David Jeremiah - A Shelter in the Storms of Life
When the Andrea Gail left Gloucester Harbor in Massachusetts on September 20, 1991, and headed into the North Atlantic, no one could have known that this fishing boat would never be seen again. Only a bit of debris ever turned up and the six crew members vanished forever. In his book, "The Perfect Storm", author Sebastian Junger immortalized the fate of the Andrea Gail. A film followed, featuring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, but these stars, big as they are, played only supporting roles. The real star of the film was the storm itself: a terrifying, relentless oppressor, born of fierce winds and mountainous waves. It was meteorologists who named this cataclysmic tempest, "The Perfect Storm". It is just a way of saying worst-case scenario.
In the case of the Andrea Gail it was the simultaneous convergence of the toughest weather conditions possible. Three deadly elements came together in October of 1991: first of all, there was a front moving from Canada toward New England and a high pressure system building over Canada's East Coast and the dying remnants of Hurricane Grace, all of them churning along the Eastern seaboard of the United States. Strong weather was coming from three of the four points on the compass and all of it converging on the little Andrea Gail. The last radio transmission of Billy Tyne, the captain of the fishing boat, came at 6 p.m. on October 28, 1991. He reported his coordinates to the captain of his sister ship, the Hannah Boden, saying, "She's coming on, boys, and she's coming on strong".
The popular book and the movie brought the term "Perfect Storm" into common use. But the concept is as old as humanity. People have always had to deal with the convergence of multiple rough circumstances. Today, in our faster, more crowded, and more complex world, a few little squalls can quickly become the perfect storm. And when multiple conditions converge and threaten critical areas of our lives such as finances, relationships, jobs, and health, we question how much more we can endure. There is really no better term available to describe what we're going through right now. This is the ultimate perfect storm. We are in the midst of this storm and it's very hard not to feel the clutches of fear that accompany a serious storm.
The fate of the Andrea Gail demonstrates two kinds of fear that we all experience: the first is that gut-level, adrenalin-drenched fear that the crew felt in the midst of the storm. They were afraid because their lives were on the line. This kind of fear is beneficial. It's a necessary instinct for survival. But there's another kind of fear that can immobilize us completely and that's the fear of fear itself. Fear in the midst of the storm is instinctive and beneficial. Fear of a storm that could happen is not. We need a perspective on life that takes into account the perfect storms but also reassures us that there's a safe harbor within reach. That's where Jesus Christ comes in. As we follow him, as we become his disciples, our troubles look different in the light of his goodness and his power and his wisdom.
What do we do when the perfect storm comes into our life? How do we manage when the winds of ill fate blow against us? Here, from the life of Jesus, is a perfect storm experience that will help us understand how we can deal with the storm we are facing right now. Our lesson begins with the probability of storms in our life, and our passage is in the book of Mark and the 4th chapter: "When evening had come, Jesus said to them, 'Let us cross over to the other side.' And now when they had left the multitude, they took him along in the boat as he was. And other little boats were also with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling".
It is evening and Jesus and his disciples are exhausted after a full day of ministry. Jesus's decision to cross from Capernaum to the other side of the Sea of Galilee is the only way he and his disciples can get away from the crowds. The Gospels tell us that Jesus was near exhaustion and his 12 disciples were reeling from the rigorous training he'd been giving to them. The crowds had been overwhelming. Sick people, craving his healing touch, had flocked to Jesus on every street. Now Jesus was speaking near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The crowds had begun to press in so hard that he was almost shoved back into the water and he climbed into a boat and pushed out a few feet and he sat down and continued teaching according to verse 1 of Mark chapter 4. And by the time he had finished, it was evening.
Desperately needing rest, Jesus and the disciples simply remained in the boat and set sail for the eastern shore where Jesus was to minister the next day. The elements of a perfect storm were gathering. I've been to Israel many times and I can tell you from my own experience that the Sea of Galilee is like a bowl of water nestled nearly 700 feet below sea level. Mountains surround nearly every side of the sea, forming a valley and gullies that set the stage for howling winds. And when the cool air from the mountain swoops through the valleys and collides with the warm moist air hovering over the sea, violent storms can erupt in a matter of minutes. And that's just what happened. Mark 4:37 says: "A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling".
