It seemed that whenever Dad and I swapped stories about the time we spent together at sea we always wound up talking about storms.
We’d talk about how rough it got, how long it lasted, how sick Denn was.
I began making trips with Dad on the tugs when I was fourteen, when I was fifteen I got summer work as a deckhand on the tugs and then I joined dad on the herring seiner when I graduated from High School and so we had been on more than just a few storms together. And the reason we ended up talking about the storms is that the storms were what made the times a sea memorable.
There were a lot more beautiful days then there were stormy days, but the beautiful days were all alike. It was Tolstoy who wrote “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And nice days at sea are all alike, but every storm was stormy in its own way.
And some of the storms were dangerous and some were scary, and all included me throwing up at some point.
But even knowing that there would be storms, my father spent most of his life at sea. Both as a child and as an adult. And if you had of asked him why he choose a life at sea, even with the possibility of storms and the potential danger in those storms I think he would have just looked at you blankly, not understanding the question.
After all, for Captain Burton Guptill, there was no other life than a life at sea. He would have embraced the words of Vincent Van Gogh who wrote, “The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”
When we think of storms, most of us can think of a weather storm that was memorable for us. Maybe Juan or White Juan if you’ve been in Halifax for any length of time.
I remember the Ground Hog Day gale of 1976, I was in grade 10 when that storm went through Saint John.
In 1978 while I was fishing with Dad we lost our engines and spent a night in a crazy storm in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Probably wouldn’t have been all that memorable if we had of had our engines, but we didn’t.
But there are other storms that we remember that don’t have anything to do with the weather. Financial storms, relationship storms, health storms.
When I was a young teenager my father decided to make a career change and go back to sea, so he quit his job and went to navigational school. There were some financial storms in the Guptill household during those years. And we’ve often told stories about those storms as well.
Disease, divorce and death are all storms that have affected people at Cornerstone, and as long as we are on the journey called life there will be storms. Some of those storms you might see coming, others seem to come out of nowhere.
For the next three weeks I am going to be looking at “Weathering the Storms of Life”.
Because here is the reality, every one of us will face storms. As long as we are on this journey called life, storms will come.
I remember a poster from my teen years that said, “A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” But there is no harbour in life where you will be safe from storms.
Sometimes we think that we are in a safe harbour and then a phone call, a knock at the door or a routine doctor’s appointment shatters that illusion.
But, with that being said, there are things you can do to make sure that you survive and maybe even thrive in the midst of the storm.
Today’s story comes from the Old Testament, a very familiar passage of scripture, the story of Jonah and the whale, or the great fish. Take your pick, and while the story of Jonah and whatever ocean-going creature swallowed him is a great story, we’re not going that far into the tale.
Jonah 1:1-2 The LORD gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.”
So, let’s begin with The Back Story The story begins with this man name Jonah being called to leave his life in the Northern Kingdom of Israel to go and preach in the city of Nineveh, which was located in what was then called Assyria and now is called Iraq.
We don’t know a lot about Jonah. And much of what we do know comes from one obscure reference in the book of 2 Kings where we read, 2 Kings 14:25 Jeroboam II recovered the territories of Israel between Lebo-Hamath and the Dead Sea, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had promised through Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath-Hepher.
So, we know his father was Amittai and we know that he was from Gath-Hepher, which no longer exists but archeologists tell us was located just a few kilometers from Nazareth where Jesus grew up.
And in the book of Matthew Jesus refers to Jonah as a prophet. So, I would suspect that having the Son of God call you a prophet is probably all the qualifications you need to be considered a prophet.
So, this man of God is called by God to deliver a message from God, to the people of Nineveh. The problem was that Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria and Assyria and Israel were bitter enemies.
And God is calling his servant to go and preach in the very heart of enemy territory.
Remember, Nineveh was in what is now called Iraq. If we pull down one of our trusty maps. Here is where Jonah was and here is where Jonah is called to go. A distance of about 800 km, not an easy trip, even if Jonah wanted to go, which apparently, he didn’t.
As far as Jonah was concerned going to Nineveh was a terrible idea and it just wasn’t going to happen, so if we keep reading we discover that our hero makes a chose that will colour the rest of the story and dramatically change his future. And make for a really cool Bible story.
Jonah decides that instead of being obedient to God’s calling on his life that he will simply run, never a good idea.
Let’s pick up the story in Jonah 1:3 But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the LORD. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the LORD by sailing to Tarshish.
