When I visited the Sea of Galilee the water shone like a mirror. The sturdy fishing vessels that lined the harbor seemed excessive for such a tranquil setting.
Yet, the Sea of Galilee experiences an unsuspecting phenomenon. The “sea” is actually an inland freshwater lake fed by underground springs and by the River Jordan. It sits well below sea level in a rift valley surrounded by high hills, and because of the geography of the land it is prone to sudden, violent storms.
Cut into the surrounding hills are deep ravines that act like funnels for the wind. Winds rush down the gullies and whip up the water with powerful, menacing waves.
Surely, I thought to myself, as I overlooked the mirror-like Galilean Sea and observed the fishing boats, Jesus’ disciples—experienced, well-built fishermen— could have managed. In vessels that big, I doubt the waves could have been bigger.
I know from experience that sailing on a lake is unpredictable when compared with sailing on the ocean.
When I lived in London, my friend and I owned a tiny sailing dinghy with blue and purple sails and just enough room for two people.
We kept our boat on a lake just outside London. On a weekend when the sun shone, we would drive to the lake, drag our boat into the water, hoist the sails, and enjoy a few hours cruising up and down.
When the wind blew strongly, we would change our minds about a day of sailing. A sudden gust could catch us out, capsize the boat, and make us wet and cold while we struggled to get upright again.
Out at sea it’s easier to sail even if the wind is strong because it is constant, from one direction. On a lake, the contours of the land mean the wind is constantly shifting directions. It can be confusing for a sailor and, as we discover with Jesus’ disciples, frightening, too.
On the two occasions in the gospels, we are told the disciples were terrified when engulfed in a sudden storm on the lake. They feared for their lives in the wind and waves.
Their boats, I discovered, were not as robust as I thought.
I got to see a first-century fishing boat discovered in the mud on the shores of the lake. It is thought to be typical of the boat used by Jesus’ disciples.
This boat was a small, flimsy vessel made of cedar and other woods. At about 27 feet long—about the length of two minivans end to end— it was only 7 feet across, big enough for two men side by side. It did have a sail, but it also had oars, so it could be rowed across the lake.
The boat would have flipped like a coin in rough weather and high waves.
No wonder the disciples were scared. Yet, what was significant and is important for us to remember, is that Jesus always came to their rescue during the storms—walking out towards them, getting into the boat with them, calming the waves. Each time he reminded them to have faith.
It is the same for us.
Storms—unexpected diagnoses, disasters, a sudden death—that come upon us out of nowhere are frightened. Yet, we are not alone. Jesus is with us. Not in person, but in Spirit—we have another Helper who is with us always.
When the waves crash over us and we feel overwhelmed, or when we feel like we are drowning, we can call to Jesus. He has a firm grip on us.
When the wind is so strong and we’re struggling to make headway, we should remember Jesus’ words: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (emphasis mine). We can expect God to reveal himself, in the middle of a storm, in more amazing ways than we have known before.
When we wonder how the storm will be calmed, we need to remember that Jesus is Lord of the whole earth, everything obeys him.
When we feel alone in the crisis, we can invite Jesus to climb into the boat with us and know that he is Lord of all that happens in our lives. And when we do, the winds and waves will subside.
The squalls might be a shocking fright to us, but they are no surprise to our God. Have faith, he will see you through.
Use the prayer below for when a crisis hits:
Give me reassurance that
When a crisis hits or
In the storm I’m in
That everything is
Under your control,
That you are with me.
You do not leave me
You hear my cries for help
You see my fear.
Give me courage.
Show me that you have
A firm grip on
All that is happening.
Reveal yourself in
More amazing ways
So I can
And be in awe of you.
In Jesus’ name