- Religion and Philosophy
Navigating the Storms of Life
Imagine taking a journey on a vessel over a body of water. Whether in a ship cruising across the ocean or a small boat sailing on a lake, the journey involves getting into a vessel, traveling for a while, and then reaching a final destination. One encounters elements along the way: beautiful scenery, creatures in the water, seagulls in the air, calm seas, choppy waters, and even storms. Sometimes the beginning and end points are the same, as in a leisurely boat ride in the evening after dinner, yet there is always a beginning, middle, and end to every journey over water.
One’s life is a journey, too, similar to a ship at sea with a beginning, middle, and end. Each person is born, lives, and dies, moving along in a personal journey of life, similar to traveling in a boat from the point of embarking to the point of disembarking. Along the way, one encounters joy, suffering, victories, trials, dreams realized, and hopes dashed. Each person’s journey is unique and, just like a vessel crossing the water, there is always a captain of the journey.
Captain of the Journey
At sea, one needs a skillful captain who mans the ship, successfully navigates the way, and handles any unexpected squalls, storms or other forces that threaten to blow the ship off course or take it under. Great power is given to a ship’s captain, so while any number of individuals may come forward to fill the role of ship’s captain, only qualified ones should be considered.
Maritime law or admiralty law governs vessels at sea, and the captain is a licensed mariner with all-inconclusive authority over the vessel, its contents, and each person on the ship. The captain can even imprison people and perform burials at sea. In a way, the crew and passengers are at the mercy of the captain and must trust that he or she will command in a way worthy of that trust. The captain’s immense power is summarized by a crewman in the movie U-571.1 After the captain’s untimely demise, a crewman solemnly instructs the new captain: “This is the navy, where the commanding officer is a mighty and terrible thing; a man to be feared and respected; all knowing, all powerful.”
Most people would never dream of declaring themselves captain and taking a ship out to sea. On the other hand, they see no problem with commandeering the ship of life and declaring themselves master and commander of another type of journey, one also fraught with peril. On this journey, one uses his or her own knowledge, beliefs, feelings, and prior experience to command the ship of life, drawing on guiding principles like religious traditions, spirituality, a learned or self-created set of values, or moral code, e.g., “be a good person.” When navigating through life, other factors often come into play: the pursuit of wealth, financial security, success, science, technology, wisdom, and higher knowledge. Will these equip one to be an “all knowing, all powerful” captain?
If not, there is another option: Entrust the job to a more qualified captain. Rather than relying on one’s own limited knowledge and experience, the responsibility is delegated to a captain with a proven record in trustworthiness, wisdom, and power. Where does one find such a captain?
Elements on the Journey
At sea and in life, the journey contains a myriad of elements and experiences. A ship’s captain must be prepared for any number of conditions at sea, and individuals must be prepared for any number of conditions in life.
Ship captains encounter weather that is easy to navigate. Calm sunny days, a gentle breeze, and mild to moderate waves all make for easy navigation. These days are pleasant, with the gentle rocking of the ship a comfort to the captain and crew. Other times, the wind and waves pick up, and the ship’s movements become disturbing rather than comforting. At the point where the ship has to ride through a fierce storm or squall, the very survival of the ship and crew rests on the captain and his command.
In the same way, individuals have to weather different conditions in life. One does not need help navigating the days where everything is going well. Good health, the smiles of loved ones, laughter shared with friends, and the purr of a cat are easily embraced and enjoyed along the journey. At other times, one navigates days, months, even years, where conditions are less favorable: the end of a long term relationship, health problems, financial hardship, or the loss of a loved one. Just like a ship at sea, these storms of life often come with little warning and when they hit, when the boat is moving through a storm, shuddering, maybe even cracking, the captain of one’s life is fully tested.
Jesus’ disciples were tested by storms, too, and actually went through one in a boat with Jesus. The noteworthy story is told in three Gospels 2 and one point is clear in all three stories: Jesus was in control of that boat and everything around it.
Jesus: The Captain in a Storm
In the story, Jesus wanted to get away from the crowds, so He ordered His disciples to get into a boat with Him to cross the lake. While rowing across the water, a furious storm came up unexpectedly; the wind howled, waves broke over the boat, and it was in danger of sinking. Up to a point, the disciples relied on their own efforts to keep the boat upright and moving toward shore until, overcome with fear, they sought Jesus’ help. They were shocked to find Him comfortably sleeping on a cushion in the stern of the boat. Awakening Him with cries of fear, they asked, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
Once He was asked, Jesus gave assistance immediately, without hesitation. He stood up and rebuked the wind and waves, saying, “Quiet! Be still!” and they immediately were. The wind ceased its howling, the lake was calm, and the disciples were dumbfounded. Their fear of the storm was replaced by fear and amazement at what had just happened. Who was this man, Jesus, who commanded the very elements of nature?
Storms in Life that Frighten
This story is full of lessons on how Jesus, when asked, will command one’s life and navigate through whatever comes along. By choosing Jesus as the captain, one rests in His authority and power, trusting that He is both willing and qualified to navigate through both the calm days and the stormy days. As the story shows, even when it appears He may be sleeping on the job, there is no need to worry, for He still gets the job done! One does not always need to understand what Captain Jesus is doing, but rather trust in His leadership. It is trust, not understanding, that is the hallmark of faith.
During storms, it may appear Jesus is not at the wheel, that He is sleeping and not paying attention. These are the times we must join Him, not by plowing forward on our own power and wisdom, but by withdrawing with Jesus to the back of the boat and drawing near in prayer. In trust and faith, one reaches out to Him, like the disciples reached out and touched His cloak as it lay at the bottom of the boat. One believes He is near, and rests with Him in prayer, meditation, and worship as the boat rocks furiously, watching and learning from Jesus as instructed in John 13:15: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Jesus rested peacefully, trusting the Father to take care of all, and this is the example to follow.
