When God Sends The Storm

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Series: Faith

Sunday 23rd August 2015 – Justus Swart

(John 1:14); Ps. 104:4; Jonah 1:1-17; (Eph. 6:1); (Luke 22:42);
(Eccl. 3:3); Mark 2:17; Jonah 2:1-9; 
(Mark 12:30-31)

There is a subconscious thinking in our minds at times that we think of our personal lives and social lives as something that is separate from the Church. We see our commitment to the Church as something that takes away from the commitment to ourselves, our friends and family. Our lives become very busy and we see Sunday as a day to either relax or catch up with friends and family. This is the reality for every person that claims that Jesus Christ is their Lord. The reality for every confessing believer is that God became man in Jesus Christ. John says that the Word became flesh (John 1:14). The Word died, nailed to a cross, taking your place and paying your debt. We come together and see that Word, Jesus Christ, manifest here on a Sunday morning, not just through the word or worship but also through the fellowship; through the spoken word that takes us by the hand and pulls us forward, calling us to the next place we need to be. The spoken word of God also brings healing to the sick. The word brings light to all the things we keep hidden in our lives. We need those things exposed if we are going to get closer to Jesus. The manifest word of God also challenges us to become more like His Son. The word of God also speaks purpose to those that are lost, feeds those who have an unquenchable hunger and breaks the chains of those who are oppressed. We come together to give expression to the God of heaven by letting Him take His place in our lives. Do we take our commitment to coming to church seriously or do we see ourselves and our faith as independent from coming to church?

We have come to the understanding that the highest state of being/living is to have options or choices. But we are confronted with the fact that sometimes God does not give us a choice. The most basic fact of our Christian faith is that we come together and we declare the Holy Spirit, the Lordship of Jesus and the Fatherhood of God. Why is it that we struggle to maintain a commitment to coming to church? The Church is going through a storm because Christians do not take their own faith seriously. In these storms He makes the winds His messengers, flames of fire His servants (Ps. 104:4). God uses the storms and the winds to communicate with us. When you are going through a storm, do not try to get out of it too quickly without hearing what God is trying to say to you. It is happening for a reason; God is trying to get through, trying to break into your life. We sometimes make it difficult for God to break into our lives. There are times where we need God to deliver us from a storm, like Paul and Peter, but there are other times when God is the one who sends the storm. When He does, it is not meaningless, there is always a message hidden inside the storm.

Jonah, after being commissioned by God to go and preach against the city of Nineveh, decided he was not going to accept this mission and tried to hide from God. Historically Nineveh was right in the heart of an Assyrian empire. The Assyrians where very well-known for peeling the skins off the enemies while they were still alive. They also beheaded people and made big piles of their sculls to threaten their enemies. Jonah had to walk past all this to get to the heart of Nineveh and confront them about their wickedness. Jonah tried to run away from the omnipresent God (Jonah 1:1-17). Jonah not only represents the individual but also the Church as a whole. Running away from God not only puts us in danger but also puts those around us in the storm. Our selfishness and our unfaithfulness cause other people to suffer for it, just like the sailors who were caught in the storm because of Jonah. When the Church or the individual do not commit to the will of God, the world suffers because of it.

There are two things the Church needs to stop doing and two things the Church needs to start doing if we are going to live faithfully to the commission that God has given us.

Two things the Church needs to stop doing:

  1. In stormy times we need to stop throwing the wrong cargo overboard. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god and they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship (Jonah 1:5). The cargo that was meant to be thrown overboard was hidden away. It is always tempting to start throwing things overboard when the storms hit and rock our boat. It is easy for me as a young pastor to become anxious when I read articles about churches shrinking or closing and of people leaving the church. Anxiety can often lead us to throwing out the wrong cargo. The younger generation in a desperate attempt to be accepted by the world can be tempted to throw out wrong things. We throw away things like speaking in tongues; we wrongfully try to modernise the church or stop preaching messages that makes people uncomfortable. We stop having times of really deep reflection and worship because we think that people do not understand. We become afraid to talk openly about finances, tithing and giving our offerings. We make the sermon so short that people hardly have time to even get into the word. Church services become so ineffective and no longer challenge us about the truth of God’s word. People come and go from church meetings yet nothing really changes in their life. We become afraid to talk about the divine authority of parental guidance and discipline because we fear we are going to lose the younger generation. Yet the Bible says Children obey your parents (Eph. 6:1). We are gripped by the fear of losing young people. The idolisation of youth is a terrible trend which has gripped the Church in an unforgiving way. We base our decisions on how to capture the young generation instead of truthfully living the word of God. In our own personal lives, when “the going gets tough” we stop going to church; when a financial storms hit us, we stop tithing; we stop being generous and we hold back. We become concerned about “me and my needs”. When our lives feel dashed against the rocks we throw away our quiet times of reading the Bible. When stress takes over and we feel like time is so limited, we give up the one thing that can restore us – we no longer read the Word of God and let it speak to us. What if we get caught in emotional storms when people put us down, people step on us and we stop being kind to those around us. We can be tempted in that moment to stop caring for those around us. That is also throwing out the wrong cargo. We think, “I just need to keep my ship afloat. I have to think about number one”. Taking our faith seriously means not throwing out the wrong cargo because we want to look more appealing or we want to do it for the sake of church growth.
  1. We need to stop trying to row to shore. The most obvious thing to do is want to get out of the boat and get to land. Instead the men did their best to row back to land, but they could not for the sea grew even wilder than before (Jonah 1:13). Our human efforts often increase the raging storm around us because we are labouring in the wrong places. These sailors thought they could negotiate with the storm, thinking they had better skills. Until you receive the message God is giving you, you will be stuck there because God is dealing with you. While Jesus was hanging on the cross, what a terrible shame it would have been if the disciples had tried to take Him off. When we see people on the cross do we try and take them off the cross or do we pray for them to go through and get to the other side? When Jesus sat in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “Please Lord take this cup away from me, but let me get through it by drinking it” (Luke 22:42). He had to go through it to get to the other side. The message to the Church is quite simple: stop trying to work against what God is doing. When God is calling us forward into the great unknown, the Church has a habit of retreating into its old ways and practises, to what is familiar because it is comfortable. When the winds rage we look for the small comforts which allows us to think we are making progress when actually things are getting worse. How futile it must look to try and row a boat in a massive storm. The world, being the sea, is going through a storm while we as the Church are sitting in a little rowboat trying to make something happen. The world is crying out in desperation. As individuals we do the same thing. When suddenly a storm hits, we desperately try to get our lives together just the way it was before. We resist the change that God is trying to bring in our lives by continuously trying to row back to land. There is a time to tear down and there is a time to build up (Eccl. 3:3). If God wants to tear down something in your life, the more you try to fight it, the more painful and the more difficult it will be. By holding onto faith, God also builds us back up. We are not left in a pile of ruins. God always breathes His life into His creation. By holding onto faith, God will build us up and we will come out looking a lot more like His Son than we were when we started. “Lord, form in me the shape of Jesus Christ. Lord, make me into the mould of Jesus Christ; make me more like your Son.” Job’s response is critical to understanding God when his wife said, “Turn and curse God.” Amidst his agony and suffering she was talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept the good things from God and not the trouble? We love it when it is all about the blessing and progress, but what happens when God tries to take something away from us? In troubled times we are being shaped to be more like Jesus than in the good times.

