Throughout my life, a bevy of Bible stories have greatly shaped my thinking. Mine is a story-driven faith.
One of those stories is the one in which Jesus and his disciples find themselves in the grip of a raging Galilean storm.
Only once have I been to Galilee, and on that occasion I witnessed the suddenness and the ferocity of the storms in that area. I watched the clouds gather and explode over the bowl-shaped lake. I recalled the many times my Sunday school teachers had spoken of storms over that sea and, with the help of paper figures stuck to a flannel graph board, described the fear of the disciples and the calmness of Jesus.
Years later I would compare that story to John Wesley's experience aboard a ship in the North Atlanta when he observed a group of Moravian missionaries worship on the deck of a similarly storm-tossed boat.
In the days of Sunday school, we children would often dramatize the storm story. Because I was the preacher's kid, I was always cast as the sleeping Jesus in the back of the chair/boat. While the "disciples" lost their calm in the face of the rising waves, it was my responsibility to dramatically rise and shout out, "Peace! Be still."
Years later I came to see another aspect to the storm story that I do not recall the teacher ever highlighted. It was the moment after the storm had ended, the moment where I now imagine Jesus whirling around to the terrified disciples—with the air of a disappointed teacher—saying, "Where in the world is your faith?"
In this context, the question really meant, "What have you learned about yourselves in the last few minutes? Has anything I've taught you taken root in your hearts?" There must have followed an intensive seminar on the inevitability of stormy, even life-threatening, moments in life and the appropriate conduct of leaders on such occasions.
I can almost hear Jesus saying, "You think this was a storm? You have no idea what the future is going to bring. If this is the best you can do …"
The Life Laboratory
The Galilean storm seems a testing laboratory, which the Lord used to prepare the disciples for soul-bending moments that lay ahead. You could say that it was in such moments the progress of conversion was examined.
You couldn't have created such a stormy condition in a classroom—or even in a church sanctuary. Experiences of this kind are not about right words but about right attitude and behavior. These qualities show themselves best in hurricane conditions.
Among my earliest stormy moments was the time when I, a young pastor (age 26), for no discernable reason (except, maybe, the prodding of the Holy Spirit) decided to visit a ranch owned by two of the members of our church. At the time I was preacher and spiritual leader (or thought I was) to a tiny western, very rural, community of 50 people.
As I drove into the barnyard area, I was confronted by a sight that remains fresh in my mind 45 years later: The husband was carrying his wife, obviously dead, the victim of a horse-spooking event out on the prairie.
Talk about a storm! What was I to say to this man who was in shock? What was the next thing to be done? How could I provide leadership (practical, emotional, spiritual) to this suddenly-motherless family that included small children? How would I guide the congregation that would have to come together and offer support?
No seminary class, no book, was able to offer much help in that moment. It was all something to be learned in a "boat."
I would estimate that the life of any leader is 95 percent navigation in relative calm waters (the routines of daily life) and 5 percent sheer terror as we face the unexpected and the uncontrolled. Yet in that 5 percent, much is revealed about the kind of people we have become and are becoming and the integrity of what we say we believe.