Navigating a storm
When the above satellite photograph of Hurricane Matthew flashed across social media most of us winced. The meteorologists over at storm team 2 reminded us that it is, indeed, a beast of a storm. And, he's still positioned to make landfall somewhere along the Florida, South Carolina, or North Carolina coasts. At the time I'm writing this, Thursday morning, Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel is deciding where he'll make his next appearance. You know what they say: if you see Jim Cantore in your back yard it's time to get the heck out of Dodge.
Navigating storms is an interesting theme in the New Testament. Jesus taught his closest circle of followers a lesson or two about the sudden and unexpected storms that swept across the Sea of Galilee in his day and continue to do so even now. Matthew introduced this particular incident with these words...
Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the
Matthew 8:24, NIV
You know the play-by-play of this short vignette: Jesus was asleep; the disciples panicked and feared drowning; Jesus rebuked the storm; the winds and waves obeyed. Calm was restored. He taught them that he was Lord of nature. There was a word of spiritual rebuke and instruction in the text as well...
He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”
Matthew 8:26, NIV
The navigational piece in this particular storm was about fear. Humans shouldn't allow fear to throw us into a panic. It's the lesson so often repeated to God's people in both Testaments: fear not, I am with you. Of a truth, some circumstances, especially those related to natural phenomena, ignite fear in the human spirit. It's a circumstantial reality that runs the length and breadth of our lives. His presence, however, is the abiding truth, not subject to our circumstances. When storms strike his presence should superintend those inflamed moments with an unimaginable peace. So, rule one in navigating storms is to be infused with his peace so panic doesn't rule us.
Another profound storm text is Luke's record of the storm at sea in Acts 27. The Apostle Paul, a group of prisoners, and a contingency of guards sailed for Rome. During the journey a horrific storm, a northeaster, struck the sea and threatened the ship and the those on board. Several elements of their response to the storm are notable---
1. They jettisoned the cargo (see Acts 27:18).
There's no indication what was being transported in the cargo hold. The owner
of the ship was on the passenger list, along with the pilot of the vessel, a
centurion and his troop guards, the prisoners, and the ship's crew. Evidently
they valued their lives and well-being more than the cargo being shipped to
Rome. So, they lightened the ship by discarding what was viewed as less
necessary. It reminds me of the advice in Hebrew 12:1 to "...lay aside every
weight...and run with endurance the race that is set before us". Navigating
storms isn't easy. But, the course is all the more difficult if we're weighted by
2. They discarded the ship's tackle (Acts 27:19).
Humans are typically resourceful. Storms, however, often push the envelop of
our navigational systems, in spite of our ingenuity and creative bent. When the
crew tossed the ship's tackle overboard they had arrived at that critical point
when they knew human systems weren't going to guide them. Self-reliance can
be an enemy when facing difficult storms. Perhaps the prayer of Jehoshaphat
fits this situation best: "For we have no power to face this vast army that is
attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you"
(2 Chronicles 20:12).
3. The Christian passenger(s) brought spiritual encouragement.
Luke may have also been a passenger on the ship, including third person
language in the account. Nevertheless, Paul received a messenger from God
during the night with a message for all of them. it was to "take heart" (see
Acts 27:22, 25), "...for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the
ship" (Acts 27:22). Few of us must deal with the storms of life alone. The
Christians in our communities must bring the word of encouragement and
blessing to people who are encountering personal tragedy and hardship.
4. Paul spoke spiritual truth to a pagan audience.
As decisions about their welfare in the storm had to be made, Paul, a Jewish
prisoner, boldly spoke spiritual truth to the Roman centurion. It was a first
century challenge of church and state, if you'll forgive that assessment. The
men wanted to escape in the life boat. Paul strongly advised that the mean
stay aboard the ship until it could be beached. Evidently they perceived that
Paul's words were authentic and true. Perhaps they were convicted by the Holy
Spirit when Paul spoke. My point, however, is that Paul was bold enough to
speak to a Roman government official.
5. Paul acknowledged God's hand in their delivery.
After the decision was made to stay aboard till the ship could be beached, they
were physically nourished in sharing a meal. Paul gave thanks to God, broke the
bread, and distributed the food to the others. He also told them that not a hair
on their heads would be perish (see Acts 27:34-35). They were all encouraged,
followed the guidance of the Apostle Paul, and they all survived the ordeal.
The lessons from these two biblical accounts of storms are basically simple. In a storm we should---
1. Fear not and do not panic.
2. Unload the non-essentials that weigh us down.
3. Avoid prideful self-reliance/
4. Encourage and bless others experiencing the storm.
5. Be bold in speaking spiritual truth in the storm
6. Give God the glory when we survive the storm.
Be safe, prayerful, and alert as this monster storm makes landfall over the next couple of days.