“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)
In the last two weeks I experienced two ‘firsts” in my life – visiting the Island of St. John, USVI and riding out a tropical depression during its formation. (This tropical depression ultimately became Hurricane Isaac that is still currently active and leaving a path of destruction in its wake.) Living inland some 500 miles from the nearest coastline, I had certainly experienced heavy rains associated with the aftermath of past hurricanes and tropical depressions. However this was my first experience with a storm forming over largely open water. St. John is a popular vacation destination because of its remoteness and unspoiled charm. The island does not have an airport and can only be accessed via ferry from nearby St. Thomas. Over two-thirds of the island of St. John is a national park and can never be commercially developed. After being on the island for several days, news of a tropical storm forming in the Caribbean began to get greater attention. The feelings of peace and tranquility I had felt the first few days on the island had now been replaced with feelings of anxiety. Fueling these feelings were the constant weather reports updating the storm’s approach. Thanks to satellite TV, St. John does receive the major mainland cable news channels. The only thing being whipped into a greater fury than the winds and rain of the storm was the reporting about the storm!
When I broached the subject of the approaching storm with several local residents, they had a completely different take. Instead of being worried they were indifferent. Our tour guide, James Penn, who at the age of 60 was a lifelong native of St. John, was not at all concerned. He pointed out that homes in the USVI were built out of concrete and designed to withstand hurricane force winds. Indeed I did see exposed rebar from several houses that were under construction. Mr. Penn also noted that the roofs of the homes were made of metal and designed to not easily blow off. Our enterprising tour guide joked that any debris from a storm would be good for his business since he owned a trucking company that held contracts for garbage removal on the island. I did not have to worry about flooding where my family and I were staying since our villa was on a hillside. Several other locals I spoke with also echoed Mr. Penn’s lack of concern about the impending tropical depression. So do you know what? After speaking with them, my entire mindset changed. Despite what The Weather Channel, CNN and other news outlets reported about the storm, I had a sense of peace about the outcome. I had placed my trust in people who had experienced storms in the past and were equipped to deal with them.
Then another thought interrupted my thinking. Why didn’t I always trust God this way when “storms” hit my life? The St. Johnians Islanders I met were certainly experienced, but they were not clairvoyant. They could not predict with certainty the outcome of the storm. Additionally, the St. Johnians could not control the severity or path of the storm. A change in the storm’s path or intensity could have spelled trouble for St. John even with its preparation. The island was equipped to handle storms but it was not completely impervious to them.
We serve a God who has control over the storms of our lives. God can quiet the storm as Jesus did in when he was with the disciples in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. God may elect to allow the storm to rage, but he can quiet our hearts as we faithfully endure the storm. The Apostle Paul, in route in Rome encountered a storm that destroyed his ship, but he and all the ship’s passengers were saved. While the ship was being battered Paul offered these words and prevented panic from breaking out, “But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.” (Acts 27:22). This was sound advice to a group of first century sailors and it remains sound advice for us today.