The great windstorm which arose on this particular day could be described as a furious squall. Mark in his Gospel uses a Greek word for the windstorm that is often translated "hurricane". And Matthew describes the storm as a great seismos, or earthquake, like there was an earthquake in the middle of the lake and the shaking of the winds and the boat. This storm was so violent that the waves were breaking over the boat in which Jesus was with his disciples and it was filling it up with water. And while the boat was filling with water, the hearts of the disciples were also filling up with fear.
Just as sudden storms are inevitable on the Sea of Galilee, sudden storms can descend on our lives, too. The coronavirus is our sudden storm. One day, the sea was calm and we awoke on the next day and we were in the biggest storm any of us have ever experienced. The probability of storms in our lives. Let's notice secondly, the paradox of storms in our lives. Here's an interesting thought from this story. At this time in their lives, the disciples were just following Jesus wherever he went, yet here they are being tossed up and down by a storm and in danger of drowning. They were in the middle of God's perfect will and they were in the middle of a perfect storm, all at the same time. They were about to learn a priceless lesson, and that is that storms are not always a punishment for lack of obedience. Sometimes, they're the result of obedience.
The disciples were not in a storm because they had done something wrong. They were in a storm because they were just doing something right. Those men were there because they had jumped in the boat when Jesus said, "Let's go". So, there's a paradox here. While they didn't do anything wrong, they're in the midst of a storm and some people would say, "How does that work"? So you see the probability of storms in our lives and the paradox of storms in our lives. Let's notice third, the presence in the storms of our lives. Mark 4:38 says this: "But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke him and they said to him, 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?'"
The disciples, you see, had yet to learn who Jesus was. If they had realized the full power and authority that Jesus held, they would have laughed and shouted at the wind. In the midst of the storm, there was a presence. Some people believe in the power of God but they're not sure about the presence of God. This was the crisis the disciples faced. They knew that Jesus was there but, apparently, they still didn't realize that he was God. This meant they were unaware of God's presence, so they didn't know what Jesus could and would do. They knew that God could take control over the winds and the seas, but they had not yet come to believe that Jesus was God.
Remember, the 12 knew the story of Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. They knew that God could take control over the winds and the seas, but was that same God with them here and now? That was their question. They did not yet realize that Moses's God and their Master were one and the same, and they truly had Emmanuel, God With Us, in the boat where the storm had captured them. Incidentally, this is the only time in the Bible where we are told that Jesus slept and he did it in the midst of a fierce storm. So that night, on the Sea of Galilee, an exhausted Jesus slept on a cushion in the rear of the boat with the waves crashing all about him and his disciples in despair for their lives.
So we have the probability of storms in our lives, and the paradox of storms in our lives, and the presence in the storms of our lives, and now we come to the peace in the storms of our lives. Verse 39 says this: "Jesus arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace, be still!' And the wind ceased and there was a great calm". Mark tells us that Jesus rebuked the wind just as a parent would rebuke an unruly child. He dealt with demons in the same way when he rebuked them. And the wind obeyed him, just as the demons did. This incredible display of miraculous power should have quelled any remaining doubts in the minds of the disciples as to who Jesus was. I mean, the Old Testament tells us that only God has power over nature.
Psalm 89 verse 9 says: "You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them". Psalm 107 and verse 29 says: "He calms the storm, so that its waves are still". And that's what Jesus did in this storm. He first brought peace to the circumstances around his disciples before he calmed their hearts. There was a calm around the disciples before there was a stillness inside the disciples. Aren't you thankful for the moments when he stills the storm and chaos around you, while your emotions are running high? Our loving heavenly Father is kind and patient with us when the storms of life overwhelm us and fill us with anxiety.
We've experienced some of that in recent days. He's gracious to show us his power even when we're beginning to wonder if he's asleep or absent, even when our cries to him for help are permeated with doubt. We can face whatever circumstances await us with courage if we just reflect on his faithfulness and place our confidence in his great power and loving purpose for our lives. Remember, men and women, that peace is not the absence of stress. Peace is the presence of the Savior. So you have the probability of storms in your life, and the paradox of storms in your life, and the presence of storms in your life, and the peace in the storms in your life, but let's notice number five: the purpose of storms in our lives.
