Storms happen in life. Many of them hit suddenly, and with much more force than we ever expect. The United States has experienced some incredible storms and natural disasters over the past several years. Perhaps the one most vividly etched in people’s minds is Hurricane Katrina. On the morning of August 28, 2005, the National Weather Service issued an ominous-sounding alert that would affect the large port city of New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina, previously listed as a category 1 level storm, had suddenly morphed into a category 5 hurricane heading straight for New Orleans. The prediction went on to include extensive damage to homes and commercial buildings, power outages, and widespread flooding. Water shortages were anticipated as well.
“A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?'” (Mark 4:37,38, NKJV).
All in all, the people of New Orleans could expect a prolonged time of suffering. By daybreak of August 29, the cable news coverage revealed that Katrina was in fact the most damaging hurricane in U.S. history. Worst yet, the physical damage was not the only challenge. Looting, crime, rape, and sniper fire all joined the mix. Most Americans will never forget the scenes on television. The residents of New Orleans certainly won’t. But you know what? Six years later, New Orleans is still on the map. The New Orleans Saints won a Super Bowl and the residents of New Orleans have continued to demonstrate amazing resiliency. Granted, there is much left to do, but the city continues to move forward. Katrina may have been one of the worst disasters in the last hundred years, but that still isn’t enough to keep the courageous people of New Orleans down.
Katrina provides us with valuable lessons. One is that life’s storms often hit quickly with little or no notice. Another is that the damage from a storm can be worse than predicted. No one expected the 17th Street Canal or other structures controlling water flow in the city to disintegrate causing massive flooding. But the critical teaching point is this: What happens to us is not the key issue. What matters most is our response.
Jesus and the Storms of Life
We don’t have much control over circumstances; however, we do get to choose how we will react to the situation. Talking about storms, let’s briefly examine one night in the life of the disciples. They never anticipated what was coming. Earlier in the evening Jesus had told them to get into some boats and head to the other side of the Lake of Galilee. No biggee-they had done this many times. In fact, some of the disciples were professional fisherman who had spent their entire lives fishing in this water. Soon after setting out, a windstorm arose-a big one.
We don’t have much control over circumstances; however, we do get to choose how we will react to the situation.
The geography surrounding the Sea of Galilee includes mountains. Sometimes winds can whip up suddenly from the eastern mountains and make the water appear as though it is boiling in a caldron. This storm was a nasty one, and apparently life-threatening. Surely the fisherman in the group like Peter and John had weathered many a storm on this lake. But tonight, the situation was simply terrifying, enough that the disciples feared for their lives.
Yes, the storms of life will come. They will come suddenly, and there is usually nothing we can do to change it. It’s not about being a good or bad person. It happens to all of us. The only thing we can do is respond. My mind flashes back to dozens of times I have been with people who have just been hit by a storm. Some reacted well, some panicked, and others remained in denial.
One particular situation sticks out in my mind. LTC John Luther was an outstanding Army officer. We were stationed together at West Point in the late 1990’s. He was a special staff officer to the Superintendent; I was the senior chaplain. One day John got the news he had liver cancer, and it was well advanced. Over the next three to four months I spent considerable time with him, and some with his wife, Susan, and son, Caleb. They were Christians, but I totally underestimated the depth of their faith. Sometimes I would accompany John to the doctor to help him through getting fluids drained from his stomach. The surgeon would numb the area, painful enough in itself. Then he would insert a six-inch needle into John’s abdomen and drain off as much as a quart of fluid. And never so much as a peep from John. He was a warrior. Braveheart had nothing on him.
The weeks went by, and John’s condition worsened rapidly. Only a miracle could save him. It never came. I remember the funeral service and burial well. It was a privilege to talk about his strong faith. The outcomes from life’s storms don’t always go the way we want. But even in situations like the Luther family experienced, the Lord worked many things about those circumstances for good. Caleb, though still young, has strong faith in God as he moves ahead with his life. Susan has dealt with John’s passing in positive ways and continues to pursue her life with hope and joy.
At this point, I imagine you have thought about a few of your own storms and how you were able to handle them. Perhaps you are passing through a storm now. It could be a storm involving health, work, relationships, finances, addictions, and depression…virtually anything. It’s not so much what the storm is, but rather how you will react. Remember, you’re not helpless and you’ll get to choose how you will respond.
He is the Calm to the Storms of Life
Let’s get back to Jesus and the disciples. His followers are afraid for their lives, but Jesus is sleeping on a pillow in the boat. He hasn’t even awakened yet. But the disciples were about to change that. They wake Jesus up and start in with a pretty harsh line of questioning: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus was not caught off guard. He gets up and does two things. First, he rebukes the wind and the waves by saying, “Peace, be still!” To the disciples’ amazement, the winds cease and the sea suddenly becomes calm. God can still do that, you know.
But note what happened next. Jesus answers the disciples’ questions with a couple of his own: “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” We know from Jesus’ life that he was a man of compassion, but in this case that’s not his approach. He’s calling them to account. First, Jesus wants to know why the disciples are so fearful. And then he questions them about their faith- where is it? Often I wish the Gospel writers had told us more. We never learn how the disciples responded to those questions. We do know that they became even more fearful as they asked each other, “Who is this guy? Even the wind and sea follow his orders.” And we know something else. They continued to follow Jesus- even to their dying breath.
Placing trust in God
You can count on the Lord listening and understanding.
So how might this story impact you as you consider your response to life’s storms? Let me suggest several ways. First, where was Jesus during this storm? Answer-he was right there in their midst. Granted, he was sleeping for a while and didn’t intervene. But He was there. And where has he been during your storms? Yes, right there with you! He always has been and always will be. That is his promise to believers. Second, as the disciples woke him and voiced their fears, Jesus listened and understood their concerns. He answered their prayer with supernatural power. In your storms, you can count on the Lord listening and understanding. He may not do a miracle to solve the problem instantaneously, but He will answer. You can count on that. Finally, consider the questions Jesus posed to the disciples? Granted, it was a legitimately life-threatening situation. But Jesus asked why they were so fearful. He wanted to know why they exercised no faith. Jesus was making the point that the disciples didn’t need to fall apart in this circumstance. They didn’t need to panic. Instead, they should have noted that Jesus was there with them and simply exercised their faith.
Could it be that the Lord wants you to remember these same truths when storms come into your life? Just as Jesus was asking his disciples about their faith, He challenges us to use our faith. We’ve all seen the Lord act in our lives many times. Why should it be any different when the next storm comes our way? The answer is simple. It won’t. The God of the Universe is always with us, and He can do anything. Not to worry. God is present. Exercise your faith.
If you are dealing with this issue, you do not need to face the challenge alone. Jesus has conquered every challenge so you can move from your present situation to a life of overcoming hope. Invite him to lead you in your journey. He will forgive, comfort, and heal you.
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