To discern is, “to perceive or recognize clearly”. I think by definition that is most difficult to do in the midst of the storms of life. How easy is it to see clearly with the rain pounding down on your windshield? Have you ever had to slow down or stop to wait for it to let up? I have. It is impossible to see clearly in such conditions. When the waves of change start rocking our boats, we are usually more preoccupied with keeping ourselves in an upright position. We don’t stop to consider the purpose of the storm when we are fearful of losing control over the direction of our lives in it. We just want the rain to stop so we can see clearly, and steer in the direction we want to go. But that’s the thing about storms. They quickly show us who is boss. And it’s not us.
I am using the term “storms” in this post metaphorically to mean anything that threatens or challenges us: change, loss, disappointment, fear, grief, etc. But there are several occurrences in the Bible when Jesus was with His disciples in the midst of literal storms. In Matthew 8, Jesus was asleep on the boat when a sudden storm swept over it. The disciples woke Him in a panic, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” (Matthew 8:25). In Matthew 14, Jesus came to His disciples, walking right out to them on the water in a severe wind storm. The disciples cried out in fear, “It’s a ghost!” (Matthew 14:26). Jesus immediately took control in every storm, calling His disciples to a greater faith. The storms’ purpose was to build their faith. Jesus showed His authority over their lives through His demonstrated power in calming the storms.
I heard a recent sermon on the account of Matthew 14. This is when Jesus called Peter out of the boat, to walk upon the water. The sermon’s main point was to call people “out of the boat” to a greater faith in Jesus. As I listened, all I could think about was the Apostle Paul. Let me explain why.
In Acts 27, Paul sailed for Rome. He knew for years this was his ultimate destination and calling. He felt the Lord had confirmed it several times. Paul knew he would go to Rome and share the Gospel. This chapter chronicles his trip. Here, we find Paul finally on his way…until the storm came. The text says, “The ship was caught in the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along” (Acts 27:15). The storm continued for days and was very severe. The ship drifted further and further off course, and Paul had absolutely no control over his direction. He had to wonder why this was happening and if he would ever make it to Rome. Verse 20 says, “We gave up all hope of being saved”. Everyone on board thought it was their end. No one would survive the storm; much less make it to Rome. Paul stood up among them at this point and said, “Last night an angel of the Lord whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you” (Acts 27:23, 24). Paul urged them to keep up their courage and have faith that God would do what He promised. The angel had even foretold of a shipwreck yet to come, “Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island” (23:26). I don’t know about you, but this is not the news I would want to receive at this point. News that this storm is far from over, and it’s about to get even worse…much worse, in fact.
The ship, still driven by winds beyond their control, headed dangerously fast toward land. The men feared they would be “dashed against the rocks”. The sailors let down the lifeboat in an attempt to escape the ship and save themselves. Paul stood again, stating boldly, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved” (23:31). The men were doing what we would all do in their place. We are all tempted to jump ship at the worst point in the storm.
So, as I listened to the sermon about getting out of the boat, all I could think of was sometimes we are called to stay in it, and ride out the storm. Even when we are headed straight for the rocks and our “boat” is going to be dashed to pieces. Our hearts and hopes crushed beyond recognition in a devastating shipwreck of faith. Sometimes the faith journey we think we are on gets so far off course we wonder if we even heard God correctly in the first place.
How do we know what is required of us in the storm? How do we know when to “hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em?” Discernment is the calmness of mind and spirit that seeks God in the worst of storms, and, like Paul, is able to hear from God when everything you have believed and worked toward seems lost. Paul discerned, and then spoke, with bold faith. He was a clarion call to everyone else on board. An immovable rock that stood against the devastation and declared, “We will get to Rome!”. That’s the kind of discernment I aspire to have; the person of faith I want to be in the storm. The clear-eyed, unblinking showdown with the rocks ahead that stands up and shouts, “God’s purposes will stand!”. If we are called to Rome, to Rome we will go. By God’s grace and power alone.
Prayer request: I am very aware of writing this on the heels of the storm that devastated the Philippines, sweeping away thousands of lives. There are no words to adequately express the grief over this massive tragedy. I know God sees and values each life lost, and that He is Sovereign over all. Please remember the Philippines in your prayers.