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In the Eye of the Storm

A German immigrant once wrote,

In December 1958, I came to America from Germany on the USS Butner, a transport ship. After we left Bremerhafen we passed through the North Sea into the North Atlantic. Huge waves buffeted the ship, and every day seemed the same—water, water everywhere, to the north, the south, the east, and the west. All we could hear was the monotonous grinding of the ship’s engine.

Finally, five days later, the scene changed dramatically. There was water to the east and the south, but to the west stood the Statue of Liberty gleaming in the morning sun. We had come home.

Walking by faith is like this. Waves of opposition battle us, with no change in sight. In all directions there seems to be nothing, with the Lord seemingly asleep. Until a special day arrives, revealing that we have been moving according to plan.[1]

James Hoover has written,

“Don’t be afraid; just believe.” These words may ring rather hollow when we, and not someone else, face a fearful or life-threatening situation. Yet in the face of real danger we discover just how much faith we have.

Today we are going to look at the disciples in desperate straits and we are going to see how Jesus brought them through, and how he can bring us through to our desired destination. Listen for God’s word to you from Mark 4:35-41….

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The first thing I see in this passage is that Jesus promises to take us to “the other side”.

It was evening after a long day of teaching. Jesus had taught the crowds from a boat beside the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, because the crowds were so great. He shared with the crowd several parables that we have looked at over the last few weeks. Now it is evening, Jesus is tired, and he says to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”

You would think that the disciples would have remembered these words from the Master’s lips once they were in the midst of the storm. But they didn’t. You would think that the disciples would have remembered the power that Jesus displayed over demons and disease. But they did not. You would think that with all the disciples had seen of Jesus’ power they would have realized that he had power to handle the storm they were in now. But again, they didn’t.

The fact is, often you and I do not remember the promises of Jesus when we are in the eye of the storm. We forget how powerful he is and that he has told us we are going to the other side with him.

I remember when our middle son Jonathan was small. I was carrying him from our house out to our van when suddenly he panicked. He had a hold of me around my neck and he was losing his grip. He cried out, “Daddy, I can’t hold on to you any longer. I’m going to fall.” And I said, “Don’t worry Jon about holding on to me. I am holding on to you and I won’t let you fall.”

That little incident I think gives us a window on our relationship with Jesus. When we go through the storms of life it doesn’t ultimately matter how hard we hold on to him. What matters far more is that he is holding on to us and he will not let us fall. He is going to take us to the other side.

For the disciples, on this occasion, Jesus promised to take them to the other side of the lake. There are many instances where we need to hear the comforting words of Jesus, “I am going to take you to the other side.” But of course, the ultimate way in which we need to hear these words from Jesus is regarding eternal life. In John 10:27-28 Jesus says,

My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 

Jesus is going to take us to the other side. But there is a second thing that is more than evident in this passage. That is that there will be storms along the way. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.”

This was a common occurrence on the Sea of Galilee. That body of water lies in the bottom of a bowl, as it were, surrounded by hills. The winds rush with tremendous force through the ravines of the northeast and the east. They are caught and compressed in such a narrow space that being suddenly released upon the lake they come out of the blue with shattering and terrifying suddenness. The fishermen, who were Jesus’ disciples, and who took him in the boat that evening, were accustomed to such storms. But this one was swamping the boat and they were afraid they were going to die.

Years ago, there was a woman who called my church one day, looking for some help. She said she needed groceries for the weekend. As I asked about her financial situation she explained that she was in desperate straits because she didn’t have a job and couldn’t get on disability. In addition to all this, she was having trouble with her car and had to have major repairs done on it, to the tune of about $800.

She said to me, “Everything will be alright once I get my car fixed.”

I said, “No, everything won’t be alright because that is what cars do. They break down. Your car will break down again. You need to get some help. You need someone to help you figure out how you are going to handle these problems next time they come up.”

I do not remember how that situation turned out, but suffice to say, storms happen in life. None of us get through life without having to go through a few storms. Some of them threaten to swamp our boat and kill us. We must figure out how we are going to deal with the storms when they come, not if they come.

What storms are you facing in life right now? Is your marriage falling apart? Are you having trouble with your children or grandchildren? Are you having difficulties with your parents? Tensions with friends? Challenges in school? A hard time at work? Storms in life are inevitable. How we handle them is a matter of choice.

The way the disciples sought to handle their storm was good in a way. They took the matter to Jesus. I say that is a good way to handle a storm because I have seen Jesus handle storms, not only in Scripture, but in my life.

Sherri Conley once told the story of how she, her husband, and two sons huddled in their hallway linen closet for protection from a deadly tornado. They said a prayer that God would watch over them. After the storm passed, they discovered the closet was the only thing left standing from their home.

Yes, I believe Jesus is the best person to go to in a storm.

But often we wonder as the disciples did, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” They asked this question because Jesus was asleep on a cushion in the stern of their little boat. (What a wonderful little eyewitness detail that is in this story!)