Years ago, when I was reading this in the NKJV I made an interesting discovery, in that translation it said that Jonah went down to Joppa, and then went down to the ship and then down into the lowermost parts of the ship. And I thought, “wow, isn’t that true, the path away from God always leads ever downward.” Or maybe that’s just me being a typical preacher and reading too much into it.
You’ll remember that Nineveh was 500 miles to the west of Gath-Hepher, well Tarshish was as far as you could possibly go in the opposite direction. Let’s pull up our map again and we discover that the experts tell us that Tarshish was located here in what we call Spain. And for most of the people of that time, that was the end of the world.
So, you get the picture, God calls Jonah to go and preach to people he has no interest in preaching to. And so his first reaction is to run as fast and as far as he can possibly run from God. God says go east, he goes west.
So let’s keep reading Jonah 1:4 But the LORD hurled a powerful wind over the sea, causing a violent storm that threatened to break the ship apart.
If we started with the “Back Story” now we in The Storm Story These men had probably sailed in storms before but the force of this storm was so great that it threatened to destroy their ship.
While they don’t have the traditional Hurricane or Cyclones in the Mediterranean Sea, because of their relatively dry climate they do have a rare cousin called Mediterranean hurricanes or Medicanes. And perhaps that’s what this ship and her crew encountered.
The storm grew to the point that the crew started throwing their cargo overboard and when the storm hadn’t let up they started to look for the cause of the storm.
I love the fact that while the sailors are freaking out, throwing cargo overboard and fearing for their very lives, Jonah is down below, asleep. As my mother always said, “know nothing, fear nothing.”
They wake Jonah up and tell him to start praying to whatever god he worshipped, they were trying to cover all their bases.
Did you know that sailors are really superstitious?
It was always considered bad luck for a woman to be aboard a ship, sorry ladies. And you never whistled while you were on a ship because you might whistle up a storm. And a shark following your vessel was seen as bad luck while dolphins hanging around were seen as good luck. It was considered bad luck to rename a boat, and if you had to the best was to have a de-naming ceremony first.
This ceremony consists of writing the current boat name on a piece of paper, folding the paper and placing it in a wooden box then burning the box. After, scoop up the ashes and throw them into the sea. After you did all that, then you could rename the boat. Something else you learned at Cornerstone, that’s value added.
And if we pick up the story in Jonah 1:7 Then the crew cast lots to see which of them had offended the gods and caused the terrible storm. When they did this, the lots identified Jonah as the culprit. Oops.
Well maybe you know the rest of the story, the crew demands to know what Jonah had done to cause the storm, and he’s like “Nothing really, just running from God.” And they were obviously a lot smarter than Jonah for they said: “why?” And then the follow-up question was “What do we need to do to make the storm stop?”
And Jonah said, “It’s simple, just throw me overboard.” That seemed a little drastic and so they kept trying to get to shore, but the storm got worse and worse. Finally, they spiritualize the decision. They prayed about it, Jonah 1:14 Then they cried out to the LORD, Jonah’s God. “O LORD,” they pleaded, “don’t make us die for this man’s sin. And don’t hold us responsible for his death. O LORD, you have sent this storm upon him for your own good reasons.”
Then they threw him overboard. And if you grew up in Sunday school then you know that a giant fish or whale came along swallowed Jonah, he spent three days in the belly of the creature and then he was thrown up on a beach. Where he immediately made his way to Nineveh to preach. And the people repented and turned to God, which made Jonah cranky, but that’s a different story for a different time.
And seriously, don’t get hung up on the whale and how that could be possible. It isn’t. It’s why it’s called a miracle.
Adam Clarke wrote, “It may be asked, “How could Jonah either pray or breathe in the stomach of the fish?” Very easily, if God so willed it. And let the reader keep this constantly in view; the whole is a miracle, from Jonah’s being swallowed by the fish until he was cast ashore by the same animal.”
Now back to the story and the “so what?” It’s kind of a cool story but what do we learn from it.? Lessons from the Story
1) Not Every Storm Is Our Fault. The first reaction of the sailors was that they had done something wrong, that somehow, they had displeased one of the plethoras of gods they served.
Often times when we experience storms in our lives our reaction is “Why me?” and we wonder if there was something that we had done wrong or something that we didn’t do.
Why did my spouse cheat? Why did I get cancer? Why did my business fail?
But in the case of the sailors, they had done nothing wrong.
