Friday, March 6, 2009

Sailing into the Storm (part 2)

They said it was the wind that caused the accident, that it happened in an instant--his motorcycle vacuumed into the path of that tractor trailer. The life of a young, healthy father ripped from his sweet children and wife and not a moment to say goodbye. One morning he left on his bike and all was calm, normal. And then the storm. I will never know the ravage that ripped at this family from the moment they heard their daddy wasn't coming home. I will never fathom the depths of grief that wife and mother felt when she lay that first night in a bed empty of the man who loved her all those years. But I bore witness to their tears. We picture how our lives will be--whether we mean to or not. And most of us don't picture the storms. Acts 27:14 tells us that not long after the flutters of south wind passed by "a hurricane-force wind called the northeaster blew down from the island. When the ship was caught in it and could not head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along." I've never been on a ship in a storm, but I have given way to the powerful rapids of a river. I've been carried unwillingly to the place of the water's whims. What is incredible in this passage to me is that word driven. The Greek word indicates that they were no longer in control--the storm was now driving that ship. I can see that captain just as he releases the controls, hangs his head and turns his back on all human attempts to navigate that ship surrendered to the thrashing will of winds and waves. He had to come to the point of realizing he couldn't control where they were going or what would happen. Sometimes the storms in our lives are so intense, so powerful that we realize we are not in control. Driven by the force of the storm, we have no idea where we will end up. We need to know in those moments that though we are no longer in control it isn't the storm that dictates where we will land. It is our Father God who controls the winds and the rains of those storms. It is our Father who says to the wind "You may blow." and then later "Quiet. Peace be still." And it is our Father to whom those winds and rains always submit. We need to know in those moments that there is nothing that can thwart the purposes of our Heavenly Father in our lives and that He will accomplish all that He intends. (Is. 14:27) In that understanding comes a sense of release. A sense that when we've done all we can do, when we've prayed all we can pray, when we've done all things responsible, and when we've wept every tear left in our heart we can be still and know our Father reigns. Still. He reigns. (Ps. 46:10, Is. 52:7) Verse 18 says that they were "battered by the storm." The Greek word means that they were violently beaten by that storm and then verse 20 goes on to say something that just rips my heart up. "When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and a violent storm continued to batter us, we finally abandoned all hope of being saved." Those sailors needed the stars and the sun to navigate. They spent nearly fourteen days without seeing the light of day and you and I need to know when we are in the midst of dark hours of the soul that there are those who have gone before us. We're among a company of many who have passed through the black of night to see the Spirit of God reach down and rescue a heart that is without hope. Here's the thing--those sailors thought they needed the stars to navigate where they were going. But God does not need human mechanisms to bring about His plans for our lives and often He removes them to help us see that it is God who is at work within us. (Eph. 3:20) Scripture says they through their cargo overboard. They did everything they could to lighten the load. We do that too, don't we? When we sense the magnitude of the storm we begin to lighten our loads. We'll do whatever it takes to stay afloat. Suddenly superficial things become insignificant--the things we thought we couldn't live without are cast over the ships of our lives without a second thought. Financial ruin? We don't need satellite TV. We don't need that second and third vehicle. We can live without going out to eat. In fact we can live without going shopping for anything but essential food. Marriages being ripped apart? Maybe I didn't need all that "me time" after all. Maybe all I really need is face to face time with the man I committed to marry. Maybe I really didn't need to win all those fights. Maybe I just needed to love him. Children struggling? Nothing else matters. We'll fast. We'll pray. We'll cancel every appointment, we'll leave work early and we'll call in every family member and counselor and pastor we know to give us advice. Because when a storm comes we see instantly all that really matters in our lives. In my opinion, that's a wonderful place to be. These sailors actually abandoned every shred of hope that they would be rescued. They were so convinced of their death that they actually quit eating. What, after all was the point of fueling a body doomed to be consumed by the ravenous jaws of the Mediterranean? Have you ever been through something so intense that you just really couldn't keep doing the things required for living? I mean there are griefs that can grip the heart of a man so deeply he no longer showers, he no longer cleans his house, he no longer gets out of bed. I've seen that grief in my days. And there are shocks that wave through families so powerful that they no longer go to church and they no longer get together with their friends. Who of us would be honest if we said we've never felt utterly without hope? And here's the funny thing--it doesn't take a tragedy to bring us to a place without hope. Sometimes the drudgery and constant gnawing of the day to day requirements of our lives brings us to the point of being so down that we just can't get up. It's at this point that Paul stands up--can you see them all there, faces in hands, numb, cold, wet and cavernous and empty without hope? There, strung about loosely along the deck of that ship no longer gazing into the charcoal horizon, they know the sun isn't going to break through before they are swallowed by the sea. It is to this group of sailors and fellow prisoners that Paul speaks these words: "Men, you should have listened to me and not put out to sea from Crete, thus avoiding this damage and loss. And now I advise you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only the ship will be lost. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve came to me and said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul! You must stand before Caesar, and God has graciously granted you the safety of all who are sailing with you. Therefore keep up your courage, men for I have faith in God that it will be just as I have been told." On this day, in this hour in your life I don't know what situation through which you may be journeying, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the promises in God's Word remain true. I love that Paul said he was confident it would be just as he had been told. In other words he was insisting that whatever God said would come to pass. This is the truth of our lives too--what God says is true. Period. No matter what waves are standing higher than the sun in our lives, no matter what rain has ripped at our faces until we are blinded by the impact. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence not seen." (Heb. 11:1) We stand not on what is before us, but on the guarantees of the God who promises to never leave, to never forsake, to be with us through the valley of the shadows of death, to be an ever present help in times of trouble, to be near the broken hearted, to comfort, to love. You'll never find me dancing a jig of joy in the face of a storm, but I pray that you'll find me believing still in the pure and perfect goodness of my Father. Pray with me: God, you have taken through storms. You've brought me to the other side. You have proven that you will not leave me or abandon me to the ravages and disappointments of this life. Help me Lord to believe when my heart doesn't want to, doesn't have the strength to anymore. Lord, help me to honor you with my belief--to proclaim to a world that you remain the hope of all nations. Jesus, it is you that lives through me. Help me to surrender to the power of your life within. Amen. Read with me: Psalm 42


Julie said...

I've been in the storm before, hurricane after hurricane (circumstantially)... you feel beaten down and empty... But God, He comes and sweeps you up in Him.

It's when we are empty of all our resources that He shines brilliantly...

My husband was in the Coast Guard when we married. Before we married he was stationed on a ship. His ship was sent out in a hurricane at sea for a search and rescue. They were in it 3 days, 40 foot waves, tossed about, ship rolls... We understand storms., both those that are actual and those that are circumstantial.

It is as I said, a brilliant place where God comes through.

Thanks for sharing!

Bretta said...

Dear Sarah,

How I miss your sweet smile on Tuesdays!

I so needed to read this today. Thank you for reaching into my heart that is still ravaged by the storm and encouraging me. It is so easy to see the storm and lose sight of the hope that HE promises.

Love you, friend!