Being in the Storm of the Now Rampant COVID-19 Virus
By Pastor David Wilson
Our friend and COTS alumnus Pastor David Wilson has written these thoughts on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic for his congregation. We thought we’d share them with you.
Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” Matthew 8:23-27 (NKJV)
Sometime last week the Lord brought this verse to my mind, and I couldn’t let it go. I knew it was connected to the COVID-19 virus pandemic. Yet I wasn’t fully sure how. I began studying the scripture and consulted commentaries and online Bible studies. What follows helped me understand the connection and I hope is helpful for you.
Have you ever noticed how the stories of God’s great acts mercy in the Bible often involved His people being in a boat that was caught in a storm at sea? There’s a good reason for this. There is nothing more out-of-human-control than a storm at sea; and likewise, there is nothing more helpless than a boat being tossed by the waves in a storm. It’s a vivid picture of being completely subject to grave circumstances that are utterly outside our control. And so, it’s a perfect illustration of being suddenly caught at the mercy of trying, or difficult, or even dangerous circumstances – circumstances in which we are helpless to do anything but cry out to God. Like being in the midst of the now rampant COVID-19 virus.
And so, for example, we read that God brought a sudden windstorm down on the boat in which Jonah was travelling; and the tough and experienced sailors who were with him in the storm became so terrified that they cried out to their gods. Eventually, at the word of Jonah, they threw him overboard; and when the storm suddenly ended, “then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.” Jonah 1:16 (ESV) they were brought to the end of themselves – and eventually to their knees before God – by being caught in a storm at sea.
Or we read that the Roman soldiers and sailors who were transporting Paul to Rome were also caught in a storm at sea. They wouldn’t listen to Paul’s warnings about not venturing out; but by the time the storm had had its way with them, even the Roman centurion was taking orders from the apostle Paul! Paul prayed; and the lives of all two-hundred and seventy-six persons on board were spared. God had everyone’s attention through the storm at sea. Perhaps God is warning us not to venture out; to be safe and self-quarantine.
In this text from Matthew, we come to one of the most famous of all “storm” stories. All the usual elements are there: the sudden and unexpected storm; the boat helplessly being tossed; and the passengers who were terrified and who feared for their lives. But this time, Jesus – the Son of God in human flesh – was present in the boat; and His presence made all the difference. This story teaches us that He is “Lord of the storm”; and shows us how we can trust Him to see us through the storms of life that we may encounter.
And that basic point leads us to the practical importance of this story. This same Jesus who exercised complete authority over that storm on the Sea of Galilee also has authority over the storms of life that strike us. He may, in His wisdom and love, allow us to experience them; but they are never outside of His control. With nothing more than a word, He is able to bring the storm to an end, and replace it with a great calm. And so, as long as He is with us in the midst of the storms of life, we will never have a reason to fear.
But then, look what happened to these men who followed Jesus. The storm strikes! “And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves” (v. 24).
This is a very remarkable storm. The Greek word that Matthew uses to describe it (seismos) is one that means “a shaking” or “a quaking”. It’s the word that’s ordinarily used to describe an earthquake. Luke tells us that this was a product of a great wind that suddenly came down upon the lake (Luke 8:23). These experienced fishermen would ordinarily have been able to tell in advance that a windstorm was coming; but this one was unexpected. Think about what we’re told: it came suddenly; it was described as “great”; and it was so threatening that we’re told that “the boat was covered by the waves”. When the Gospel writer Mark tells us about this same story, he says that the boat was “already filling” (Mark 4:37). The men in the boat were certain that they were about to die; because they cried out to Jesus that they were “perishing”.
And here’s perhaps the most remarkable thing about this storm: it came when they were in the course of simply following Jesus! They were doing the right thing. They were obeying the Son of God! And yet, this violent and life-threatening storm fell upon them anyway.
There’s a great spiritual lesson for us in this. We shouldn’t ever think that, just because we’re following Jesus, we have a right to expect to be exempt from the storms of life. Those storms may come – even though we are following Jesus very faithfully. Jesus could have prevented the storm from coming at all, if He had seen fit. But His disciples were following Him; and He led them right into a storm!
Now why would Jesus do this? We need to keep in mind that Jesus has greater things in mind for His followers than they have for themselves. We have it in our mind that we ‘ought’ to have a comfortable ride with Him. But He knows that, as His followers in training, we need to get caught in some storms now and then – all so that we can learn some new truth about Him in an experiential way. He knows just the right time for us to enter into a storm; and He knows just what we need to learn from that storm in order to trust Him even more. As the apostle James has taught us;
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 (NIV)
We are being thrown about in the midst of the COVID-19 storm right now – circumstances that are frightening and outside of our control. To conclude, let’s try and put these seven principles from Matthew 8:23-27 into practice:
(1) Don’t be surprised by the fact that, even when you follow Jesus faithfully, you still suddenly find yourself in the midst of a storm. It’s a part of His plan for your growth and development in Him.
(2) Be confident that, even if it seems like He’s asleep, Jesus is still there in the storm with you. He knows what is going on; and is able to do whatever is needed.
(3) Remember to cry out to Him. It’s the greatest thing you can do in the storm. Don’t be silent and stuff it in; but pray! Tell Him what concerns you.
(4) Be of good courage and of strong faith in the midst of the storm. Don’t be timid or cowardly because of a lack of faith in Him. He loves you and will never abandon you; but don’t give Him a reason to rebuke your sinful attitude before He rebukes the storm.
(5) Rest assured in the knowledge that He can transform the storm from a great tempest into a great calm whenever He sees fit to do so.
(6) Watch, and learn from Him, as He teaches you in the midst of the storm that He is sovereign over every area of your life; and that even the wind and the sea must obey the commands of the One who is your greatest Friend.
(7) And most important: when it’s over, and He proves Himself once again to you, worship Him!