Sometimes I wonder if we are being a little narcissistic when we put the blame on ourselves. Somehow thinking that the entire universe revolves around us. And the question, “why me?” implies at least to a certain degree, “Why didn’t this happen to somebody else?”
In the case of this story, the blame lay completely with Jonah. Which leads us to our next thought, and that is:
2) Every Action Has Consequences for Others.
If there is one theme I seem to come back to over and over again it is, we are where we are because of the choices we have made. Jonah wound up in a storm because of the choices he made. Jonah got thrown overboard because of choices he made. Jonah got swallowed by a whale because of choices he made. We understand that there will be consequences for us because of the choices we make.
But, too often we think that we are indeed an island entire of itself; we don’t want to acknowledge that we are in fact a piece of the continent and a part of the main.
But, if you were paying attention in school you’d remember Newton’s third law which tells us that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Seriously, I wasn’t paying attention in school and I remember Newton’s third law.
And often our choices, our actions not only have consequences for us, but for others.
And so, because Jonah was disobedient he put the lives of the sailors at risk.
When a marriage dissolves the fallout extends to children and grandchildren, parents and friends.
When God speaks to you about giving and you brace your feet and hold onto your money and say “Mine”, which kind of makes you sound like a two-year-old, there are people who might never be reached because the resources aren’t there.
Bad business decisions affect not only the owner of the business but his employees, customers and suppliers as well.
Someone commits a crime and ends up in prison and his family pays the price as well.
Before you don’t do the thing that God is asking you to do or do do the thing that God is telling you not to do, you need to ask yourself: “Who else will this affect and how?”
3) Don’t Make Major Decisions When You Are in The Midst of a Storm.
I’m not sure that the only solution to the storm was Jonah being chucked over the side.
Jonah probably thought that being thrown overboard was the best solution at the time, but I wonder.
I wonder what would have happened If Jonah had of simply prayed a prayer of repentance? I mean other than us losing a really great bible story.
Be careful about making big decisions in storms. I remember quitting the night we were in the storm in the Gulf of St. Lawrence without an engine. I was sick and scared, we were trying to get a line to another ship and I told Dad, “If we get out of this alive, I quit.” And the next day when we got back to port I had my suitcase packed. I had decided to embrace the advice of Admiral Nelson who was reported to have said: “A sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree.”
Dad convinced me to stay, told me that there would be more days without storms then with storms, and really what would life be worth if you couldn’t go to sea? and besides that, he asked how would I get from Paspébiac, Quebec to Saint John New Brunswick if I quit?
It was Robert H. Schuller who wrote, “Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.
Which brings us to the next lesson learned, Jonah 1:15-16 Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.
4) No Storm Lasts forever It sometimes feels like we’ve been battling the storm forever, but the reality is that no storm lasts forever.
King David wrote in Psalm 30:5… .Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Every night has a dawn, every mountain has a peak and every storm has an end
It was Iyanla Vanzant who wrote, “No storm can last forever. It will never rain 365 days consecutively. Keep in mind that trouble comes to pass, not to stay. Don’t worry! No storm, not even the one in your life, can last forever.”
Don’t quit, you don’t know how close you might be to the end. And when we are facing the storm it seems like the storm will go on forever, because it is right in our face.
But every storm runs out of rain, the wind eventually dies down.
For the sailors, the storm was over when Jonah went overboard. But for Jonah the storm, not the physical storm, but hey he was swallowed by a fish where he spent three days and then he was thrown up on a beach, that has to qualify as a storm, that lasted for a few more days.
Let’s pick the story up there, Jonah 3:1-3 Then the LORD spoke to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.” This time Jonah obeyed the LORD’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all.
Which brings us to the next thing we learn from this story, 5) The Remedy for Disobedience Is Obedience
You don’t become a Christian because of how you live, and what you do. The promise is found in Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
But, when you become a Christian, a Christ follower you are expected to obey the one you are following.
Jonah didn’t just apologize to God for not being obedient, he became obedient.
We keep coming back to the words of Christ when he told his followers in John 14:15 “If you love me, obey my commandments.
I don’t know where you might be today, but if you are in a storm I hope some of what we’ve learned has been helpful.
Hold on, hold tight and be obedient to God’s direction in your life today. You can’t be obedient for someone else, but you will always be expected to be personally obedient.
Here is a scripture to hang onto when you find yourself in the middle of a storm.
Proverbs 10:25 When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away, but the godly have a lasting foundation.