The squall came out of nowhere and hit us with a ferocity we weren’t expecting. What had started as a beautiful, sunny summer day was now dark and stormy. Our 50 foot sailboat was being tossed about on the 15 foot swells like a toy boat and our crew of high school girls were scared and seasick. We’d been sailing together for weeks, this boat as our home for a month-long sailing camp, but we didn’t expect this. In fact, we’d never have ventured out of the safety of the channel between the islands where we typically sailed had we known a storm was coming. This day on the open ocean was one we’d eagerly anticipated and trained for, but not like this.
The sea had been calm and the skies clear when we headed out. We were enjoying our big adventure outside the safety of the channel, taking turns at the wheel to steer the boat over the larger swells out here. We were putting our training into action, operating as a team as we glided over the ocean. The storm came up suddenly, as they often do on the water. Within minutes we were facing blowing wind and rain and the gentle swells had become rolling waves.
Seasickness overtook everyone except me. So, I stepped up and took the wheel. Bracing my feet on either side of the cockpit, I took a firm hold and keep the boat steadily heading back to the safety of the channel. As the rain beat down and the boat rolled and rocked over the waves, I felt surprisingly prepared and confident. I’d grown up sailing and had been through storms before. None as big as this one, of course, but I was no stranger to sailing through rain and waves. My father had always modeled calm as he skippered our boat through rough waters, so I’d learned not to panic. Practicing and training on the smaller challenges prepared me for this day and I was ready. Not that I wasn’t scared, but I felt a strange confidence leading us back to safety.
Training for the Storm
In many ways, I’d been training for years to be ready for this storm. I’d learned the particular maritime vocabulary and map-reading. I’d learned how to tie knots, what each line and sheet on the sailboat controlled and when to tighten or loosen each one. I’d logged numerous hours sailing through various conditions, gaining a feel for how to catch the wind in the sails and control the boat under different wind speeds. I’d been observing and learning from other skippers who were much more seasoned and modeled a calm, “been there, done that” approach.
In a similar way, we also need to train for the storms that break into our lives. We need to prepare in advance, practice in the calmer waters of life, learn from those who have “been there”, so that we’re prepared to take the wheel, trusting God to fill our sails and keep us afloat through even the most ferocious storms.
7 Essential Steps for Spiritual Training
If the task before you was to sail a boat, run a race, or build a house, you could probably find an appropriate training plan. You’d find someone who’s done it before, ask what classes you should take to learn more, and join a training group to get practical experience.
Spiritual training is no different. It also requries an intentional plan to learn the basics, grow in your maturity, gain experience in small areas, and develop habits and practices, so that you’re ready when the big storm hits. Below are 7 essential steps to include in your spiritual training plan.
1) Find a mentor who models spiritual maturity
Ask if they’ll be a mentor to you, ask questions about their faith and how they developed such deep roots, look to them for guidance and support as you seek to grow yours. Observe how they (and others) react when under stress or when storms pop up in their lives.
2) Get involved in a church
Surround yourself with a community of believers (preferably in person, although it’s good to also have an online support system). Worship and study together, learning from each other.
3) Study and learn the language of the Bible
Read the Bible. Join a Bible study group to go deeper and learn with others. Learn new methods for studying the Bible to broaden your experience and knowledge. Meditate on scripture and allow God’s Word to settle deep into your heart.
4) Learn to pray
Learn the basics of prayer, both on your own and as part of worship with others. Observe how others pray and discover the methods and techniques that fit the best for you. Develop your prayer language, drawing on scripture (particularly the Psalms). Practice praying alone and with others.
5) Develop a relationship with God through prayer
Make prayer a daily habit, not just to make requests of God, but to develop a relationship. Share your life, your concerns, and your dreams. Ask for his guidance and direction. Listen for his response. Learn to discern his voice above all others.
6) Serve others who are in need
Give your time, talents, and treasure to help others. Learn to focus on others, even when you are in need.
7) Practice putting your trust in God in the small challenges and decisions, observing his faithfulness
Make it a habit to pray first and listen for his guidance, even if it seems like the problem or decision isn’t big enough to need his input. Learn to discern his voice in the small storms, so you’ll hear him clearly in the big ones. Train yourself to make prayer and scripture your go-to habits in all things.
What is Your Training Plan?
How will you begin training for the storm? We all need to be prepared because the storms of life lurk just beyond the horizon and are apt to pop up out of nowhere. Grow your faith and learn to trust God through the everyday struggles, so you’ll be ready for the big one. Be ready to step up and know exactly what to do when a crisis comes your way. Ready to put your trust in God, call on him through prayer, remembering the promises he gave us in scripture, and leaning into your community of support to carry you through the storm. Whether you’ve been in such spiritual training for years or are just getting started, there’s always more to learn. What next step will you take today?