If you're in a storm . . .
In one story Jesus calms the storm (Mark 4); in the other story he lets the wind do what it wants (Matt 14). In one story Jesus is in a calm sleep while the disciples panic in fear; in the other story Jesus is confident, walking on the water like he’s taking a stroll on a summer’s day, while the disciples panic in fear.
There are times when Jesus “wakes up” from his slumber with us and says confidently, “That’s enough! Calm down. Stop worrying all the time! Stop panicking. I haven’t left you. I’m not asleep. Stop worshiping your problems.”
Yet, there are times when when Jesus never seems to acknowledge that we’re in a storm. Prayers go unanswered; people around you can’t offer any comfort. Of course, when the storm is finally over in your life and you look back, you realize that you were never in real danger. There are times when I don’t acknowledge my children’s fears because I know that their fear is short-term and that no real danger is imminent.
Still, there are other times in life when we are called to make a choice. Get out of the boat and face an idea, circumstance, or environment that is very scary, or stay in the boat and miss learning a significant lesson from God. We are sometimes called by God into jobs for which we have no formal training; to friendships that don’t make sense at first because we seem to have nothing in common; to serve in ways that seem unorthodox and unfulfilling at first because no one gives us the credit for the service. Some of us are called — and are being called right now as you read this — to new mindsets and habits that are scary to you. Your mind is racing with thoughts: "What’s the ‘right’ way to pray?" "Where do I start reading the Bible?" "But I’ve drank, ate, smoke, looked at, whatever for so long . . . I don’t know if I can quit." It’s scary and there is some voice in your mind that says, “Stay in the boat! Don’t rock it. Things are safe and comfortable.”
Besides (that voice tells you), who knows if that’s really Jesus calling you. The disciples weren’t sure if that really was Jesus walking on the water or not. Why is it so hard to recognize him? Because we all know that in the middle of storms, it’s hard to recognize Jesus. It’s hard. His face is fuzzy and his hair doesn’t look the same. The wind is louder than his voice — maybe I heard him incorrectly. Storms have a way of confusing us, making us question what we know about the goodness of God.
And what difference does it make?, the voice tells you. Good for Peter. He did something cool for a little bit. He gave everything he had to Jesus for those few steps and he did the impossible. He focused completely on Jesus and he walked on water. He focused completely on Jesus.
Easier said than done. It’s easy to talk about storms until you’re in one.
Maybe you’ve wondered some of the things I’ve written here. Maybe you’ve wondered something even greater: “Why are there storms anyway?” Why doesn’t God just let us pass through life without disasters, betrayals, cancers, affairs, divorces, and all the other nasty stuff? Why the storms? Some of us suffer storms because God is disciplining us — causing us to suffer physical and emotional pain to help us not ever commit that sin again. It’s why parents spank children.
But most of the time, he brings us to the storms in life so that he can bring us out.
Get this straight: Christianity is not about fire insurance. It is ultimately about two things: (1) having a mature, loving relationship with the Trinity, and (2) acting like it (having holy ethics) (notice how I said nothing about “getting to heaven” — something that primitive Christians never ever said). The only way to have a mature, loving relationship with God is by learning what he does when we need him.
He brings us to the storms in life so that he can bring us out.
We serve a rescuing God. We serve a God who loves to supply for us. We serve a God who loves to show off for us. We serve a God who loves to show us what we’re really made of by letting us suffer some. We learn more about the goodness and greatness of God because of storms then by any other experience in life.
If you’re in a storm, don’t give up. Don’t stop now. Ride out the waves, cry out to God for rescue, look for his face in the wind and waves, and stay around other people of a like mind. There is a reason why the primitive Christians gathered so often. They were fully aware that they needed each other. They needed accountability and encouragement. The author of Hebrews says it well: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the [final] Day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25; ESV).
See how Hebrews says it? Stirring “one another to love and good works.” That’s exactly what the core of Christianity is all about: Love and good works.
That’s what storms can produce. Storms are redemptive because they have a purpose. They can produce a greater capacity to love God and neighbor, and good works for God and neighbor. And we can’t really love God without knowing what he’s capable of (like rescuing us through or from storms). We can’t really love our neighbor without surviving some storms with them.
So come; just like Hebrews says, please do not neglect meeting together at church. Even 2000 years ago, it was “the habit of some” to skip church. Don’t do it. We all need encouragement from each other. The storms can be too strong.
And it makes me happy to know that we’re in this boat together.