But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”Jonah 1:4-6
Many folks may know my personal story, but few know the full details. It’s not a matter of hiding details from public view, but it is a matter of timeliness and discretion depending on the situation whether it warrants the revelation of greater detail. I’ve never been one to shy away from telling my story of how I came to experience the grace of God, but I have often tempered the drama behind the story in an effort to draw attention to the saving power of Jesus to redeem a wayward soul.
In May 1990, I graduated high school with honors and was preparing to enjoy my last “summer of freedom” before heading off to college in the fall. I had gone to the small town of Amite, LA to interview for my first job in grocery at the local Winn-Dixie. After a successful interview, I was due in Greensburg to pick up my mother so that she could take me home and retrieve the car, a maroon 1980s model Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme – a big boat of a car that could be difficult to control if you aren’t careful.
Seeing that I had plenty of time before I was due to pick up my mother, I decided I was going to go visit a close friend of mine from school who lived in the area where I was. So I turned off of the main route down a lesser known road that I had only traveled on one time before, and then from the opposite direction. Being young and reckless, I decided to try to make haste and get to my friend’s house quickly and then make up time to get to the courthouse where my mother worked at the time. On the radio, Amy Grant’s “Angels Watching Over Me” was playing, and at the time I didn’t realize how important that song would soon become.
As I entered into a sharp right handed curve, the weight of the heavy car and my higher than normal speed carried me over the center line of the highway. I immediately noticed another car coming in my direction and instinctively I tried to make it to the ditch to avoid a collision. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the ditch in time. The other vehicle hit my car near the front passenger side fender and my heavy vehicle turned over in the ditch.
I crawled out of the car and flagged down a passing car and some electrical workers that were working nearby to contact emergency personnel. The horrifying scene of the car that I had hit would haunt me for years to come. In fact, I still occasionally have nightmares about that experience and find myself slowing down more than I probably should when traveling into sharp right curves – 31 years later. After emergency personnel arrived, I was driven to the local hospital and treated for minor injuries, including some cuts and scrapes and a swollen black eye. For several years, there was a splinter of glass that remained stuck in the edge of the septum of my nose until it finally worked it way out over a decade later.
That afternoon, I received word the passenger of the other vehicle had died and her elderly mother who was driving was seriously injured. In that moment, I finally realized the depths of my arrogance and my sin. Here I was a smart, “good” kid now guilty of taking the life of another human being as a result of my own negligence. My aunt came by and visited with me and delivered the news and together we prayed for grace and forgiveness.
When my father arrived home from work, I watched from my window as mom went out to tell him what had happened and where things stood now. I saw as he threw up his hands in anguish and then turned and leaned on the hood of his old red and white Chevy S-10 pickup. At first, I thought he was angry with me, but I soon discovered he was upset about the situation but more worried about me and the shape I was in. To this day, I don’t think he knows that I was watching out that window.
Up to that point in my life, I had always known about Jesus and the grace of God, but I never really experienced. That fact that I should have been dead from that accident was enough to get my attention to lean on the grace of God for my eternal salvation. It did not mean that I would escape the consequences of that day. I did end up going through a legal process of determining whether or not I would be brought to trial for charges related to the accident and death and injuries of the occupants of the other vehicle.
Over the next 20 years or so, I would experience nightmares almost nightly. Some would say it was a form of PTSD. I became sensitive about my own driving and any criticisms of it as I would find myself being over cautious about how I drive in order to ensure that wouldn’t happen again. Yes, I have had a couple of other minor incidents since then, but none that resulted in any injuries. However, the single most important thing that came out of that whole experience was to learn of the depths of the love of my father and the breadth of the grace of my Heavenly Father.
Consequences Follow Choices
Just as Jonah decided to disobey God’s direct command and travel in the wrong direction from his intended goal, I was traveling on a road that was leading to disaster, both literal and figurative. “But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.” (Jonah 1:4) I was not only traveling down a road I had no business being on, but my life was also traveling down a dead end street of pride and arrogance. I had always been a bit of a loud mouth in my youth and that got me in more trouble with my peers than I care to admit. I even had a joking word for it: OPIS (Oral Pedal Insertion Syndrome, otherwise known as “Foot in Mouth Disease”).
I was slowly drifting away from the “faith” of my childhood and preparing to launch into college on my own terms. Had that accident not occurred, I think the next few years of my life might have turned out differently, and not for the better. It took God using a disastrous situation of my own making to get my attention and draw me to Him. In the case of Jonah, God created the storm on the sea to get his attention and try to get him back on the right path to obedience.
Consequences Impact Others
Just as the consequences of my own recklessness that day impacted another family in our community, Jonah’s actions directly impacted a ship full of sailors.
Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep.Jonah 1:5
The storm that arose was so violent that experienced sailors were afraid for their lives. In order to save themselves, they began throwing their precious cargo – the source of their livelihoods and sustenance – overboard. People respond to the circumstances that occur around them, especially when it directly impacts their lives and livelihoods. If your actions threaten another’s career, they will naturally respond in whatever way necessary to save themselves, even if they don’t see the cause for the danger. But if your response is to hide in the middle of the storm and close your eyes to what is raging around you, I can assure you they will let you know.
Consequences Invite Response
The pagan captain of the ship that Jonah was on woke him from his slumber and for all intents and purposes was dumbfounded as to why he would be sleeping in the midst of such violence raging around them:
So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”Jonah 1:6
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! WHY ARE YOU ASLEEP?! WAKE UP?! The world is burning and you don’t seem to care. For all we know, you’re the one who lit the match that started the fire. Call out to your god and stop this madness!
When your world is falling apart around you, how do you respond? Do you close your eyes and hope it just fades away? Or do you cry out to the One that can save you in the midst of your turmoil?
Do you run and hide in the bowels of existence to avoid the pain? Do you turn to the bottle? Addictions to self medicate? Entertainments to avoid reality? Playing games to avoid human connection? Hiding away in the basement thinking God can’t find you?
Whatever life brings your way, whatever situation you find yourself in – whether by your own hand or the hands of those around you – there is peace available in the midst of the storm. Peace is not found in hiding from the one who can still the storm. Peace is not found in closing your eyes to the reality of what is occurring around you. Peace is only found in the realization of our state of disobedience and our repentance before our Holy God. Then and only then will you ever hope to know peace in the midst of the storm.