Riding the Storm (Ros' Blog)
Psalm 107. 23 – 32
Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters,
They see the works of the Lord,
And His wonders in the deep.
For He commands and raises the stormy wind,
Which lifts up the waves of the sea.
They mount up to the heavens,
They go down again to the depths;
Their soul melts because of trouble.
They reel to and fro and stagger like a drunken man,
And all their wisdom is swallowed up.
Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He brings them out of their distresses.
He calms the storm so that its waves are still.
Then they are glad because they are quiet;
So He guides them to their desired haven.
OH! that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
Let them exalt Him also in the assembly of the people,
And praise Him in the company of the elders.
Whoever is wise will observe these things,
And they will understand the loving kindness of the Lord.
When I was in my teens I loved sailing. Some kinds of sailing more than others – dinghy sailing was good fun in its way, tacking across Chichester Harbour, or along the Helford River in Cornwall. But real exhilaration was being out on the North Sea in a 30-foot Bermuda rigged sloop, at the mercy of the elements, harnessing the wind and navigating a course through the waters by day, and at night anchored in some sheltered creek, lulled to sleep in my wooden bunk by the gentle movement of the waves – nothing beats it for restoration of the soul, and I’m fortunate enough never to have experienced seasickness.
I remember well an incident when I was just 14 years old. My father ran sailing holidays for young people, and he took me along with him – two weeks of sleeping, cooking and sharing fellowship on board, only putting in to shore when the drinking water ran out or the bread turned mouldy. On this particular day we were crossing the Medway Estuary and heading north up the Essex coast. The shipping forecast predicted ideal conditions for the trip: clear skies, good visibility and winds of force 4 – 5.
We set out in high spirits; the mainsail and jib filled with wind as the bow sliced through the water, leaving a gentle wake trailing behind us. It was such a pleasant, straightforward sail that my father told me to get out my guitar and lead some singing. So I sat in the cockpit with the guitar and we all sang,
“This is the day, this is the day,
That the Lord has made, that the Lord has made.
We will rejoice, we will rejoice
And be glad in it, and be glad in it.”
The first thing I noticed was a change in my father’s demeanour. Suddenly he became tense and focused on the horizon, all his senses on full alert.
“Put the guitar away!” he ordered, in a tone I didn’t question. I quickly stowed it in my cabin and returned on deck. Now we could all see what my father had seen. On the horizon, a well-defined area of dark grey cloud was racing towards us at a speed that had to be seen to be believed, whipping the sea into a frenzy beneath it as it rushed in our direction.
“My father shouted, “Life jackets on!” and we all obeyed. He pointed at me and a young lad named David. “You two – harnesses on!” We strapped the harnesses over our shoulders and around our waists, fastening them securely. “Go and get the mainsail down!” David and I shackled the karabiners on our harnesses to the mast and began to lower the mainsail.
My father was an absolute stickler for having everything on board ship, well…. shipshape; every item put away, every rope neatly coiled, and the sails smoothly and evenly furled. David and I began to furl the sail meticulously, as we had been taught. “Forget that!” my father shouted. “Just get it down and tie a bit of rope round it.” I was astonished – it was the first time he had ever instructed me not to do something “properly”. We let go the sheets and grabbed at the sail, yanking it down as fast as we could, and tying it down roughly. Just as we finished and stood up, the squall slammed into us. I expected it to hit us amid-ships, but while we had been dealing with the sail, my father had turned the yacht directly into the storm, out to sea, to avoid the risk of being driven onshore. The bow of the ship rose up in the air as the first wave raced up underneath it, and then we rushed down the other side of the wave. David and I dared not undo our harnesses from the mast, or we would have been overboard for sure, so we stood there, on the highest point of the deck, hanging onto the mast, with a grandstand view of this magnificent storm.
At 14 I was too young to appreciate the very real danger we were in, and I found the whole experience totally exhilarating. Before long the waves were coming at us from the side, and were as high as the mast. We would hurtle up each wave to the crest, then plunge down into the trough as the next wave towered over us and looked as if it were about to break across our deck. Then at the last moment we would race up that one too, and then plummet down into the next trough. The squall lasted only about 15 minutes, but later that evening we heard on the shipping report that it had been gusting up to hurricane force 11, and I could well believe it.
I don’t know how my father felt, responsible as he was for the lives of five young people in his care, but if he was at all perturbed, he never showed it for a moment. He was calm, focused, alert and in control, and his actions brought us safely through that storm with only one minor injury between us. That night, at anchor in the calm once more, we read this passage from Psalm 107.
As my life navigates through some pretty big storms, I often think back to that day. Now, as then, the ship of my life is in the hands of a competent Captain who has made Himself totally responsible for my safety and wellbeing. Sometimes my inclination would be to navigate away from the approaching storm, but He knows that to hug the shoreline is to risk being driven aground and wrecked, and so He turns my bow and points me straight out to face the oncoming hurricane head-on. He harnesses me to a place of safety so that I can never be swept overboard, and He expertly navigates the crests and troughs of the waves, no matter how high and overwhelming they look. I know that He is utterly committed to bringing me into safe harbour, and although all I can now see is the current moment, the ferocity of the storm, and yes, at times the intensity of my fear as the waves threaten to swamp my deck, I know that just a short while from now I will be safely at anchor in a sheltered place, glad because I am quiet, and have been guided to my desired haven.
At any time He could choose to say to the wind and the waves, “Peace! Be still!” But for now He holds back and lets the storm rage. Let it rage. If my vessel were in my hands, I would perish. But I have handed the Captaincy over to Him, and He has a 100% track record. No vessel Captained by Him has ever come to disaster. No wonder the Psalmist longed for everyone to give thanks to Him for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men. I cannot be swept onto the rocks or swamped by the sea – even if at times it looks close. My destiny is peace and safety – and to sail again another day. “Whoever is wise will observe these things, and they will understand the loving kindness of the Lord.”
The photo 'pewter' is of a sailing boat at see, and was taken by Flickr user Jenny Downing. Used under Creative Commons License 2.0 Free for commercial use, Some Rights Reserved.
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