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I could hear the ship creaking as it strained against the gale force winds and powerful waves. I had never seen such a violent storm in all my years sailing. Like the rest of the crew, I cried out to my god to spare us, afraid the ship was about to break apart. I gripped the railing on the deck as the ship listed against another massive wave. I strained to hold on as the wave crashed over the side of the ship and drenched me.

As soon as the ship leveled out for a moment I moved back to the entrance to the decks below to grab more cargo to throw overboard. It was our hope that lightening the ship would help us survive this violent storm. My crew mate handed me a large clay jar. I grasped it tightly in my arms as another wave hit the ship and flung me hard against the doorway. The impact released the jar from my grip. I watched it roll across the deck and break open against the railing, spewing its contents overboard.

“We’re doomed “ I shouted at my crew mate as I stared at him gripping the ladder just inside the hold of the ship. His face was filled with terror.

“Captain’s getting that Jonah character to pray to his God,” he shouted back. “Maybe that will spare us.”

I nodded as I joined him below deck. The sound of the wind and waves was muffled below, but the creaking of the straining wood beams was louder. I joined the crew huddled together around a dim lantern swaying back and forth with each wave that hit the ship. A moment later the captain joined us with this Jonah character we picked up in Joppa. I thought he was trouble the minute I saw him, but the captain gladly took his fare money.

That’s when my fellow sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” It was no surprise to me when the lot fell on Jonah. “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us?” My fellow sailors asked. “What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” We wanted the truth from this guy.

I stared at the solemn face on Jonah in the dim light below deck as he glanced at us. For a moment there was only the sound of creaking wood. We braced ourselves against each wave, trying to hold our positions on the floor. Seawater trickled down the ladder from above as another wave crashed over the ship. We stared at him, waiting for his answer.

“I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land,” he answered.

That’s when we put the pieces of the puzzle together. We recalled he had told us he was running away from his God, but he did not tell us his God made the land and the sea! We were filled with terror as we asked, “What have you done?” No sooner had the words left our lips when a wave hit the ship so violently that we were almost thrown against the side of the ship. It seemed impossible, but the sea was getting rougher and rougher. So we asked Jonah, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

Jonah bowed his head for a moment, then looked at us with regret. “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied. “And it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

This was not a request we were quick to respond to. Sacrificing someone to the fury of the ocean was not something we took lightly. Instead, we did our best to row back to land. But our efforts were futile. The sea grew even wilder than before. That’s when we reluctantly agreed to Jonah’s request.

“Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life,” we cried out as we took hold of Jonah. “Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.”

I’ll never forget that moment as we threw him overboard. I watched him plunge into the violent waves and disappear below the surface. At that moment the sea grew calm. We had witnessed the power of Jonah’s God. It filled us with fear of the Lord, so we offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.

#WednesdayWalk Through the Bible — an exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of a sailor on the ship Jonah boarded in Joppa to flee the Lord, based on Jonah 1:1-16 (NIV).

© 2019 CGThelen

John 6:16-21 is a familiar passage in the Bible where Jesus walks on the water. I have read it many times and heard many sermons on this passage, but when I read it this morning one verse really stood out: “Then they were willing to take him into the boat (verse 21, NIV).” I wonder why they hesitated to take Jesus into the boat?

Verse 16-17 tells us the disciples opted to cross the lake to Capernaum without Jesus. It was dark and, “A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough (18).” As fisherman, many of the disciples were in familiar water. Verse 19 tells us they had “rowed three or four miles” — a long time — but it doesn’t say they were “frightened” until “they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water.”

This is a decision point for the disciples. “Is what I’m seeing really Jesus, miraculously walking on the water?” I picture them saying, “We’ve been navigating these rough seas on our own without Jesus. After all, we’re experienced fisherman.” Jesus is showing them a different way to navigate rough waters. It’s a frightening thing to acknowledge him as the son of God — to accept him as the Messiah and let him into your boat.

Jesus knows our fears. He knows the difficulty we have in letting him into our boat to take control; to drop the oars and cease the straining against the storms of life without Jesus. The disciples took Jesus at his word and “they were willing to take him into the boat (21).” The rest of verse 21 tells us: “and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.”

I imagine the disciples were not sure exactly how they immediately reached their destination as soon as Jesus entered the boat. Yet I think they could see that as soon as they let Jesus into the boat, somehow they made it across the stormy sea; somehow, in some inexplicable way, Jesus led them to safe passage.

© 2019 CGThelen

Fear is an interesting thing. It can create great stress in the midst of troubles and cause us to panic. Yet fear can also protect us from harm and create a proper respect for authority. In Mark 4:35-41 we have the familiar story about fear where the disciples are in the boat with Jesus when a “furious squall came up (verse 37).”

At the beginning of Mark 4 Jesus pushed off in a boat on a lake to address the crowds pressed against the shore. Here he taught the parable of the farmer sowing seed where he explained to his disciples in verse 17, “When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” He continued to teach and then by evening Jesus and his disciples pushed off in the boat to cross to the other side of the lake (verse 35-36).

Here are the disciples with the son of God sleeping in their boat. They’ve just listened to a full day of Jesus teaching to large crowds. Who wouldn’t think it should be smooth sailing ahead with Jesus along for the ride? But in an instant a storm popped up and nearly swamped the boat (verse 37). Their faith is tested and their first response is to accuse Jesus of not caring what happens to them. A moment later Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the waves, then he rebuked his disciples: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith (verse 40)?”

Why are we so afraid of the people and forces of this world? So often we respond like the disciples in the midst of the storms that pop up in life by crying out to God to do something saying, “Don’t you care?” In the calm after the storm, when the disciples saw the power of God at work, then they had a fear of the Lord. “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him (verse 41)!’”

I find it interesting how in this passage Jesus took the disciples from fear of the storm to being “terrified” of him. They acquired a proper reverence of God asking, “Who is this?” We should have the same awe and reverence of our Lord, placing our fear before the Lord Jesus and resting in him in the midst of the storms of life. Joshua 24:14 tells us, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness (NIV).”

© 2018 CGThelen

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published April 26, 2010

The morning news told it all. Tornadoes suddenly ripped through the south tearing apart several communities. The pictures show the aftermath with homes and businesses ripped open or leveled, their contents spread all over the landscape for everyone to see. The tearful survivors move through the rubble, picking up the pieces.

Adversity has the same effect on us. It rips through our life with little warning, tearing apart everything that held us together. The contents of our life is strewn everywhere for all to see. Our faith in Christ is laid bare. Our emotions are raw. We move through the rubble of our lives full of tears while those around us ask, “Where is your God now?” (Psalm 42:3)

As we pick up the pieces after the storms of life hit, we know that one thing never changes – Jesus Christ. Amidst the rubble, he is there lifting us up, strengthening us, helping us to rely on His Spirit instead of our selfish desires. Christ is what enables us to see trials as pure joy, to “know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” (James 1:2-4)

When we rebuild with Christ after the storms of life, we rebuild with more of Him and less of ourselves. Jesus gives us the ability to rejoice in the midst of grief and all kinds of trials “so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though it is refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

In the aftermath of the storms of life, when others ask where God is, you can respond as the Psalmist did in Psalm 42:11: “Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God— soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.” (The Message)

© 2010 CGThelen

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