“And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord save us! We are perishing!’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him'”? (Matthew 8: 23-27 NRSV)
The verses above are one of the stories about Jesus that I remember from early on in my childhood. I always thought it was pretty awesome. You see, I’m a weather geek, or what you see referred to on the internet as a “weather enthusiast.” Really that’s just a fancy-speak way of saying that storms fascinate the heck out of me.
This has been on my mind more of late as I’ve been reading a book called “Into the Storm” by storm chaser Reed Timmer. Throughout the book Timmer talks about his experiences seeking out, experiencing, and attempting to learn from severe weather like tornadoes and hurricanes. It’s a real page turner for a guy like me.
In this story from Matthew, the disciples have their own “Into the Storm” moment. Sometime after the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus and his friends board a boat to sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. As they’re sailing along, a big storm blows up on their little boat and not only makes life uncomfortable for them, but makes them fear for their lives.
This must have been a pretty big storm. If you think about it, several of the disciples were fishermen and had probably spent a ton of time on the Sea of Galilee. I can’t imagine that a little rain and wind would shake these experienced sailors so bad that they’re afraid that they’re going to die. They knew the water, and they knew the weather patterns of the area, and they knew they were in trouble.
So where was Jesus? Asleep. Man, how often have I felt like that in life? In fact I’ve felt like that very recently. You’re doing all you can to try be a good follower of Christ and life’s sudden storms blow up and shake you to your core. It feels like Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat and doesn’t really care about what you’re going through.
In this case, the disciples go and pester Jesus enough to wake him and share their fear about the situation. I imagine Jesus maybe gets up slowly, takes a minute to wipe the sleep from his eyes, and maybe shakes his head and give a half smile. Meanwhile the disciples are sitting there thinking: “Come on man! No really, we’re gonna die! Hurry up!”
Jesus finally gets up, and I imagine him shaking his head again as he says to his friends, “Why are you so afraid? Do you really not get it yet?” He walks to the front of the boat, raises his arms, and tells the wind and the sea to be still, and to the amazement of the disciples: the wind and the sea obey immediately. Matthew doesn’t tell us what Jesus did next, but I like to think that he gave his friends a “knowing look” and then returned to his nap.
Something like this would be pretty big news today, don’t you think? Imagine if Reed Timmer, or some other chaser were out in the Plains chasing a huge tornado that was threatening a town, and has his video camera rolls, he sees a man step from a building, rub his eyes, and then tell the tornado to be still, and it instantly disintegrates. My guess is that that footage would fetch top dollar.
And it is nice to know that the One who stills storms is on your side, right? It’s meant to be a comforting thing for us when life’s unexpected storms blow up. Reality presents us with a problem though: God doesn’t always still the storms for us.
And why not? Let’s think back to the story from Matthew for a minute and imagine it playing out a little differently. Let’s say that maybe the disciples didn’t go complain to to Jesus, or maybe he refused to get up and calm the storm. Do you think that the boat would have been swamped and they all would have died? I doubt it. Now, maybe the boat would have been broken up and they all would have been tossed into the sea, but I like to think that even in that distress Christ would have pulled them through, perhaps with a slightly different object lesson in mind, huh?
For me, especially over the last few weeks, the lesson is not that God is going to still all the storms for me, no matter how much I whine about it. He will, I think, get me through them however, with a lesson about life and trust on the other side, trust that when your boat is breaking up around you, if you hold on tight you’ll still manage to get to the other side somehow.
It would be nice if God stilled all our storms, wouldn’t it? I wonder though, what kind of life would that be? Our lives are the sum of all our experiences, good and bad. Through these varied experiences we form ourselves and our identity, and learn how to ride out the storms. These experiences also make it possible for us to be there for, and empathize with others who are going through an “Into the Storm” moment, giving us a chance to truly be the hands and feet of Christ to our neighbor in difficult times.
I don’t always know what the purpose of a storm is. In fact, sometimes I bring them on myself. But I believe, I have to believe that even if God doesn’t still the storm, there is still something to be taken away from it, both to build ourselves up and perhaps to lend aid to others in similar times. It doesn’t make it any easier to go through, but it can be nice to spot a silver lining.
Please think on this, and I’d ask that if you read this, you keep me in your thoughts or prayers as I try to navigate though the storm I’m currently experiencing. I know many of you have, even folks that I don’t know. It does help.
So I leave you with a message that Pastor Gary put on our church sign board sometime ago:
God doesn’t promise a smooth flight, but a safe landing.