You will say these words more than once in your life, “I didn’t see that coming!” Your best efforts in life cannot stop unexpected occurrences, and they bring out the best or worst in us. A sudden tragedy or catastrophic event reveals courage or stark terror. In the midst of high pressure, some stand and answer the call with bravery while others cower in fear. How do we prepare for life-altering events in life? Even better question, is it even possible to prepare for such things?
In May of 2018, a pilot, Tammie Jo Shults, rose as a modern-day heroine. Flying from New York City for Southwest Airlines, an engine on the Boeing 737 blew out at 30,000 feet. Shrapnel pierced the plane and shattered windows. A strong vacuum sucked one person from her seat, while others sustained injuries. Nearby passengers pulled the woman back into the aircraft, but she died later. Horrifiying!
With nerves of steel, Tammie Jo Shults landed the plane in Philadelphia with calm precision saving the lives of over 100 people. As the passengers disembarked, she spoke to each one, endeavoring to leave a personal touch of compassion for those enduring the aftermath of a bloodcurdling event. Wow — what a woman!
Pilot training is rigorous, known for strenuous testing and hours of practice in simulators. Trained to recover from every imaginable catastrophic event, pilots rise above most professionals as far as preparation. In fact, anticipating the unexpected is their specialty. Barring the rare exception, I believe this is one reason that flying is one of the safest modes of transportation.
It is possible in our spiritual lives to prepare for life-altering events, sudden sickness, tragedy, even death. As history proves, rote-practice does make perfect, at least perfect enough to endure with valor the unexpected.
While pondering this thought and asking the Lord, “How do we prepare?”, a few verses from my daily Bible rose from the page.
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment (Luke 23:55-56).
These women loved Jesus. Their hopes and dreams for today and tomorrow hinged on him, knowing him, following him, and loving him. Jesus became the one and only that made a difference in their lives. They witnessed healings, miracles, and felt His compassion. And then…sudden disappointment — tragedy. His death. Although, he spoke of it and tried to prepare them — not all heard, believed, or understood.
One beautiful part of the story is that the women stayed after His death. Their dreams crumbled as some removed his dead body from the cross. Smitten with grief, they walked with Joseph of Arimathea to the garden and stood in shock with numb disbelief as they peered into the sepulcher and saw Jesus’ lifeless form shrouded with grave-clothes. They asked themselves, “Why?” They wondered how the glory of the past few years could end in such devastating disappointment?
But look at how the women responded. They returned home. I think this is the first clue in preparedness for sudden shocks is knowing where home is and developing a life of meaning and substance there. This is more of a commuity than a place. It may or may not be with family, and you don’t have to be married to find home. There is a place of shelter for all — widows, orphans, singles. Home is where you are loved and accepted. Proverbs 17:17 tells us “a brother is born to help in time of need.” Keep your fences mended in your home situation. Someday tragedy will strike in some form, and you will need each other for strength.
Home is the place of shelter, food, and water — the three very basic needs of humankind. Spiritually it is the same — a hiding place from the storms of life, a place where God’s Words feeds us, and where His living water washes us routinely. There are both corporate and private feeding and washing places. The home is private.
Here you can eat and drink as much of the Word as you desire. Here you can take the Word as sustenance and armor to prepare for whatever the world hands us — good or evil. Familiarity with such verses as Psalm 23, Isaiah 40:31-41, and Psalm 91, 103 and 139 strengthen our souls and spirits into steel for the day of trouble. But we must feed on these regularly and with great delight to gain the vitality of valor needed for the battle just outside the door.
Sacrifice of Praise
Secondly the women prepared spices, according to the Jewish burial tradition. We will never know if they hurriedly bought spices or took them from their privates stashes at home. What is known is that our Lord’s body had already been anointed for burial — while he was living, by Mary’s and her broken alabaster box of spiced oils (Matthew 26:6-13) and with ointments and linen purchased by Nicodemus and Joseph (John 19:38-42). Still, the women bought and prepared spices of their own. This act came from deep devotion and may have come at great sacrifice for them financially. This is a beautiful metaphor for making a sacrifice of praise amidst disappointment or setbacks.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Gather fragrant spices–resin droplets, mollusk shell, and galbanum–and mix these fragrant spices with pure frankincense, weighed out in equal amounts. Using the usual techniques of the incense maker, blend the spices together and sprinkle them with salt to produce a pure and holy incense (Exodus 30:34-35).
God created and commanded a special spice blend for the priest of the Israel to mix that would burn and rise as a sweet fragrant offering in the Temple. Described in detail in scripture the priest learned not to veer from this recipe. Sudden death ensued if strange mixes and fires were offered (Lev 10:1-2).
Our prayers and sacrifices of praise, even our very lives, are a sweet aroma to God and the world.
Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the young women love you! (Song of Songs 1:3).
To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory (Isaiah 61:3).
Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing (I Corinthians 2:15).
Our prayers and sacrifices of praise are a sweet aroma as well.
Revelation 5:8 says that our sacrifices of prayer are so fragrant that God collects them in “golden bowls” in Heaven. He cherishes them and keeps them close one would enjoy a bouquet of freshly-cut flowers.
The act of opening your mouth and praising God during a crisis takes faith. It pierces the weight of darkness endeavoring to engulf and even snuff out your life. It lets the light in! Praise him — not for the evil but because He is always good and can be trusted in all circumstances. The simple admonishment in the New Covenant, “Rejoice and again I say, Rejoice!” says it all. Give thanks in all things. The daily practice of praise and thanksgiving will prepare your heart for any blow the enemy would evoke.
Lean in and Rest
After the women prepared spices, they rested for the Sabbath had come. This was their normal tradition, and even great tragedy did not alter this custom. This is a beautiful illustration for ultimate trust. Often in life-altering events, we are reduced to nothing, inactivity. And it is the hardest lesson — to sit still and rest. There are some circumstances that love or money cannot change. Only heavenly intervention will remedy the situation. So rest. When you have found the shelter of home, used the Word, made sacrifice, now lean into the arms of Jesus and rest. Depend on him alone to intervene according to his will.
Expect a Miracle
We know the glorious end of the story. The next morning the women arrived at the tomb to find the stone rolled away and angels telling them that Jesus had arisen from the dead! What a miracle at the end of the darkest night of their souls and the longest and most silent Shabbat of their lives!
God responded to the women’s display of faith and courage, and He answered in the most unexpected way. Jesus rose from the dead; but within a short time, He ascended into heaven. He left them physically but gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit. God will answer your prayers during tradgey in ways you cannot imagine now. Release Him to bring you into a new and higher plane of trust. He loves you and wants the best.
God longs for you to be prepared for the unexpected. Trouble is part of living in our body of flesh and bones and walking on the dust of the earth (Job 5:7), although you may not see it coming, you can rise to the challenge of bravery and victory. Just like the pilot that endures rigorous testing to know how to react, you have opportunity to fine-tune your life-saving, life-rescuing skills in daily life. Stay in that simulator until you know what to do when the engine goes out at 30,000 feet.