by Dr. Guy Richardson
Painting by Hovhannes Aivazovsky
"If we don't get help, we're going to die." We weren't the greatest sailors, but my family had several boats we enjoyed on the lake near our home or on the Gulf of Mexico during summer vacation. We were on such an outing off the coast of Pensacola when the squall came up. Just as we realized the danger, the wind died, stranding us in open water.
|The proverbial "calm before the storm" was becoming a grim reality. In the distance we watched the black clouds roll toward us, punctuated with ominous flashing bolts of lightning. There we sat, helpless to flee and sporting a thirty-foot lightning rod (our aluminum mast) right above our heads.
Mercifully, a powerboat rescued us just before the storm hit, but I remember the knot of fear in the pit of my stomach. I can still feel it each time I read Mark 4, the account of Jesus calming the raging sea. No doubt you are familiar with the story. Our Lord was exhausted from preaching and ministering; at this stage in His earthly ministry, He was virtually unable to rest because the crowds pressed closely to watch the miracles and hear His messages.
After a particularly busy day, our Lord turned to His disciples and instructed them to gather boats to cross the Sea of Galilee. He didn't tell them why. Perhaps it was to get away for some rest; perhaps Jesus knew that a divine appointment awaited Him with a man of Gerasene who was tormented by demons. Perhaps He also knew that the trip over would be a significant event in the disciples' training.
At any rate, they left the crowd, got into boats, and set out on a night sail to the other side as "they took Him along with them" (v.35). Jesus had ministered to them; now they had the privilege of ministering to Jesus. They could easily give Him a safe, restful journey. After all, most of them had been professional fishermen -- sailors all of their lives --before going into "the ministry." I can picture this mini-armada, the privileged minority crossing with Jesus, the "inner team" inviting Jesus to come on board into their familiar territory. Such a peaceful ending to quite a busy day of ministry!
Then "there arose a furious squall" (v.37). The disciples must have felt extremely responsible for their Lord. Can you imagine this band of experienced fishermen fighting to bring the small crafts under control? After our experience on the coast, I can. Only, they had no Coast Guard, no life jackets, no built-in flotation allowing them to overturn their boats and lessen the danger of lightning strikes. Nothing - and in the pitch black darkness as well! The experience must have been frightening, even though we may smile and pass over it lightly, knowing the eventual outcome.
Yet, while huge waves broke over the bows, filling the boats with water, Jesus remained asleep. Only when the situation seemed totally out of control did they wake the Lord. Scripture tells us that Jesus arose and spoke to the wind and the waves-- and they were stilled. If we were able to take a snapshot of that moment, it would probably have revealed an interesting sight: half-sunken wooden boats filled with soaked, emotionally shaken, and exhausted men, their eyes as big as saucers as they strained to see in the darkness, peeled off bits of shredded sails, and called out to each other for a head count.
A voice rose above the rest. Jesus said, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" Moments before, these experienced sailors were terrified and awe-struck by the power of the elements around them. Now, just moments later, they were awe-struck, even terrified, by the power of their Master. What a shift of focus! We can bet that in this short episode, these disciples learned a lot about themselves, their circumstances, and their Master.
WHO IS IN CHARGE OF YOUR LIFE?
The wording of the passage leads us to believe that the disciples wanted to take over and help Jesus. They "took Him along with them into the boats," a simple and familiar task. Partly because it was so familiar, they decided they could do it on their own. Jesus had ministered to them, now they would care for Him. That's probably why they didn't call out to Jesus until they were imminently about to go under.
They had fallen into the trap of self- reliance. Isn't it easy to take charge of that which we already know how to do, relying on the skills and abilities we may have learned before we ever met the Savior? In doing so, we miss the necessity of trusting in the Lord's strength even in the daily routines so familiar to us, whether in business, school, friendships, or family relationships. Perhaps we believe that we are trusting in the Lord until we find ourselves in a real crisis. It is only then that we discover where our trust really lies. When the "storm" begins to rage on the outside, the loss of trust on the inside often manifests itself in doubt that Jesus can cause any good to come from the situation or possibly even doubt of our Lord's concern for our situation. If you have ever experienced either of these struggles, take heart. It happened to the disciples as well.
