It looked to be a good day of fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. The weather forecast was for coastal thunderstorms- welcome to Florida. Thirty minutes after leaving the dock, and ten minutes after running out from under some dark clouds, I looked over my shoulder, back toward the safety of land, and I had a bad, sinking feeling. It was barely 9 am, and those dark clouds had gone to ugly menacing black. The only safe water was further out, further from the safety of the shore! Within a couple hours, those “coastal thunderstorms” had ballooned and pushed us 25 miles offshore. Even there, the lightning and cold threatening wind was enough to unnerve all of us aboard the boat. The waves built into these blockish , close together three to four foot tall walls of water, slamming into the hull like heavyweight punches, causing the boat to take on this eerie lurching shudder. I’d spent enough time on boats to know that the voice in my head that was saying “Not good” was right on the money! Every boater knows that there is an inverse correlation between boat size and wave size. A 30’ boat feels quite spacious on a calm sea. In 5’ stacked seas, that same 30 footer feels like a teacup!
And so I come to think of 2 Gospel accounts involving boats, men, and waves. The first is Matthew 4. Crossing the lake, the disciples are left to sail while Jesus takes a nap at the rear of the boat. A violent, nasty storm comes up. The disciples, some of whom were pretty “salty” and veteran sailors, with years of experience on the water, were hearing a warning go off in their heads that sounded like “Not good”. “Bad storm”. “Danger”. It was an “I could die out here today” kind of storm. Meanwhile, Jesus snores…
This, as the story recounts, becomes a kind of embarkation point for faith. Jesus quiets the storm, asserting his dominion, and points out how little is the faith of his disciples. The message is clear and simple, even if not easily learned. Jesus is always with us. No matter the circumstances, even when we think He’s asleep, He is always, in a certain sense, “in the boat”. That is a difficult lesson, all by itself.
Next, in Matthew 14, Jesus ups the ante. Jesus actually makes the disciples get into the boat and head across the lake. Jesus, essentially, sends the disciples into harm’s way, into the storm. I can relate to that! How many times have I felt like God actually exposed me to harm? At least, that was (and sometimes is) my perception. But, besides the “keep your eyes on Jesus” message that is blatantly obvious, there is a deeper message. While Matthew 4 is the starting place of faith- believing that Jesus is with me, Matthew 14 is a place of maturing in faith.
Maturity is not about weathering the storm, enduring the buffeting, and clinging to Jesus in a sinking boat (although I admit I have felt like this a lot in my life). Rather, it is about leaving the boat, what appears safe, and stepping into the storm. Now, walking on water is miraculous all by itself, even on calm water. But, stepping into a storm takes WAY more faith than stepping onto flat water. Calm water offers, at least, a momentary illusion of stability. And if it doesn’t go well, treading water on a calm day isn’t too hard. But, when the waves are taller than your head, and the wind is so strong that it blows the tops of the waves off, sinking equals drowning.
And that is the place of mature faith. Ultimately, “Stepping into the Storm” is our call as Christians. Wherever that storm is, whether in our hearts, in our families, or in our culture, we are called to step right into storm!
So you aren't left hanging, we ran upwards of 70 miles that day, dodging lightning, wind and rain squalls. In the end, we found a little gap between 2 nasty thunderheads, and shot through it to a beautiful afternoon, a beautiful sun-drenched shore in the distance.