The Heaviest Seas Run With The Wind
You have had the experience, I am sure, of reading words printed on a page, and suddenly encountering a line which leaps off the page and burrows its way forever into your mind and heart. I had that experience in reading Joseph Conrad’ s short novel, Typhoon.
By all agreement, Conrad is the greatest teller of tales of the sea who ever lived, and his story of the great typhoon is a classic. In the story, the ocean-going steamer “Nan-Shan,” under the command of old Captain MacWhirr, was sailing through the South China Sea when it encountered a typhoon of epic proportions. When the storm broke in all its fury, a young man named Jukes, the chief mate, was at the wheel of the ship. In the midst of this life-threatening, ship-threatening cataclysm, Jukes was being counseled about how to handle the wheel by old Captain MacWhirr. The captain said to him: “Keep her facing it. They may say what they like, but the heaviest seas run with the wind. Facing it, always facing it. You’ve got to sail into the wind, not with it. You’ve got to face it. That’s the way to get through. Keep a cool head and face it!”
Well, it’s a great story, but the line that leaped up at me and would not let me go was this: “The heaviest seas run with the wind.” And as I rolled that line over in my mind and heart, it came to me that what is true of storms on the sea is equally true of the storms of life. The best way to get through the storms of trouble and difficulty that come our way is not to run away from them, but to face them, to sail right into them.
In the fourth chapter of Mark’s Gospel, there is a great story about a storm on the Sea of Galilee. The tempest broke with frightening suddenness and intensity, and it lashed against the boat carrying Jesus and His disciples. The disciples, scared out of their wits, ran to Jesus for help. Of all things…can you imagine this?…He was fast asleep in the stern of the boat. What a marvelous picture of the Master—so at peace with Himself and with this world and with His God, so secure in the knowledge of who He was and whose He was that He could sleep in the middle of storm! There must be a sermon in that somewhere, but it will have to wait for another day.
The original Greek words used in the Gospels are quite vivid and they add much drama to the story. The storm, in the original Greek, is called a “seismos.” That’s the Greek world for “earthquake.” The implication is that this particular storm was not just a normal thunderstorm. It was like an earthquake at sea! Another interesting Greek word here is “kaluptesthai” which means “completely hidden.” The waves were so high that when the boat was in the trough of the waves, it was completely hidden. The waves crested and towered high above the decks of the vessel.
The disciples then were understandably terrified, so they waked Jesus up. It is clear that they were a bit irritated at Him for being able to sleep in the middle of such difficulty. You can hear it in the tone of their voice: “Lord, don’t you care that we are about to die here?” And Jesus said to them: “Why are you so afraid? Why do you have so little faith?” Then Jesus, the Bible tells us, faced the wind and calmed the storm.
Now let me take the words of Captain MacWhirr, “The heaviest seas run with the wind, so face it, that’s the only way to get through,” and let me combine those words with the words of the Gospel, “Jesus faced the wind and calmed the storm,” and then let me draw from it all three strategies for dealing with difficulty in life.
First, when the storms of trouble blow, we need to respond forcefully.
When the storm hit, Jesus was poised and confident because He had prepared Himself spiritually for the tough times of life. For Him, the relationship with God was not a last resort, something you turn to when all else fails. For Him, it was a daily way of life, and that conditioned Him with spiritual strength to face the harsh storms that came His way. Consequently, when the trouble was at its worst, He could respond forcefully.
I am forever dreaming up titles for sermons. I always note them down. Sometimes they wind up heading an actual sermon, and sometimes they just sit there in the file waiting to be used. One of the titles just sitting and waiting is this: “Noah Built His Ark In The Sun.” I have never turned that into a sermon, but someday I should. You see, Noah prepared in the sunshine for the rains that were to come. People laughed at him. They told him he was crazy. After all, the sun was shining. But Noah refused to ignore the possibility of trouble coming, so he kept on building. Consequently, he was ready and he was equipped to ride out the storm when it came.
My friends, we need to prepare ahead of time for the storms of trouble and difficulty which will inevitably explode with fury upon us. Somewhere, out there ahead of us, there is a storm waiting for you and me. Don’t ignore that. Don’t try to run away from it, or avoid it. That storm will come, and when it does, if we are not prepared, we will not be able to respond forcefully, and it will sweep us under. You see, when we ignore the difficulties of life, we almost invariably multiply them. Nothing will so aid that which is in opposition to us as for us to attempt to disregard it.
Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that it was his intention to take all of Europe under his control, but the people would not face the reality of what he had written. They dreamed up all kinds of ways to bury their heads in the sand, and consequently they could make no forceful response. As a result, we had World War II. Lenin, when he came to power in Russia, announced that it was the intention of communism to dominate the whole world. Nobody believed it—they looked away and laughed it off. And for three-quarters of a century, we have been scrambling to contain “red” totalitarianism.
