When I got to the large oak tree that had fallen across the road I wondered if I had made a mistake. There had been rumors of storms all day on Tuesday (forecasts, really) but when it is still sunny out it is easy to go about business as usual. This meant that I had little thought of missing an out-of-town meeting despite the fact that I would be driving home right around the time the thunderstorm was expected to hit.
Driving straight into the dark horizon should have been warning enough — there was supposed to be an hour of light left. First the wind started and shook the car. I slowed down and got off the interstate to drive home on slower roads. Soon the shadows covered everything, with only the eerie light that appears in storms to mark the way (along with intermittent lightning flashes). Then the rain came. Then debris tumbled into view. Another person I know who was driving home said that she half-expected a cow to fly across the road. The world changed all of a sudden. Time to pray.
I should have known better than to be caught in the storm like that. I think we are generally confident in the forecast until the world changes all of a sudden. That’s when we discover our need for God.
Matthew and Mark tell the familiar story of Jesus calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee. The disciples, many of whom were fishermen and experienced on the water, decided to ferry Jesus across the lake one day. Granted this was Jesus’ idea so maybe there were clouds on the horizon, but not much worry for experienced hands. (It may be that the lesson of the story is that Jesus calls us into the storms.)
All of a sudden the wind picked up and in a few minutes the boat started to swamp. The disciples were probably furiously bailing out water. Meanwhile, Jesus was asleep on a cushion in the back of the boat. About the time the disciples were losing confidence in their efforts they woke up Jesus and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38) Jesus responded, “Peace! Be still.” And, “Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm” (4:39).
Mark makes it seem like Jesus is talking to the weather (“he rebuked the wind, and said to the sea”). Jesus calms the storm, the wind ceases and the disciples eventually make it to shore. I think it could be said that Jesus is speaking to the disciples, too. After the fact he wonders where their faith is and why they are afraid. Calming the storm on the sea, it seems, is easier for Jesus than calming the disciples’ storms. “Peace,” he says, “be still.”
So Tuesday evening I imagined Jesus asleep in the back seat of the car. The silence of it said, “Peace! Be still.” Another lightning flash. “Peace! Be still.” Another limb down. “Peace! Be still.” A blocked road. “Peace! Be still.”
The lights were off as I drove into town. When looking to reroute around a downed tree I found a text from my wife saying that the storm was bad, the power was out, and that she was hoping I was off the road. “Peace! Be still.” Another detour. “Peace! Be still.” After about 10 more minutes of white-knuckle driving I made it home. “Peace! Be still.”
I hope the weather stays calm for a while. I’m enjoying the sunshine and the warming days. But I know that storms appear suddenly, and it may be that Jesus is calling us into them.
So here is what to say to the next storm, “Peace! Be still.” To the trouble at work, “Peace! Be still.” To the stress at home, “Peace! Be still.” To the bad news at the doctor, “Peace! Be still.” To the harrowing loss, “Peace! Be still.” To the doubt that clouds faith, “Peace! Be still.” The one who created the waves created you, and “will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4).
Will Scott is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dalton. His column appears the fourth Saturday of the month.