And let's ask the question that's in the back of many of our minds: Did Jesus bring about this storm just so he could calm it and build his disciples' faith? No, no, he didn't do that. He had no need to create new storms to demonstrate his true nature because this fallen world stirs up enough storms without him having to do it 'specially. He builds our faith by using the storms that are already there. So I see no reason to believe that Jesus went to sleep for any other purpose than to catch some much-needed rest. Yet he was quick to use the storm, wasn't he, as a teachable moment. The storm brought him their full attention, even as the coronavirus has brought us to attention, and the lesson would never be forgotten by those disciples as I hope it will not soon be forgotten by us.
Since we are human beings, I think I'm safe in saying that we have no shortage of storms in our lives. Not just the big one that we're going through now, but we live in a fallen world and trouble of some kind is woven into the fabric of life. Until these storms hit, we live with the delusions of adequacy but storms cut us down to size and cause us to fear what we cannot control. And although God does not create the storm in our life, he uses the churning seas to demonstrate his power and strengthen our faith in him. So, Jesus allowed the winds to rage in order that his disciples would learn to trust him. And through the storms of life, our Lord teaches us many precious lessons. He reminds us of our own human emptiness, our own total dependence upon him. He teaches us to fear God with astonished reverence, not to fear the storms.
The probability of storms in our lives, the paradox of storms in our lives, the presence in the storms of our lives, the peace in the storms of our lives, the purpose of storms in our lives, and the product of storms in our lives. Once again, Mark chapter 4 and verse 40: "Jesus said to them, 'Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?' And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, 'Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey him!'" Now please notice, Jesus was a lot gentler with the disciples than he was with the wind. When he rebuked the wind he only asked his disciples two questions: "Why are you so fearful"? And "How is it that you have no faith"? With these questions, Jesus reveals a spiritual truth and that is that the opposite of faith is not unbelief.
The opposite of faith is fear. Belief breeds confidence while unbelief breeds fear. Essentially, Jesus was saying, "Why are you afraid? Do you not yet trust God whose power is present in me"? In the book of 1 Kings tells us about the prophet Elijah who challenged the prophets of Baal to a duel of faith on top of Mount Carmel. From morning until noon, the prophets of Baal called upon their God to send down fire and consume the sacrifice on the altar but nothing happened. Not even a flicker. And Elijah mocked them with stinging sarcasm. In 1 Kings 18:27, he says this: "Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened".
The disciples apparently assumed that Jesus was just as indifferent to their plight so they cried, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing"? Elijah's suggestion that Baal might have been asleep is precisely the complaint the disciples leveled at Jesus. "You're sleeping and we're drowning. Please wake up". And what really intrigues me about this account is that Jesus replaced the disciples' fear with more fear. After staring in awe at the suddenly calm and windless sea, the Bible says: "They feared exceedingly, and they said to one another, 'Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey him!'"
Several Bible translations say they were terrified. They suddenly realized they were in the presence of a power they had never imagined could be in a person, and the power was mightier than the violence of a stormy sea. The disciples no longer worried about drowning. Now they were in awe of Jesus and they felt a new sense of security in him. Debilitating fears were being replaced with the empowering fear of God whom they dimly began to realize was with them in the presence of Jesus.
As we review this story, which is familiar to most of us if we're readers of the Bible, we know the story, we know the story of Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat. But here are some takeaways from this story that are meant to help you and me as we negotiate our stormy time right now. First of all, God's Word alerts us to expect stormy seas. Men and women, the New Testament is salted with warnings about the stormy seas we face as followers of Jesus Christ.
James writes in his book: "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials". Peter writes in his book: "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when his glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy".
Jesus gave us the key to surviving storms in his story about two houses. Do you remember that? One built on the sand, and the other on the rock. The sand represents the shallow, shifting, and unreliable values of worldly culture, and the rock represents the unshakeable truth of God. As the storm rages, the first house quickly topples into the sand and washes out to sea. And the other stands firm, withstanding the force of the most violent winds.
In decades of ministry, I have often seen the truth of this parable vividly demonstrated. People who place their trust in God withstand every storm because they have built their lives on the only foundation that cannot be moved. And people who do not do that, crumble when the storms come. Let me just tell you, you shouldn't be surprised when storms come into your life 'cause God told us it would happen. His Word alerts us to expect stormy seas. Secondly, God's Word announces that the Savior is on board. The disciples were too inexperienced with Jesus to have a faith devoid of fear.
