“Go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord’s presence.”
At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
1 Kings 19:11-13 (HCSB)
I’ve been pondering the metaphor of life as a storm at sea. There are four moments in scripture that I feel are particularly important to this metaphor. The first is quoted above. No matter what storm I face, I must remember that God is with me in the storm. God is not the storm itself. I’ll answer the question of “What is the storm?” later. The other three moments are in the gospels and Acts. The first is when Jesus rebuked the storm after sleeping in the boat (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, and Luke 8:22-25). The second is where Jesus (and Peter, in the gospel of Matthew) walks on water (Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-52, and John 6:16-21). The final passage of scripture is Acts 27, where Paul advises the crew of the ship headed to Rome concerning their lives and the fate of the ship. The moments Paul speaks are especially striking to me (Acts 27:20-26, 31):
“You men should have followed my advice not to sail from Crete and sustain this damage and loss. Now I urge you to take courage, because there will be no loss of any of your lives, but only of the ship. For this night an angel of the God I belong to and serve stood by me, and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul. You must stand before Caesar. And, look! God has graciously given you all those who are sailing with you.’ Therefore, take courage, men, because I believe God that it will be just the way it was told to me. However, we must run aground on a certain island.”
“Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”
First, the ship is a metaphor for Jesus. “Unless these men stay in [Jesus], [they] cannot be saved.” The men with Paul had to trust that what Paul was saying was true. They did that by staying in the boat. We must trust God that He sent Jesus as our mediator to Him, to reconcile Himself to us. We do that by believing in Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life and metaphorically “stay[ing] in the ship.” Even if, like crew on Paul’s ship, “we must run aground” in order to be saved.
Second, I want to stress again that God is not the storm in Paul’s story. God is in and with Paul, and God is with the ship and its crew.
One day [Jesus] and His disciples got into a boat, and He told them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they were sailing He fell asleep. Then a fierce windstorm came down on the lake; they were being swamped and were in danger. They came and woke Him up, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to die!” Then He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves. So they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were fearful and amazed, asking one another, “Who can this be? He commands even the winds and the waves, and they obey Him!”
Luke 8:22-25 (HCSB)
That’s where the first story of Jesus comes in. During this storm, Jesus was visibly asleep in the boat. He was ready for the disciples to wake Him as soon as they worried. But that is not why Jesus rebuked the wind. Jesus rebuked the wind and waves when He woke up to show His disciples how far His control extended. He could sleep comfortably on the boat during the storm, because He knew that it was not going to take His life, nor the lives of His disciples. Paul could be content during his journey to Rome because he had been assured by God of his own safety as well as the safety of every soul on the ship.
Jesus gives us this assurance when we trust Him with our lives. After giving our lives to Jesus, denying ourselves, picking up our crosses, and following Him, we can say with Paul, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Because our earthly lives are passing away, but Jesus has given us an eternal life with the Father and Himself that can never pass away and will never be taken away from us. Therefore, we can be assured during our “storms” that God is with us, and we need not fear the course of our lives given our eternal assurance.
Finally, I prefer the account of Matthew regarding Jesus walking on water. To me, it is a more complete picture of what we can learn about the encounter between Jesus, Peter, and the other disciples.
Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone. But the boat was already over a mile from land, battered by the waves, because the wind was against them. Around three in the morning, He came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost!” they said, and cried out in fear.
Immediately Jesus spoke to them. “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.”
“Come!” He said.
And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those in the boat worshiped Him and said, “Truly You are the Son of God!”
Further showing His power, Jesus walks toward the disciples across the sea, over a mile out, in the middle of a storm. Most of the disciples are content with Jesus telling them not to be afraid, but not Peter. Peter needs more proof. He needs to be fully convinced of Jesus power. To my mind, Peter is not questioning whether or not the person in front of him walking on the sea looks like Jesus. Peter is asking Jesus, whom he can see walking on water in the middle of a storm in front of him, to convince him that Jesus is the Son of God. In response to that request, Jesus simply says, “Come!”
Jesus beckons us into the storm. We will find Him in the storm, though He is not the storm. We will be assured of His presence on our way to “Rome” because He has promised to “be with [us] always, even to the end of the age.” We can wait patiently for his voice in the midst of the storm, the earthquake, and the fire, because he has called us to “Go out and stand on the mountain in [His] presence.” He goes before us into the storm, and He beckons us to join Him.
What is the storm? For humanity, it is the cloud of death above us. It is the understanding that this life will pass away, and nothing we do apart from God will have any permanence. It is the furious grasp at meaning and purpose in a life without direction for those without Jesus. We have been rescued from the consequences of the storm by the sacrifice of Jesus, but we are not through with it yet. We must go into the storms of other people, love them within the storm as an example of Christ, and by doing so allow Christ to rescue them as well.
Too often, I think, Christians pray for God to rescue us from our storms and trials. We fail to see that it is the trials that will bring us closest to God by strengthening our faith and showing us the extent of our need for Him. Beloved brothers and sisters, fellow believers, do not pray that God will clear your storm. Pray that God will toss you into the storms of other people and fill you with the Holy Spirit in their midst. Pray that you will be able to sense and acknowledge the presence of Jesus with you every step of the journey. Pray that He will use the storms of your life to teach you how to listen to His “soft whisper” and to perfect His love within your toward others.
That is my prayer for you as well. May the God of all peace and love grant you the blessed assurance of His presence in your life, through storm and calm, in the name of our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.