Over the past few weeks, people around the world have been glued to a live online 24-hour camera feed, focused on an explosive fissure of the Kilauea Volcano. The camera is set up at a personal residence on Hawaii’s big island, about a half mile from the fissure. When you tune in to the feed, you can hear crickets, tropical birds, the wind in the trees and even an occasional rooster.
But less than a mile away, smoke billows, the earth rumbles and powerful lava fountains shoot huge geysers of molten rock into the sky. Over in the nearby Leilani Estates, vast cracks have opened up in the earth, threatening to swallow farms and homes. Well-traveled roads and familiar landmarks have been changed forever by a tide of flowing lava.
On one news website I saw the unbelievable image of some determined golfers who kept “playing through” even as massive ash and steam clouds billowed into the sky just behind them.
Hawaii may seem like a world away from you right now, but the truth is, everyone you know, including you and your family, live next to a live volcano. I’m talking about those moments in our lives when – without warning – the earth shifts under our feet and life changes forever.
At 9 o’clock on a Thursday morning a little less than 10 years ago, it happened to the Laurie family. Our 33-year-old son Christopher left suddenly for heaven after a traffic accident on the freeway. One moment everything was normal and life seemed to be moving along a steady, somewhat predictable, happy course. And then in an instant, the volcano erupted, and fissures opened beneath our feet, swallowing up our familiar world, our plans and our routines in an instant.
It’s a fact of life for every one of us. Somewhere along the way, some of us may have picked up the false notion that Christians ought to be exempt from suffering, or that “tragedies only happen to others.” Someone else will face a divorce, but not me. Someone else will get a diagnosis of cancer, but not me. Someone else will be seriously injured in a car wreck, but not me. Someone else will have problems with their kids, but not me.
If that’s what you’ve been telling yourself, then it’s time you woke up and smelled the coffee. It really doesn’t matter how much you love the Lord or how much the Lord loves you – you are not exempt from crisis or tragedy or heartache. Sooner or later, your life will be touched by these things. The storm will come, the volcano will blow, and the Lord – along with the people who know you – will be watching to see how you respond.
And you never know when it will happen. Hawaii has certainly had its share of trauma this year. This past January, an emergency alert notification was sent out via cellphones, TV and radio that the islands were about to come under attack from North Korean nuclear missiles. The official alert read: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” The mistake was soon corrected, but not before the population was sent into a very sudden and terrifying panic.
The point is this: Every one of us living on this planet walks on the edge of a major, sometimes devastating life change. That’s not pessimism or gloomy talk, it’s simply the fabric of life on a fallen planet.
Just this week I heard about an ultra-marathoner – a strong Christian man at the very peak of health and physical conditioning – who collapsed on a running trail from a massive stroke. He never saw it coming when he laced on his running shoes that morning. No one did!
Sorrows come into all of our lives. You will experience heartache, as Cathe and I have, as well as disappointments, letdowns and heartbreaks. And there will also be those times when the earth itself seems to shift beneath your feet and everything changes.
Jesus told us it would be like this. He said to His disciples: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
When you have Jesus in the very center of your life, you can overcome anything and live through any life change, no matter how shocking or heartbreaking. No, it won’t be easy. But you will have strength and comfort and peace beyond anything this world can offer. As the psalmist wrote: “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2, NLT).
But what if you don’t have Jesus?
How do you handle the volcanoes in life when you don’t have the comfort of God’s Spirit or the hope of heaven? How do you face the death of a loved one, the breakup of a marriage, a medical emergency, a financial meltdown, or a legal crisis without the strong arm of the Lord around your shoulders? That’s the way it is for many of your neighbors, coworkers and friends right now. They’re either trying to cope with a life eruption or they are right on the edge of one.
Right now, or very soon, they will need a hope and strength so much greater than their own. This is the urgency of our task as believers. We need to use every opportunity God gives us to speak about our faith in Christ and tell people how they can find a new reason and purpose for living and an assurance of eternal life when our brief time on earth comes to an end.
Greg Laurie is the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, an author of more than 70 books, and an evangelist leading Harvest America, a live nationwide event streamed to thousands of host locations. Read more at Harvest.org.