Two things the church needs to be faithful in doing:

  1. We need to wake up! Jonah went below deck and fell into a deep sleep (Jonah 1:5). Stop hiding from the storm and pretending that it is not really happening. Wake up to the cry of the world. The Church exists to serve the world with the gospel of Christ. Too much of Christianity is reserved for Sunday mornings and we are all capable of sleep walking through our week only to make it to another Sunday to listen to another message that does not change us. Are we dealing with the reality of life and the situations we find ourselves in? How does my going to church help my neighbour? How does it affect them? Do you come to be strengthened and challenged to go back and be a blessing? Do you come to be filled up to the brim so you can give and give and the next Sunday you are empty and need to be filled up again? Dietrich Bonheoffer said, “What is nearest to God is precisely the need of ones neighbour. Love the Lord your God and love your neighbour” (Mark 12:30-31). When you love your neighbour you are loving God. Are we sleepwalking through our week or do we actually love our neighbours? The Church needs to equip us to address the needs that surround us, whether it is feeding the hungry or comforting the lonely or being a shoulder to lean on. We are surrounded by people in need.
  1. We need to dive in. Jonah took action. Jonah went in to a very deep place of remorse and guilt. Jonah’s cry and prayer from inside the fish was his apology to God (Jonah 2:1-9). There are certain messages of grace inside the Church which make the feeling of guilt almost a sin. We think that feeling bad or guilty as equal to sin. Repentance is a serious process we as the Church have to go through, not once but daily. Repentance is getting up and turning around when we make mistakes; continuously re-directing our lives back towards God. Repentance is not always about being on your knees in tears; it is about taking action and moving towards God. God talks to us through that guilt; it means that you have crossed the line somewhere. It does not mean God is going to hammer you and beat you because you feel guilty, but He is going to breathe mercy and grace into you. If we think we do not need to feel guilty we remove that process of God breathing grace into us and we rob ourselves of that blessing. Jonah tried running from God and put his life and the lives of others in danger. Once he woke up to that reality, he was not pleased with himself and Jonah then asked the sailors to throw him overboard and the sea would calm down (Jonah 1:12-15). Before the storm they were praying to their different gods, hoping someone would listen, but after Jonah took responsibility, the men feared the Lord. They could see that Jonah was a man of God. God is not happy when His people hide their light under a bowl, when we retreat from the world and abandon the very mission He has called us to. Jesus did not come to save the good people of the world but He came for every single person He created (Mark 2:17). Is that a reality in our own personal lives? The time has come for the Church to put its light on a stand and to reach those who do not know the gospel. To be thrown into the sea is like being thrown into the great unknown; a deep abyss of waves rocking us back and forth where it is only faith in God that can bring us back to land. Jonah had to take the biggest risk of his life by being thrown into the sea. After the fish had swallowed him and he had gone through his process, the fish brought him back to land. This is the same picture as when Jesus went down to the abyss for three days and three nights and then was raised on the third day. Jonah was carried in the belly of the fish and brought onto dry land without even a single scratch on him.

Are you hiding from God? Are we as a Church hiding from the mission that God has given us? If we are, it is time to re-commit ourselves to the adventure of faith. It is only through faith that we can bring ourselves before God, not through good works.

It is better to fall down than to fall away. If you make a mistake do not retreat by not coming to church, do not hold back from community. I need your expression of Christ in my life. The world needs your expression of Christ in their lives. Find the voice in the winds, in the whisper of God.