A Calm On The High Seas

I’ve recently had an experience of high winds and waves while travelling on a ship.  Wonderfully and thankfully, there were no sea sick feelings.  I even managed to have sailor legs and keep my balance, although at times, the slight rocking and tilting from one side to the other caused me to reach my hand to the wall to steady myself.  

I am not in the least a sailor.  I love to look at the sea and occasionally swim the edges but I have never thrilled at the thought of taking to the high seas.  Nonetheless, I determined to make the best of this experience. I was taking mental note of all my surroundings.  One thing in particular captured my attention.  I noticed that when I was at either side of the vessel, I could feel the tilting with greater swaying back and forth.  However, I also took note that when in the centre of the ship, the feel of the sway was at a minimum.  It was still there, but my balance was unaffected and I could carry on and walk straight without the occasional aid of the wall to hold me up.

You may have guessed at this point exactly what I am going to say:  it’s the same in our spiritual world.  Life has its ups and downs, its challenges and difficulties.  None of us can escape times of turmoil that, like high waves and wind on the sea, may send us grabbing for something to hold us up.  We may look for a handrail of mental escape where we just don’t have to think about it for a time.  We may hug a wall of anything that gives us hope so we keep standing in the storm of our difficulty.  

While any of the above may help for a time, it’s only when we go to the source of all calm, the One who is the centre of all we are, Jesus who is our peace of mind and heart, when all around us there is tilting and swaying of confusion, depression, and fear.  If only we could remember, when all around the edges of our world, troubles abound, in the centre of our own hearts and minds, there is Jesus with us in the storm, speaking to the wind and wavs of our dilemmas to be calm again.

“Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with His disciples.  Suddenly a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke Him up shouting, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’  Jesus responded, ‘Why are you afraid? You have so little faith.’  Then He got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm.”   Matthew 8: 23-26

Surrounded By Zebras And Wildebeests

In times of great stress, we yearn for tranquility, for an absence of anything hostile.  In its place we hope for a situation that is void of whatever it is that is bringing upheaval to our emotions.  We tell ourselves that if somehow an end can come to whatever is bringing stress, then we can at last experience serenity once again.

The above is a definition of the peace that the world hopes to gain.  What the world pursues involves getting rid of a thing or a situation.  We tell ourselves — if only we can rid ourselves of the source of our difficulties, then surely peace will follow.  It’s a logical conclusion but not a lasting solution.  At times, it’s no solution at all because the thing bringing distress cannot always be made to disappear as if it were a rabbit stuffed into a magician’s hat.  The rabbit always returns!

Life is much more complicated, but there is an answer.  I was reminded of this as I recalled a lovely memory concerning zebras and wildebeests.  Less that two years ago I experienced a lifelong dream of going to Africa.  I still get shivers of excitement when I think back to those days when my feet walked in that great continent.

One night as I was sleeping in my tent somewhere in Tanzania, I was awakened by a sound I could not identify.  My body froze as fear ran over me.  Ever so slightly I turned my head toward the mesh window.  I had earlier rolled up the canvas covering before I went to sleep.  Wonderfully, it was a night of a full moon.  I am forever thankful for that full moon because it revealed to me the most exhilarating sight —  zebras and wildebeests meandering around my tent!  I could see the outlines of their bodies as they brushed against the canvas.  They were pulling and chomping at the grass.  I never knew munching could be so loud!  I watched the zebras and wildebeests for nearly an hour as they continued to stroll past my tent, eating their way into the black of night beyond.  Fear completely subsided and total joy filled me as I realized, that at that very moment, I was alone in the middle of a herd of wild animals!  My heart pounded with the sheer excitement of what I was experiencing and seeing with my own eyes!  I lack words to fully describe the emotions washing over me during that most unusual experience of animals in the wild of Africa.

As I have thought about that incident many times since then, I realize that it could have turned into something disastrous.  If I had given way to fear, screaming and jumping up in fright, it would have startled the animals and a stampede could have easily taken place.  Instead, finding and hanging onto peace, a most joyous experience took place instead.

You see, although possible danger lurks all around us, in the tents of our hearts, peace and joy are available to take command of our startled and stressed emotions.  This takes place in our spiritual worlds.  Jesus said something most interesting in John 14:27, “I am leaving you with a gift — peace of mind and heart.  And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”  What did Jesus mean, it is a gift the world can’t give?

The world defines peace as an absence of hostility or a mastering of anxiety.  We learn mechanisms to either compress stress or we maintain a goal of working hard to get through the thing that causes us to be upset or feel uneasy.  God has a very different definition of peace.  His peace is called in the Hebrew of the Old Testament — Shalom.  Shalom peace means to be whole, safe, sound.  It doesn’t entail removing the stress; but rather, it means to live emotionally whole no matter the fears and troubles of life around us.  It is nothing to do but everything to be.  This peace is something totally God given.

When the Spirit Of God resides within, there can be all manner of chaos in our worlds, but no amount of stress  or anxiety can overpower the peace God gives.  The Spirit Of God always commands peace.  Remember the New Testament record of the time Jesus was in the middle of a dangerous storm?  It is said of Him that, “even the winds and the waves obeys His voice.”

Are the storms of life too hard for the world to handle and bring peace instead?  Often.  Is there any fear or stress too hard for the peace of God to overthrow?  Never.