Having grown up in Florida the threat of hurricanes and tropical storms is hardly new to me. But it took a fresh turn when we lived in Jamaica.
In Florida we could watch the television and track a storm moving toward us. If we wanted we could get in our car and evacuate all the way to Alaska. But on an island the options are decidedly more limited. While watching Tropical Storm Gustav moving closer to Jamaica I could see that the radar image of the storm was larger than the whole island. When finally the storm was fully ashore the radar image gave no evidence that Jamaica even existed. It was swallowed by the storm. Meanwhile on the ground the winds growled around our house and the rains came so that it might have appeared we stepped into a waterfall. Already bad roads had chunks of asphalt pushed along in the new rivers that flowed across them while the old rivers poured angrily down the mountain passes taking whatever pleased them along the way. All we could do was batten down the hatches and ride through it. On an island when the hurricane comes there is no choice but to face it.
The ordeals of life have often been compared to storms. The Salvation Army Song Book has numerous references to these storms. Christian poetry has often used the image. It is a helpful metaphor: a meteorological event parallels so closely what we feel within ourselves. When the hurricane comes down upon the little island of Jamaica like some lion springing on its helpless prey a person can feel so helpless to move out of the way or to find a safer place.
If you are breathing and keep doing that long enough you can be absolutely certain you will face yet another hurricane event in your life. It is not a question of if, but when. Maybe you will be caught without warning like the poor victims of earthquakes or tornadoes. Maybe you will see it coming, creeping steadily forward and you with feet as rooted to the ground as some mighty oak find no ability to run. There is no evacuation route. There is no shelter nearby. You are out in the open and the rage of the storm is upon you.
There is the most exquisitely beautiful story found in the gospels that tells of such a storm (Matthew 14:24-33). Jesus had stayed on land to pray and the disciples went forth confident that crossing the little Sea of Galilee was one task they could handle without Him. But even with the hardy fishermen who comprised one third of the disciple band they found themselves in an intense wrestling match with the winds. Where they were when it broke meant the storm was unavoidable.
It was then that something happened that only those who have been in the fiercest storms can begin to understand. At the moment when it seemed that their strength would give out, when all stars failed to penetrate the layer of clouds overhead, when their pathetic sails had long been furled to the mast because they were so utterly useless, Jesus came. Surrendering to the superstitions that had marked their lives before Jesus the disciples assumed they were seeing a ghost perhaps come to escort them through the valley of the shadow of death. It was then that Jesus spoke words that both comforted and confounded them - "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid" (Matthew 14:27).
It was not just what Jesus said but the setting in which He said it. On the water. In the storm. This was not how or where God is supposed to speak. He’s supposed to use sermons or some snippet of a song or the Bible. But these disciples should have known by now that the Lord is infinitely creative in the ways He will deal with us. And if a storm and an angry sea are what it takes then God will bring all the elements to bear so we can hear those same words: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."
Storms will bear down upon us and they will frighten us with the driving rain, the howling wind, the creaking of our pitiful little shelters. But in the storm as darkness makes every sound that much more ominous, right in the midst of it there walks Jesus and He says to you as surely as ever He said it to the disciples, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."