential. The goal of the Divine Life is to free each and every human being from the pain of self centred living and bring them into the experience of all that is heavenly through the promotion of what is genuinely good and true. The material shared here is offered in the pursuit of that aim.
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