In some storms, one finds that Jesus is not sleeping peacefully in the bottom of the boat. Rather than being close and comforting, it appears He has withdrawn, and His presence is not felt. These storms test a person’s faith and refine it like gold.3 Peter faced such a storm, both literally and figuratively, just before he walked on water.4 Like the first story, this one also contains a boat and the disciples, frightened by a storm that raged around them. However, this time Jesus was not in the boat with them. The disciples thought they were alone, but Jesus was nearby long before they saw Him.
In this second story (also told in three of the four Gospels4), Jesus had just miraculously fed 5,000 people with a few fish and loaves of bread. Following the miracle, the people wanted to take Jesus by force and make Him king, so He instructed the disciples to get into the boat and cross the lake to Capernaum while He went up on a mountain by himself to pray. As darkness fell, a strong wind was blowing and the waters were rough. Just before dawn, the disciples saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water, and they were terrified, but He reassured them: “It is I; don’t be afraid.”
Peter took Jesus at His word and asked if he could walk out to Him. Jesus said, “Come,” so Peter climbed out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when Peter took his focus off Jesus and focused instead on the wind, he became afraid and started to sink, crying out “Lord, save me!” Just like the first story, when asked, Jesus responded quickly; He reached out His hand, caught Peter, and they both got into the boat. Once again, the wind immediately died down and the amazed disciples worshipped Jesus.
Personal storms in life are like this. When Jesus is captain of the ship, it sometimes feels like He is not around, but that is simply not true for He said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”5 In these types of storms, one must affirm that Jesus is near by prayer, praise, worship, speaking the Word, and calling out to Him. In faith, one affirms that He is still near, until He is seen again, until the peace and comfort of His presence is experienced again. Faith is believing that God exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.6 Faith is knowing that Jesus is always nearby, waiting to be called upon, even when His presence is not seen or sensed.
Hidden Potential Within the Storm
Jesus wants nothing more than for one to place faith in Him in this manner, trusting in Him like a little child.7 This is shown by Jesus’ words after the storm subsides, when Jesus follows up His rebuke of the wind and the waves by a rebuke of the disciples: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” and “Where is your faith?” 2 Yet, He also offers words of reassurance: “It is I; don’t be afraid.”8 These words are for all who call out to Jesus in the middle of a storm in life. The words are simple, but the practice of them is not because the core of human nature is fear-based.
Jesus knew this, and this is why He compared His followers to sheep.9 He could have likened His followers to any animal on earth, but He chose sheep because sheep, like humans, are timid and fearful by nature. Like sheep, the disciples’ initial response to the storm was fear, but the storm served a spiritual purpose: To increase the disciples’ faith and trust in Jesus.
Peter called out to Jesus, and his faith was strengthened to the point where he, too, could walk on water. The fact that he was walking on water one moment and drowning in it the next does not diminish the great faith he put into action by getting out of the boat in the first place. Jesus said that faith in Him is the rock on which the church is built, so is it any wonder that, despite his many failings, Peter later went on to become a leader of the church? 10
These stories illustrate a deep spiritual truth: It is the storms of life, not the sunny, cloudless days, which serve as fertile ground to foster and grow a deep, trusting relationship with Jesus. One day of stormy weather holds the potential to increase one’s faith far more than a thousand days of sunny weather.
When riding out a storm, keep in mind these two key points:
1. Rely on a Qualified Captain
Each life is like a journey in a boat or ship, traveling across the sea of life. In life and at sea, there is only one captain of the ship. The captain’s power and authority determine the success or failure of the journey, so it is critical to know who is captain. In life, one can declare himself or herself captain, alone at the wheel, navigating through life. The other option is to invite a more qualified captain, Jesus, to join the journey, and never be alone again.
In life, those who retain the role of captain rely solely on their own wisdom, skill and luck to navigate through life. Those who have delegated the responsibility to Jesus are never alone and rely on faith in God to make it through the storms of life. During His life, Jesus proved Himself is a trustworthy companion on the journey of life. He is wise and powerful, qualified to be captain of one’s ship. Like a ship’s captain at sea, Jesus guides and directs one’s life with great skill and wisdom, and one has a deep sense of peace in knowing that He is in charge.
2. Ask for Help
Storms in life are painful and frightening, but when Jesus is captain, they serve a distinct purpose: They are opportunities to rest in God’s presence and grow our faith, to rise up to a new level in our relationship with Jesus. The key is to take our eyes off the storm, place them on Jesus, and ask to receive whatever God is giving within the storm.
In the storm, Jesus could have awakened at any moment and saved the disciples. However, He did so only after the disciples asked for His help. With Peter, Jesus could have called Peter to come out onto the water, but He waited for Peter to ask. We must ask (pray) in faith, trust, and expectancy to access the power of Christ within the storm.
It is the same with personal salvation: We must ask Jesus first, and then He answers. Jesus never forces Himself into anyone’s life to save from a storm or to save from eternal damnation. He must first be asked, but when asked, He promises to answer:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
1 U-571. Dir. Jonathan Mostow. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paton, Harvey Keitel. Universal Pictures, 2000. Film.
2 Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25
3 1 Peter 1:6-7
4 Matthew 14:22-32, Mark 6:45-52, John 6:16-21 (Note: Peter is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew)
5 Matthew 28:20
6 Hebrews 11:6
7 Matthew 18:3-4
8 John 6:20
9 John 10:14-16
10 Matthew 16:13-19