Believers can easily mistake "academic faith" for "battle faith." The disciples likely had sat that very morning at the Lord's feet as He talked with them about the power of mustard seed faith (Mark 4:30-32). I'm sure they were in rapt attention at such a thought-provoking example. But the storm was different. It was real wind, real waves, and real water. All were totally out of control, and the disciples panicked. Before we smile at their shallowness, can't you remember times where you sensed unshakable confidence in the Lord after listening to a great sermon, or even in your quiet times in the morning? And before the day is out, when some unexpected "storm" rolls in, our reliance on the Lord flies out the window and we resort to our own human strategies.
I remember laughing as a newscaster told the following story on herself. It seems that she often ended her workday late at night and had to walk along the streets some distance to get to her car. So she decided to take a course in martial arts to protect herself in case of personal attack. Sure enough, one rainy evening, while passing a dark alley on the way to her car, someone reached out to grab her purse. What did she do? She raised her umbrella, wildly beat at the criminal, and screamed like a mad woman. So much for all of her martial arts training! Knowing the answer is one thing, living it in the time of crisis is often quite another.
Panic and fear are cues to our real inner beliefs. For the Christian, these emotions are often the outworking of wrong thinking. Sometimes it takes the path of real doubt. If I am honest with myself, more than once my doubts in times of crisis have metastasized into questions about God's character. When the storm was beyond their control, the disciples didn't just wake the Lord asking for help. It had gotten past that point. They woke Him up with "Lord, don't you even care that we are perishing?" They didn't really question our Lord's position, or authority, or even his power to help, but His character: "Lord, don't you care?"
Fighting a crisis using our own abilities is so easy, isn't it? Then, just as we feel like we're going under, we start to wonder if the Lord has deserted us altogether. How wrong we are! The disciples fell into that trap, too. Note the challenge to this wrong thinking in Jesus' first comment to His disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" The real focus for our Lord was not on the outward circumstances of their experience, but on the condition of the disciples' hearts. They had placed their trust in their own abilities and they doubted their Lord's concern for their struggle. What a humbling exposure!
The level of worry in my own heart is most often a reflection of my level of trust in Christ. Have you ever counted the number of times a message relayed by God to His people begins with the words "Fear not?" Christian trust is seeing events from heaven's perspective; worry is seeing events only from our limited, human perspective. If we see life only from earth's perspective, we have every reason to be worried. But if we recognize Christ as Lord and sovereign over all of life, we have no need to live in terror of our circumstances. 2 Timothy 1:7 says "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind." It is not just a comforting thought for Christians, it is an assurance rooted in the reality of Christ's power over all of life!
HOLD ON TIGHT!
I believe that Jesus knew that He was taking His disciples into the storm (but He obviously didn't lose any sleep over it). They were to learn something in that unexpected crisis that they could have learned in no other manner. The same seems to be true in my own life. How many times have I discovered that my spiritual "growth spurts" have occurred in times of crisis? I often find myself learning over and over what I thought I already knew.
I am finally realizing that the secret to a satisfying life in Christ is not to assume that I can be master of my own ship or even avoid all of this world's stormy tribulations. Rather, I must live in daily relationship with Him in such a way that I move in His strength and trust in His character, regardless of what I encounter. The disciples were safe, not because of their circumstances or skills, but because of their Savior. Regardless of outward appearances, He was taking care of them.
A little boy held his daddy's hand as they crossed a busy street together in the big city. Halfway across, the light turned green and the cars began moving forward. The daddy scooped up his little son and dashed to safety just as the traffic roared past them. The little boy grinned at his father, hugged his neck, and exclaimed, "Didn't I hold on tight?"
Who was holding onto whom? The little boy was secure because his daddy was holding on to him, and he knew it. The Lord was holding on to His disciples, guaranteeing them safe passage, but they didn't know it. In the lesson of "foul weather faith," they had to learn this truth. And so it is with us. We are never so strong, so secure as when we are looking in faith to Christ to deal with life's tempests. And in Him, we are assured of safe passage.
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 19, Number 1