Storms can be really frightening. Whether it’s a category 5 hurricane or deep turmoil within our souls, storms are scary and leave us feeling powerless. Scientists around the world show data that explains how and why we are experiencing bad storms. Global warming is causing frequent, large storm systems to hit all over the earth. Wildfires are burning for months longer than normal. Earthquakes and tornadoes and deep freezes across the US are impacting our lives. These are just the natural storms. In the US, we also battle a huge mental health crisis. COVID-19 has taken lives, jobs and security away from us. Stress, anxiety and depression are at record highs around the world. There is a major spiritual storm raging through the US. In the middle of all of these storms, where is our faith? What does the Bible have to say about storms? What can these storms teach us about grace? Today, we are going to dig deep into the gospel message. I know storms are scary, but through storms we learn a lot about the grace of God.
One summer I worked at a gift shop in Custer State Park, South Dakota. I worked full time and ministered part time to park residents through a nonprofit organization called ACMNP. Custer State Park is absolutely beautiful, with rugged terrain and wonderful hiking trails. One Sunday afternoon my ministry team decided to go to Mt. Rushmore and hike. My roommate had a jeep and we decided to go offroading through a jeep trail to Mt. Rushmore. The tracks were slick after a hard downpour the day before. We just barely got over a very steep hill when my roommate heard something rattling in the back of his jeep. He parked, set the emergency brakes and climbed out of his jeep. While he was securing whatever had gotten loose, the emergency brakes disengaged on the jeep and we began to roll downhill without a driver! As the jeep picked up speed, going down a really rocky trail, my roommate ran alongside the jeep shouting. My adrenaline kicked in and I grabbed the wheel with one hand, steering the best I could. I was buckled in, so I couldn’t really jump from the side seat to the driver’s seat. We were saved by one of my team members jumping from the back seat to the driver’s seat, slamming her foot on the brake. The whole emergency probably lasted a total of 5 minutes, but it felt much longer.
We were in real danger of getting seriously injured. I felt like I had very little control, even though I had my hand on the wheel. In the Bible, there are several different stories of men and women in crisis situations. Jonah was a highly regarded prophet in Israel. God called him to do a very difficult task. He told Jonah to go to Ninevah, one of the greatest enemies of the Israelites, and preach repentance to them. Instead of listening to God, Jonah tried to run away. He boarded a ship heading in the exact opposite direction from Ninevah. On the ship, Jonah fell fast asleep while a storm threatened him and everyone else on the boat. In Jonah 1:11-17 we read, “11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. 17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”
Sailors are known for being very superstitious. The sailors were not Jews. They believed in many different gods from different lands. They believed that a god must be very angry with them, because the storm was so sudden and severe. I think it’s amusing that Jonah is so quick to sacrifice his life for the lives of the crew. Maybe he thought death was a way to escape God’s plan for him. He was thrown overboard, and the storm instantly calmed. This miracle caused the sailors to believe in God. Even in self-sacrifice, Jonah unintentionally converted the sailors to faith. Jonah, on the other hand, could not escape God’s will. He was swallowed by a massive fish or wale, and God carried him to his intended destination. For three long days, Jonah sat in utter darkness. In the midst of the storm, God proved his power to everyone involved. There are some similarities between the story in Jonah and one found in the gospel of Luke.
Jesus came to die for our sins. Christ’s resurrection displays God’s power over sin and death. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he displayed immense power over nature around him. Thousands followed him because they wanted to see these miraculous signs for themselves. This does not mean that everyone liked Jesus for his miracles and the things he taught. The religious leaders were very opposed to his message of redemption through faith in him. They tried many times to test Jesus and make him slip into saying something blasphemous. In Matthew 16:1-4 the Bible says, “1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ 3 and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.” The Pharisees and Sadducees were looking for the Messiah. When Jesus came performing miracles and showing how the Scriptures pointed to him, they ignored all the signs. Jesus refused to perform miracles for them, like the miracles were some form of parlor trick. Instead, he makes reference to Jonah. Like Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish, Jesus would be buried in the ground for three days. His resurrection is the ultimate sign of his humanity and divinity. The Pharisees had hard hearts, but they were not the only ones who missed Christ’s message.
The disciples spent all of their time with Jesus. They lived with him and took care of him. They were his closest companions and friends. Sometimes they clearly missed his message and struggled to have faith in their teacher. In Luke 8:22-25 we read, “22 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. 23 As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. 24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” Like Jonah, Jesus was fast asleep in the ship when the storm hit their boats. Like Jonah, Jesus is the one everyone looks to for salvation. Like Jonah, the miraculous silence of the storm causes everyone to be amazed.The disciples, who witnessed Jesus perform hundreds of miracles, still struggled to see Jesus for who he is. One would hope that after seeing Jesus calm the storm, the disciples would put their whole faith in him.
Storms are a natural part of our journeys through life. Physical storms can wipe out all of what we have in a moment. They threaten our lives and take away our feeling of control. Internal storms are just as damaging. Our faith in God is tested when we go through storms. In Jonah’s storm, God used his disobedience to bring the sailors to faith in him. In Jesus’ storm, the disciples are rebuked for their lack of faith and left amazed at Christ’s power. Both men were prophets, sent to give a message to sinful and broken people. Jonah tried to run from God’s call. Jesus embraced his mission and followed through to the end. You and I are a result of Jesus battling the biggest storm of all. We have faith in Christ because he already conquered sin and death. The disciples didn’t always catch Jesus’ mission even when seeing all of his miracles. Sometimes, I can relate to how the disciples must have felt.
Why did Jesus rebuke his disciples? They were in real danger of losing their lives. Their response is natural and something we can all relate to. Jesus rebuked his disciples because they did not live out their faith in him. The disciples had the unique opportunity to live with Jesus and know him personally. They had seen him perform hundreds of miracles. From giving sight to the blind to providing food for over 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread, the disciples had seen it all. If they had faith in Jesus, who was asleep on their ship, they shouldn’t have feared at all. Jesus can calm all storms in our lives. When he displayed his power over nature to the disciples, they feared him and were amazed by his power. You see, storms are powerful moments of faith. Do we really trust Jesus in the middle of a storm?
Paul clarifies this truth with a profound statement in his letter to the church in Rome. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Your purpose as a Christian is to live life like Jesus to the best of your ability. That means loving God with your whole heart and loving other people as much as yourself. You have a purpose. If you live out that purpose then ALL things work out for your good. That means that every storm you experience will benefit you. It means that no matter what, God’s purpose will be reality. It means we can have faith that Christ Jesus will give us what we need in the storm. God will work out his purpose in your life because of the rich grace bought by the blood of Jesus. No matter what happens, you receive grace in Christ. Just like the disciples, we can stand in fear and amazement at the power of God over our storms.
The Bible tells us of many storms. The flood of Noah, the hale storm in Egypt, the great storm in Jonah and the storm with Jesus and his disciples are just a few examples. In each, God’s will is made known to those going through the storm. These stories are powerful examples of moments of growth in faith. Understanding how God uses storms to build our endurance is an important part of living out our faith. I can almost guarantee a storm will come in your life. Remember that the ultimate storm, the victory over sin and death, has already been weathered. Jesus is worthy of your faith in him. May God bless you and your family as you turn to Jesus for strength in your storm.
Yours in Christ,
Chris Aaron Rice