Water. That’s the theme that has been reoccurring over the past few weeks. This water is not living, pure drinking water from easy flowing foundations but violent, dangerous, troubled waters that are sure to take you under if you are not careful. These violent waters are not uncommon for those of us who have been called to serve God’s mission in the world.
God and Troubled Waters
Moses knew about crossing over dry ground while observing the dangers of these uncertain waters on both sides. What if they relented and swallowed up the Israelites and the Egyptians on their crossing? Joshua also carried the descendants of these same people on a long journey and across a river on their way to the Promised Land. Indeed the disciples had their share of storms and troubled waters.
There was a time when Jesus decided to walk on water to greet the disciples at night (John 6:16-21)! Of course, they were terrified! Matthew records when Jesus called Peter to step out onto the water—to step out on faith (Matthew 14:22-33). He trusted for a little while and then his doubt set in, and he began to sink. “Lord, save me (Matt. 14:30b)!” There was also a time when they were caught in a storm, and their master was asleep. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown (Mark 4:38)?”
The Apostle Paul got assurance from God in the storm when his ship was on the brink of destruction and everyone was headed for sudden death. Every man onboard had given up hope of ever being saved, but Paul affirmed with confidence that even though the waters were dangerous and the ship would be lost, God had not abandoned them. All of their lives would be saved! “So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me (Acts 27:25).” God promised deliverance in these dangerous, violent, and troubled waters.
The Storm and God’s Mission
That’s what my life has felt like these past few weeks.
My daughter was sick and vomited for a day so we spent the weekend nursing her, cleaning and monitoring, and I had work. The following week, the winter came in with aggression and several inches of snow turned into hail and froze as ice which covered our streets for several days. No one could go out, and yes, there was still work to do. Then we got the unfortunate call about a death in the family which led to an unexpected road trip and a couple days of travel. My tiredness was then greeted by grief and uncontrollable emotions.
While I have a great project (two actually) to celebrate during this season, both of them require a great deal of nourishment, labor, and support. Everywhere I look it appears that either I’m observing a calm before a storm, am in the midst of a severe storm, or am experiencing the devastation of the storm gone by.
That’s how life is with pastors, missionaries, professors and theologians, prophets and kings, disciples and parents who are on mission for God. Whether we are steering our ships in the right direction, traveling with companions, whether Jesus is in our boat, in our ear, or on the way, we often find ourselves at some point or another, in the midst of a storm and it does not feel good.
Part of the bad feelings come from our fears and uncertainties: Is God really with me? Am I going in the right direction? Did I miss my calling? Are the right people on my team? Storms are places of confusion, and the water images in the Bible reveal that storms are also places of testing, chaos, and danger. The storms of life reveal our human fragility and helplessness.
Pagans and Calling on God
There is nobody better than the prophet Jonah to reveal to us that the storms of life can also be the place of our correction—where we are required to give up control, be still in the presence of God, and get going in the right direction. We were wrapping up lunch when I was challenged by my host to take another look at the passages before Jonah was swallowed by the whale.
We know that Jonah ends up on a boat headed to Tarshish in blatant disobedience to the Lord’s command to go to the city of Nineveh and deliver a “fire and brimstone” message of rebuke. It was not long before “the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up (Jonah 1:4).” Jonah is on the boat traveling with sailors who do not know Yahweh, though in this crisis they had the understanding to cry out to their false gods. Jonah, on the other hand, was in the hull of the ship fast asleep. The pagans were the ones who compelled Jonah to call on the only God that could truly save any of them.
They wanted to get to the bottom of the issue, and discovered that Jonah was the root cause of their problem. He was the one who thought it was possible to run from God. It was his fault that the great storm was upon them, and the only way they could survive was by throwing Jonah overboard.
Where to Find Grace
For several years the miraculous point that stood out in this narrative was “the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah (Jonah 1:17, emphasis added).” But in these troubled waters with a significant evangelistic opportunity on the horizon, the verses before and afterward are of particular importance. “The raging sea grew calm” only after the sailors threw Jonah, with his disobedient (should have known better) prophetic self overboard. And it was not until Jonah was inside that fish that he turned his attention to God to pray and repent of his wrong doing. “From inside the fish [where God was protecting him from the storm and from himself] Jonah prayed to the Lord his God (Jonah 2:1).”
Today, Jonah reminds us that there are unexpected blessings in the storm. Storms can take us to the very end of ourselves and right into the Lord’s presence where we find grace.
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16