In the middle of the storm1
Mark 4:35-41 (NIV11) 35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
This morning as I was spending some time with God, this story came to my mind. I read the story and my first impulse was to disregard it because the meaning seemed too plain and easy to me. Jesus can calm the storm. Now look, I know that this is a good message and one that is certainly timely for us. In this time of chaos and storm, don’t we certainly need to hear that Jesus can calm the storm? The answer is an emphatic “yes”! My problem however wasn’t with the message, but with how we could potentially apply the message. I didn’t want to make the simplest application, which on first glance would seem to be that we should not worry and be reactive to the storm because Jesus will calm it.
So, I left the passage behind and went in search of a passage that had what I considered to be a more measured application. There was just one issue. God kept drawing me back to this passage. It is not like my Bible kept flipping open to Mark 4, it was more like my brain kept flipping open to Mark 4. I finally gave in and went back to the story, this time looking for what I had missed.
First of all, the storm was a really big deal. They were in the middle of a large body of water when the “furious squall” broke out. We don’t know how big the boat was except that it was carrying at least 13 people. There was enough room for Jesus to sleep in the stern seemingly without disturbance. So, not a small boat. The waves rose and were big enough to break over the boat filling it with water. I don’t know a lot about boats, but even I know that this is a bad thing. The boat was nearly swamped which means that there was almost enough water in the boat to cause the top of the boat to draw even with the water and therefore sink to the bottom.
It was a legitimately scary situation.
There was nothing that the disciples could do to stop it.
The waves kept breaking. The wind kept howling. The water kept rising.
They were going to drown.
Jesus was sleeping.
It is easy to be critical of the disciples and their response to the storm. They had Jesus in the boat! What did they have to worry about? Didn’t they know that he would take care of this? Do you really want to know the answer? The answer is no. They did not know that Jesus could make the storm stop. That possibility was beyond the realm of the conceivable. You know why as well as I do. People cannot control nature. People cannot tell the waves to stop, the wind to die down. No matter what they thought about Jesus at this point, they had no concept of the extent of his abilities.
What Jesus did in calming the storm had never been done before.
It finally occurred to them to wake Jesus. It is not clear what they expected him to do. It is clear that what he did was completely unexpected. They invited him to join in with the panic. Jesus instead “rebuked” the wind and the waves.
“Quiet, be still.”
It became completely calm.
“Who is this?” was the disciples’ response.
It is worth noting that instead of their fear going away, the disciples were terrified by what had just happened.
Let’s talk about Jesus. How is it that Jesus was sleeping through this? The boat was nearly swamped! It had to be rocking and rolling on the waves. The disciples were running around trying to figure out what to do. He had to be getting wet! Was Jesus really that hard of a sleeper? As someone who has never slept very well, I became very jealous of divine sleep. We can attempt to read into his sleep as a lack of concern about what was going on but that would be pure speculation. All we know is that the storm somehow had not disturbed the sleeping Jesus.
When Jesus did wake, He was incredulous. He could not believe that the storm would dare to threaten his boat. He then turned his attention to his disciples and asked them two questions.
“Why are you afraid?”
“Do you still have no faith?”
Where have I landed with this story? There is a lot more here than “don’t be afraid, have faith, because you have Jesus.” Here are a couple of ideas to consider.
Sometimes the storm is really, legitimately big and blinding. It is all that we see, and maybe all that we are capable of seeing. It is difficult to keep from being scared and to fight our need to take action when the water is steadily rising, and the boat is steadily sinking. I don’t think that Jesus is upset with them because there is a storm and they are reacting to it.
Fear is what makes the storm around us so effective. This is undeniably true. We look around us and see how big the storm is and things seem out of control and dangerous. It makes us afraid. That fear keeps us from remembering that God is in the boat with us. When we forget that God is in the boat with us, we can run all over the boat trying to keep it from sinking, but what we really need to do is…
We have a responsibility to wake God up. Again, Jesus was sleeping until they woke him up. When he woke up, he did Jesus things. We need to call God into action when the storm is raging.
Sometimes we don’t call God into action because we don’t really know what he can or will do with the situation. It is fascinating that the disciples only woke Jesus when they were nearly swamped. They imagine that they initially did not want to wake him because he was so tired. They would take care of the situation. It was not until things were dangerously out of their control that they finally woke him so that he could care about them drowning. They didn’t know he could put an end to it.
God is capable of doing more in the midst of the storm than we can understand. When Jesus woke, he rebuked the storm. He controlled nature. He spoke to it and it stopped. He spoke to the water and the waves stopped. He spoke to the wind and it stopped. The disciples did not know to ask him to do this- they didn’t know that he could do this. If God is in fact the creator and lover of this world, then he is more than capable of dealing with the storms that surround us. But we cannot forget that what God chooses to do may totally and completely surprise us. God’s goodness and faithfulness to us can take a lot of different forms.
Our struggle is to believe that God will do God things in the middle of the storm whatever that may look like. We definitely think we know what God can or should do. Sometimes our struggle is not that we are ignoring God’s presence, but that we are not getting the results we think we should. We don’t know what to ask for and the things we are asking for aren’t happening. The storm seems to be in control. The beauty of our God is not just that he is capable, but that no matter the outcome he is still God. The storm does not change anything about God’s presence with us. The storm does not separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The storm does not sink the eternal home we have in God. No matter how it rages, crashes, howls and swamps, the storm must bow before our God.
When God moves in God ways, it reminds us that he is God. I know that is a weird sentence but stay with me here. The disciples had a concept of who Jesus was. Those ideas were developing and growing through every experience they had with Jesus. He called and they followed so they obviously had some faith (in spite of the fact that Jesus asked them if they had any). But the fact of the matter is that their faith in Jesus had to have grown through this experience. Jesus can control the wind and the waves! Their question tells us their faith was growing. “Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him. Sometimes we forget that God is God. But God’s faithfulness to us in all kinds of circumstances reminds us that not only is he still in control, but he has been with us all along. We have experienced God’s faithfulness to us in ways big and small. The one thing I have learned regardless of the context is that God always shows himself. In the aftermath of blessing or trial I have always been reminded that God is God.
It reminds me of Psalm 22:27-31(NIV11)
27All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.
29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
We are in the middle of a storm. But in the middle of the storm we are a people of faith. We don’t know exactly what God is going to do through this, but we know that he is God and that this world is in his care. We wait with eager anticipation toward how he will make himself known and we look for ways to take part in His movement. There are a lot of ways to exhibit your faith during this time. Care for your family. Care for your neighbors. Make encouraging calls. Send encouraging emails. Speak of your faith and trust in God. Listen to others. Look to the horizon. Know that the storm will die down.