Are you in a storm? If not you have just gone through one or are about to enter one again. Now that is a negative view of life you might say. Sorry, “that’s life.” As the psalmist David said in Psalm 23, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NKJV). He wrote this near the end of his tumultuous life. It’s just the way it is. We are in valleys most of the time. But remember that the flowers grow and the rivers flow in the valleys of life. It is our fertile place to live and learn.
The biggest storm story in Scripture is in the Book of Acts when Paul is being taken by ship to a Roman prison when a huge storm arises:
“When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.
After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island” (Acts 27:13-25).
The ship wrecked and ran aground, but all the men survived as God had told Paul. There are some important storm lessons in this passage worth emphasizing in preparation for your next storm. Notice how there were five precautionary measures that the ship’s crew took to prepare the ship or baton it down for the storm. How about starting with bringing their lifeboat on board so it would not be washed away. It is good to have a lifeboat, even God. They wrapped or “frapped” the ship with ropes to help hold it together. I like to compare this to the Galatians 5:23 passage of “putting on the whole armor of God” for protection, defense and offense against the enemy. They put out a sea anchor to slow down the ship and threw unnecessary rigging and cargo overboard. Are you carrying excess cargo of some kind in your life? It may be debt or the wrong friends or weight. It may be forgiveness, yes, that will burden you big time. Then Paul stepped forward and encouraged the frightened men. He told them that an angel God had told him to not fear for none would perish.
Luke in telling the story neglected to tell us that Paul was an experienced seafarer having made eleven voyages at sea. But now he was not an Apostle, but just an ordinary man with extraordinary courage. So next, after telling them to be of good courage, he tells them to eat something so that they might survive, as they had taken no food for days in the storm.
Now the men were afraid and made plans to abandon ship. But Paul somehow knew their plans and urged them to stay with the ship or they would perish. As he took the bread he broke it and gave thanks to his Father in heaven just as we do in the Eucharist. Yes, Paul prayed and gave thanks. That should always be our response in and out of trouble and calm. Storms and shipwrecks will come, but the Lord is sovereign and will deliver us through the storm. As 1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us,
“No temptation (trial) has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Do you get this? All things are possible with God’s help. Don’t think you’ve got this and can do it on your own. No, God is our strength, refuge and shield from and through the storms of life. Don’t leave home without Him and praying for His accompaniment as you travel the trails of life.
I have encountered many trials in life on my own. Actually I have caused many trials to occur all on my own. Sure others may have been involved, but I was definitely in them. For a long time in my life I ran from trials. Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife. Now that was a good idea. I have run into circumstances that have caused storms. And I have also run from hard or stormy life situations. Why? Perhaps fear of failure or fear of pain were selfishly involved. When I have really struggled, I think it has been because I have not sought God’s hand through the storm. Fear will overcome without the Lord at our side and our center. Even with the Lord, storms may seem overwhelming at times.
Specifically I recall the incredibly traumatic implosion of a large church where I served on the pastoral staff for congregational care. The lead pastor was an abusive man and emotionally unstable. He was skilled at preaching, but not at relationships. The result was increasing anxiety and distrust within the whole congregation. A climax brought intervention from the denominational powers and the expulsion of all pastoral staff except me. I was left to lead a crippled and traumatized congregation and divided staff back out of a war posture. We were a little like the Acts 27 shipwreck.
I brought in help from a skilled conflict mediator and therapist to meet with staff and leadership, including myself. The storm still blew strong for months until truth was shared and better understood. In this case, I remained steadfast, even though I was afraid of the conflict, angst and distrust that reigned throughout the organization. I was a target for much of the storm. That’s what leadership brings. Even though interim leaders were brought in, I was a known person so I listened, counseled and kept on going as much as I could. I have written elsewhere on how the intensity of the storm brought on depression in me that overwhelmed. Life had become a dark night almost capsizing me in a violent storm. Perhaps it was like the disciples fear in the storm on Galilee until Jesus needed to calm the sea with His command. He was always in the boat with them.
It was in a worship service that I led, that through the winds and rain, the Holy Spirit descended and healed me totally. I was soaked in the sweet dew of new life and joy. The waters almost instantly began to calm for me. God’s hand and vision caused confusion to leave and new vision became clear. I had submitted to the trial of the storm and stayed under it. God was now telling me clearly that I had stayed and obeyed and was now free to go where He would call me afresh.
I now serve as chaplain for a large hospital system. It is my calling because God opened the door. Yes there are storms, but I seem to have a new seaworthiness. I can stand in the wind and rain. Even though I may grumble, God is saying “shake it off” or something like that. Now I am seeking His guidance continually, giving thanks always and praying continuously.
Storms will come and there will be more storm stories because that is life. Build your skills to endure and keep rowing. Know when to lower the sails or throw the sea anchor. Know when to bail and when to swim for shore. But most importantly, be encouraged and hold the hand of the only One who can calm the storm and get you through.