“I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8 (NIV)
Are you a reactive person? My heart sinks as I read the latest headlines that ‘we are now in the eye of the storm’. My heart soars as I read an email about 2020 being a year full of prayer and gratitude.
Storms and difficulties frequent the Bible. It felt quite fitting to unpack a few New Testament stories of nature behaving wildly, and what these verses can assure us of in the storm(s) that we find ourselves in.
Featured in three of the four Gospels, the story follows the disciples’ reaction to a storm whipping up around them at sea. Jesus is also with them in the fishing boat. Alarmed the disciples cry out “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” Jesus, asleep until they call out to him, immediately rebukes and calms the wind and the raging waters. “Where is your faith?” he asks his disciples.
Now the Apostle Paul has been told by the Holy Spirit that he would stand before Caesar. En route to Caesar and the capital however, Paul’s ship is caught in a monster storm that threatens to pull the whole ship apart. Those on board are desperate to both live and escape, throwing the cargo out the boat to lighten the ship’s load (vs 30) and lowering the lifeboats ‘pretending they were throwing more anchors from the front of the ship’.
They find themselves (vs 20) at the mercy of nature in full force: ‘When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.’ Hope had gone it seemed, everything was lost. Yet on the storm’s fourteenth day, an angel appears to Paul in his dream: ‘Paul, do not be afraid. You must stand before Caesar. And God has promised you that he will save the lives of everyone sailing with you.’
Both stories share the (very justifiable) human response to being caught in a storm: terror, confusion, panic and hopelessness. On both occasions God responds. In one instance, a slumbering Jesus wakes to speak authority and calm the storm. In the other, a slumbering Paul wakes to speak authority and encourages faith through the storm.
The global pandemic has been likened to a storm, and not just in the news headlines. Others have rightly acknowledged ‘Same storm… different boats.’ People are being affected differently and some have less resources to cope than others. I’m not sure what sort of sea you’re sailing on today, how stormy or calm your waters were yesterday or even what you’re sailing into next week. In many ways I have found this third lockdown the hardest one yet. Some of you reading this reflection really might not see an end to the storm that is Covid right now – but we do know the One who does. Sometimes that is enough and all that we need to know to keep us going.
Full of faith, Paul speaks to his fearful crew mates (Acts 27: 25-26: “So take hope, men. I believe my God will do what He has told me”). Interestingly, Paul does not plead for the storm to subside. Nor does God – or Paul in the name of Jesus – calm the raging storm there and then. Even after Paul’s pep talk to his fellow passengers, they continue without sighting land a little longer.
What has God spoken and told us? “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isaiah 43:2); “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,” (Deuteronomy 31:8); “I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20).
Psalm 16 too reveals something of this tension, of learning to trust God despite being in the throws of difficult times. We get a glimpse of King David’s internal wrestling, “Preserve me, O God”, the Psalm begins. But amazingly, by verse 8 David is declaring “I shall not be shaken”. What’s happened between verses 1 and 8? By focusing on God (not the storm), David switches from fear and anxiety to faith and confidence: “I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”
As Jesus asked his disciples, he also asks us today, ‘“Where is your faith?”. May I stand on (my swaying) deck and encourage you to hold onto all that God has promised to his people in His Word and what He has spoken over you personally. Even within a tough start to a New Year, may we learn to recognise His presence and know His workings in our lives, as local as they are for the time being. My prayer for the Wild Christian community in 2021 is that we would choose to remain hope-filled and hopeful no matter how wild the waters might get.
This reflection was written by Jennifer Plummer for the Wild Christian email, ‘Nature and loving your local.’ Jen is A Rocha UK’s Wild Christian Coordinator.