How to Survive a Storm
In October, 1991 a Nor’easter storm coming across New England and Canada into the western Atlantic collided with Hurricane Grace coming up the eastern seaboard from the tropics to form a huge storm which wreaked havoc along the eastern seaboard and recorded some of the worst sea conditions ever measured. NOAA buoys out in the Atlantic recorded sustained winds of over 60 mph with gusts much higher and waves consistently over 30 ft. Some observers recorded much bigger waves.
In the midst of this a small sword fishing boat named the Andrea Gail was caught out at sea and was swamped. It sank and all of the crew died. “The Perfect Storm”, a popular book and movie, told the story. If you saw it you may remember the terrifying images of the small fishing boat being swamped by the huge waves.
Storms are a part of life, aren’t they? We all experience storms of one kind or another. They may not be sea storms as the crew of the Andrea Gail faced. But they are often just as big to us. They may be caused by business or economic difficulties. They may be caused by disagreements with people we love. They may be caused by sickness or death or marital strife, or 10,000 other things. It’s a sure bet that we will all experience more than one of them in one way or the other.
Along with storms comes fear. We ask ourselves daunting questions—How bad will the side effects of the chemo be? Can my child stop taking drugs? Can my marriage survive? How many employees will I have to lay off? How will I make my mortgage payment? etc.
The Bible is full of stories about storms: Abraham struggling with how to kill his son whom God had promised him. Jacob meeting his brother Esau from whom he had stolen the birthright. Moses leading a complaining and rebellious people through the desert. Job losing everything he had. Paul being beaten and thrown in jail several times, and enduring a shipwreck (his own sea story). The list goes on and on.
Sometimes it feels like we’ve been thrown overboard. We are struggling to stay afloat in a stormy sea, but we’re exhausted and we are sinking. We are hoping that someone will throw us a life preserver that we can hang onto and be pulled to safety.
The Bible contains a dramatic example of how Jesus can be our life preserver and can even go further and calm the storm that we are experiencing. You can read it at Matthew 14:22-32
This extraordinary experience of Jesus and His disciples in the middle of a dangerous storm helps us discover how to put the storms in our life in perspective and survive them.
A Frightening Storm
Jesus had been teaching and healing all day on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (really a large lake in northern Israel). As a climax to the day He had just fed about 5,000 men plus an unspecified number of women and children using only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish that a boy had brought. He had also healed many of them of various maladies. Now night was falling and the crowd was finally dispersing.
Jesus’ closest friends, the 12 disciples, must have been exhausted. They were probably ready to sit around a warm campfire and relive the day’s many miraculous experiences. But Jesus insisted that they get into a small boat and start rowing across the lake to the other side. He made a vague promise that he would join them later.
The disciples soon set out. They traveled for a while, but soon all thoughts of the wonderful day were gone because they found themselves in the middle of a raging storm. Their small boat was being buffeted by large waves and they were rowing for their lives. To make things worse, it was the middle of the night and they had gone too far to return to land. Do you think they were scared? You bet they were. They needed help to survive the storm.
Seven Survival Lessons
- What lessons can we learn from this account that will help us to survive our own storms?
1. When the disciples went to sea, their master went to prayer.
Part of being able to survive a storm is to be ready for it. Survival experts tell us that having the right equipment and knowing certain procedures is imperative. Jesus was divine. People prayed to Him. But He was also man, and he desired to spend time alone with his Heavenly Father. If we are followers of Jesus, shouldn’t we do the same? Communicating with the Heavenly Father involves prayer and Bible study. Once the storm starts it may be too late to make preparations. Our time alone with God is our time to pray for wisdom and direction and to build up a reservoir of spiritual strength that we can draw on when the storm hits.
2. Sometimes the storm doesn’t start until after the journey begins.
Verse 23 doesn’t say anything about the weather. But in verse 24 the disciples find themselves in the midst of a terrible storm. We can never be sure when a storm will come up, so we must be prepared all the time.
It is easy to understand why a storm might come up if we are fleeing from God like Jonah did, but the disciples were actually doing what Jesus told them to do. Why do you think Jesus allows storms to come up when we are trying to follow Him? See 1 Pet 1:6-7 God certainly knows how painful and frightening a storm can be, but can allowing a storm to hit your life to teach you to trust him and to show His love for you?
3. Fear grips us the worst when we can’t see Jesus.
Jesus was alone on the mountain praying, but the disciples were in the middle of the terrible storm. They knew that Jesus could calm the storm because they had seen Him do many miracles before, but they didn’t see Him now. When we are in the storm it is sometimes hard to see Jesus. But the Bible teaches that we can be sure that He is really there. See John 14:18-20. Remembering these promises when the storm is raging around us is like having a life preserver to hang onto.
4. Sometimes Jesus lets us struggle for a while before He shows up.
Jesus comes during the “fourth watch”. The people in that time used a military system to keep time during the night, and the fourth watch was 3 am to 6 am. So the disciples had been out there all night fighting the storm. It was toward daylight that Jesus came. Sometimes Jesus lets us persevere to train us and strengthen our faith. Maybe He wants to show you that this storm really is beyond your control so that in the next storm you will be quicker to call on Him. The disciples would have liked Jesus to come earlier, but He came at just the right time.
5. When Jesus comes in the midst of a storm He will make himself known.
Sometimes it can be very hard to see when you are in the middle of a storm, especially at night. That’s probably what happened to the disciples. They could see something coming toward the boat, but they didn’t know what it was. Matthew says they “cried out in fear”—what an understatement! But Jesus didn’t need to say, “It is Jesus” because they quickly recognized Him. When we spend time with people we get to know them. We can not only recognize them, but we know something about their ways and how they will act in a particular situation. It is no different with Jesus. If you want to know Him and recognize when He is offering you help, spend time with Him through prayer, Bible study, and talking about Him with other believers.
6. When we reach out to Jesus in a storm He will help us.
Peter it is Jesus he jumps out of the boat and starts walking on the water toward Him—for as long as he stays focused on Jesus. But when he looks around and realizes what he is doing in human terms he starts to sink. He could have tried to swim back to the boat, but instead he called on God, and Jesus reached out his hand and walked with him the rest of the way. When we are sinking in a storm the most important thing we can do is to keep our focus on Jesus. If we try to save ourselves, or if we turn to the wrong thing, or person, we are likely to sink. Turning our eyes to Jesus is our only sure hope. He is the one who can provide the strength and direction to save us.
7. Ultimately Jesus calms the storm.
When they reach the boat the storm goes away. I don’t know about you, but if I’m in a storm I want Jesus in the boat with me. Not only did Jesus still the storm, but the experience of being in the storm and being rescued by Jesus strengthened his friends’ faith and made them better men.
If you are reading this, it is likely that you are experiencing a storm in your life right now. It might be that your marriage is breaking up. When that happens, it can feel like your ship has capsized and everything you know and love is being carried away from you. But remember Peter’s experience with Jesus. When he called out, Jesus reached out His hand and rescued him. Jesus can do the same for you if you let Him. Jesus uses the storms in life to help us trust him more. Often we don’t understand why something is happening, but Jesus always knows. He loves us, and He is always going to work for our ultimate good.