Mark this down. The problems that defeat us in the end are the ones we refuse to face in the beginning. So get prepared for the storms of trouble. Build strong your relationship to Jesus Christ. Then when the storms come, you won’t ignore them and try to run from them. You will face them. You will respond forcefully. That’s the way to defeat difficulty in life.
Secondly, when the storms of trouble blow, we need to respond fearlessly.
Those disciples were afraid, the Bible tells us. But what I want you to see is that their fear paralyzed them. It rendered them unable to respond to the circumstances they encountered. And what I want you to remember is that fear is an attitude. It is a state of mind. That’s all it is. And if we can change our attitude, we can control our fear, rather than letting it control us. I would like, therefore, to offer three methods for mastering fear. They are obvious things, I suppose, but we need to be reminded of them.
One: Focus on fear-eliminating Scripture. Psalm 27. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 34. “I sought the Lord and He answered me and He delivered me from all my fears.” Isaiah 41. “Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” Luke 12. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” II Corinthians 4. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” When you read those kinds of words in Scripture and mark them and even memorize them, then you can call them forward in the time of fear and you will have their strengthening power.
Two: Focus on fear-defeating people. Study the way great people responded to difficult and troubled times. David Livingstone, for example, was a missionary to Africa. He gave his life to Christ’s cause. One night alone, beside a treacherous river, surrounded by hostile tribes, Livingstone searched his heart for some way to conquer his fear. Later he wrote in his journal: “That night, I heard the words of Jesus again, ‘Lo I am with you always.’ I said to myself, ‘It is the word of a gentlemen of strictest and most sacred honor, and that is good enough !'” Or read Stephen Oates biography of Abraham Lincoln, entitled With Malice Toward None. In the narrative, Oates refers to Lincoln’s Cooper Institute speech, before his election as President. It was Lincoln’s first speech in New York and it came at a troubled time for both Lincoln and the nation. Yet in that speech Lincoln uttered these words: “Let us stand by our duty. Let us not be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” Now had Lincoln only said those words, that would be one thing—but you have only to look at his life to see that he lived them. Focusing on the heroines and the heroes of the faith can alter the attitude of fear within us.
Three: Focus on fear-conquering symbols. Remember that fear is an attitude and we can begin to change that attitude by focusing on fear-conquering symbols. Leonard Bernstein, whenever he conducted any concert, wore cuff links given to him by Dmitri Mitropolous, who was a great teacher of conducting and who had exercised tremendous influence over Bernstein in his early years. Before Bernstein would step onto the stage at the beginning of each performance, he would kiss one of those cuff links. That wasn’t some crude form of superstition. It was a way of claiming symbolically the greatness Metropoulos had poured into him. I myself carry this cross in my pocket. It is a symbol for me. It reminds me of the man who gave it to me more than twenty years ago—he fought the most courageous battle against cancer I have ever seen. And it reminds me of the Christ whose spirit of power is always available to me. In time of storm, I clasp that cross in my pocket and find a fear-conquering strength beginning to flood my soul.
Those are some methods we can adopt in our lives to help us respond fearlessly in time of trouble.
Thirdly, when the storms of trouble blow, we need to respond faithfully.
Here is the truth to sustain you in life. You can never be finally defeated in life until you let go of the hand of God in your life. You can never lose in the battle of life until you say “I surrender.” And by the same token, if you ever shove God out of your experience, you can never ultimately win. Bottom line—we may move ahead in the face of life’s storm on the strength of our faith.
So many times, we are like Moses who, when he was trapped between the Red Sea and Pharoah’s onrushing army, said to the people: “Stand still, and watch the Lord fight for you.” But God immediately thundered at Moses from the heavens and said: “Why do you stand there saying ‘Watch the Lord fight for you’? You tell the people to move forward.” Moses obeyed God’s command and the people moved forward. As they did, the way was opened before them and they went across on dry land. The same is true for us. When we in faith obey God’s commands to us in Jesus Christ, we find the way through life’s stormy times and hard places.
I think of the time when Stonewall Jackson had his army camped some distance from the headquarters of General Robert E. Lee. One day a courier brought word to Stonewall Jackson that Lee wished to see him, but the message went on to say: “But it is not urgent so come at your leisure.” Stonewall Jackson immediately saddled his horse and set off riding through a storm of sleet and rain. It was bitter cold and the road was mud and ice. Jackson rode through the night and arrived at Lee’s headquarters just as the General was finishing breakfast. When Lee saw Jackson ride up in that storm, he rushed out and said: “Man, I told you that it wasn’t a matter of great urgency.” Jackson replied: “But when my General wishes to see me, my General’s wish is my command.”
My friends, if the wish of Jesus is our command, if we are obedient in faith to the kind of life Jesus calls us to live, then we shall have the courage to face the storms of trouble and difficulty which come our way.
If the winds blow high and hard in your life and you are afraid of the storm, then think of old Captain MacWhirr, who said: “Keep on facing it. The heaviest seas run with the wind. So face it. It’s the only way to get through. Face it.” I could add to his advice: Face it with Jesus Christ. For He and He alone, can calm any storm…