Perhaps you're the same way. You identify with Christ but you draw no assurance as the clouds roll in and as the storm, the coronavirus storm, continues. When the sky darkens, you might wonder whether you should step into the boat with Jesus or stay ashore in hopes of avoiding the storm. The problem with that choice is that it's a false one. You can't run. You can't hide. The storms will find you. You don't get to decide whether the rain is coming. You only get to decide whether to carry an umbrella. "But he is sleeping", you say. "He doesn't care". Don't let his seeming silence lead you to conclude that he isn't with you.
Jesus says in Hebrews 13:5, "I will never leave you nor forsake you". And in Matthew 28 he says, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age". Those are promises and he has yet to break a promise. That he will be with you is the most certain fact of your life. What's uncertain is your grasp of that fact and your ability to trust and build your house upon that truth. It's the only storm-proof foundation in existence. And sometimes, the rains will pound hard to drown out all other voices and we struggle to hear Christ but that doesn't mean he isn't calming the storm. The storms pass and we hear the voice of God once again, this time through a new wisdom tempered by our struggles, and we realize that he was there all the time.
God's Word alerts us to expect stormy seas and God's Word announces that the Savior is on board. And God's Word affirms that faith drives out fear. When the terrified disciples woke Jesus in the midst of the storm, he asked two critical questions. He said, "Why are you so fearful"? And "How is it you have no faith"? And when the disciples stepped into the boat, they didn't trust in Jesus so that their fear escalated to terror when the storm came. But when Jesus awoke and calmed the storm, the dawning realization of who he really was ratcheted their faith to a whole new level. Later we learn that they became utterly fearless, proclaiming the truth of the kingdom in the face of all kinds of storms.
Had they possessed mature faith that day in the boat, they could have curled up and napped with Jesus with no regard of the storm raging about them. They needed to understand that fear is dispelled only by faith. And then God's Word assures us of a safe landing. Notice what Jesus said to the disciples as they begin their journey. In Mark 4:35 he said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side". Now consider what the text says about the end of the journey. Mark chapter 5 and verse 1 says: "And they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes". God's Word assures us of a safe landing. We will make it to the other side.
Jesus had said, "Let us cross over to the other side", and Jesus names a destination. It was certain they would reach it. Could there be a storm? Certainly. Would it be comfortable always on the voyage? No assurance of that. The disciples could have worried about seasickness but they didn't need to worry about drowning because Jesus had told them where they were going. Will there be storms along the journey? Certainly. Will our voyage be comfortable? We're learning right now that it's not comfortable all the time. No assurance that we will ever have a completely comfortable life. We might have to worry about seasickness, but what I'm here to tell you is you don't need to worry about drowning.
We will get through the storms in our lives and we will arrive where Jesus is taking us. Let me say it again. If Jesus says we're going to the other side, we're going to the other side. Our Lord is with us and we will not be abandoned by him in our time of need. So as we wrap all of this up, here is the key question that I alluded to at the beginning: Is Jesus in your boat? Or better yet, is he in your heart? Have you ever accepted him as your personal Savior? And I wanna ask you right now to do that if you've never done it before.
I wanna ask you to invite Jesus Christ into your life, into your storms, into the troubles that you are going through right now. Invite Jesus Christ into the middle of it. Invite him into your heart. And here's how you do that. You pray a prayer and, through that prayer, you make that invitation. So let me lead you in that prayer. Let me help you pray that prayer. Pray this prayer after me:
Dear God, I need your presence in my life. I need your Son Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. In the midst of all of this confusion, in the midst of the fear, in the midst of the wondering about the future. At this moment in time in my life, I invite Jesus Christ to be the captain of my soul. I invite him to come into my life and take his position on the throne of my life and be my Lord and Savior. Lord Jesus, come into my heart, come into my life, make me a new person. Make me a new creature. Forgive me of my sin, and I will seek to serve you going forward.
And Father, I wanna thank you that wherever that prayer is prayed, you have heard it and answered it. Because in your book, you say you're not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. Thank you for those who prayed this prayer. Give them the courage to follow through on what they have done that this won't be a whim or a moment or an emotional response, but a deep-seated decision that will change their lives forever, and we'll give you the praise for what you're going to do in each heart, and I pray in Jesus's name, amen.