Often it seems to us as though God is asleep in the midst of our storms. We pray, but oftentimes God seems silent. And so we naturally ask, Does God care? Does Jesus care about our storms?

I believe the answer is demonstrated by the action Jesus took in this story.

Why does Jesus calm this storm? Does he do it so that his disciples will believe in him? I don’t think so. I think he does it simply because they need him to do so. He does it out of love and concern for his disciples. And I believe Jesus will do the same for us if we ask him.

I realize that Jesus does not calm every outward storm in our lives in exactly the way we want, when we want it. But I believe Jesus will always give us inward calm to handle our storms, if we ask him for his gift of peace.

Jesus says, “in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33)

Jesus not only cares about our storms. He can and will either calm our storms, or give us calm in the midst of them.

Author, Peter Kreeft, has made a great statement about the love of Jesus. He once wrote,

Love should cast out terror, but not awe. True love must include awe…. God is love. But love is not luv. Love is not nice. Love is a fire, storm, earthquake, volcano, lightning and hurricane. Love banged out the Big Bang and endured the hell of the cross…. Next time you hear ‘All you need is luv,’ think of the captain of the Titanic singing it to his passengers. As for me, I’d rather have a lifeboat.

That’s what Jesus did out of love for his disciples. He calmed the storm and turned their death-boat into a lifeboat, and that produced awe in his disciples.

Jesus was able to do this because he has power from his heavenly Father to calm storms. Jesus has power to calm your storms and mine. We read that once the disciples woke him up and spoke to him, Jesus “rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.”

Jesus spoke to the storm like a father would speak to his disobedient and unruly child. I think that’s because Jesus is the Creator and Master of storms. If that is true, if what we have in Jesus is the case of God arriving on the scene of the world he created, why should it surprise us when he is able to control the various aspects of that world?

C. S. Lewis once wrote,

When Christ stills the storm He does what God has often done before. God made Nature such that there would be both storms and calms: in that way all storms (except those that are still going on at this moment) have been stilled by God. It is unphilosophical, if you have once accepted the Grand Miracle [that is, the miracle of the Incarnation, God becoming human in Jesus] to reject the stilling of the storm. There is really no difficulty about adapting the weather conditions of the rest of the world to this one miraculous calm. I myself can still a storm in a room by shutting the window. Nature must make the best she can of it. And to do her justice she makes no trouble at all. The whole system, far from being thrown out of gear (which is what some nervous people seem to think a miracle would do) digests the new situation as easily as an elephant digests a drop of water.

So if Jesus is God incarnate, as the Gospels suggest he is, it should not surprise us that he is able to calm a storm. And if he calmed that storm on the Sea of Galilee 2000 years ago, then he can also calm the storms of our lives today. He has the power to do so. He has power over nature, demons, disease, and even death. Jesus has power over sorrow, problems, and anxiety. So why not call on him to handle your problem and allow him to take care of it?

Why is it that often we do not turn our problems over to the Lord? Oftentimes I think it is because we are paralyzed by fear. And why are we afraid?

That is the question Jesus asked his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

It is understandable that the disciples would have some fear in the face of such a storm. But their fear was out of control, and out of proportion, especially when one considers who they had in the boat with them. Jesus did not ask, “Why are you afraid?” He asked, “Why are you so afraid?” And he suggests the answer: it is because they do not have faith. They are not trusting Jesus to handle their storm. They are afraid because things have gotten out of their control.

And that is often the reason why we are afraid, why we are anxious, why we are worried. It is because life has gotten out of our control, if it can truly be said that it was ever in our control in the first place.

Susan Muto has written,

When we follow Jesus into the desert [or, I might add, into a storm], we are likely to experience what could be called ego desperation. Basically this means acknowledging that our life is not nor ever will be completely under our control. In the desert [and in the storm] the pillars of human power, pleasure and possession are smashed. One feels powerless, miles away from sources of immediate gratification, the owner of little or nothing of material value. One cannot barter one’s way out of loneliness and silence. One can only wait until it passes on the wings of faith and hope.

It is good to be in the deserts of life. It is good to be out in the middle of the lake with a storm raging and no hope save Jesus, because it is then that we learn what our life is truly dependent upon. It is there, in the desert or in the storm that we learn to lean on Jesus.

Ultimately, there are only two choices in life. Either we can choose fear, or we can choose faith. Those are the only two options in a storm—fear or trust. Fear won’t do anything to get rid of the storm, or solve the problem. Trust will do something, because Jesus can calm the storms both inside and outside of us, as we trust him.

Author Marshall Shelley, who suffered the deaths of two of his children, once wrote this in Leadership Journal,

Even as a child, I loved to read, and I quickly learned that I would most likely be confused during the opening chapters of a novel. New characters were introduced. Disparate, seemingly random events took place. Subplots were complicated and didn’t seem to make any sense in relation to the main plot.

But I learned to keep reading. Why? Because you know that the author, if he or she is good, will weave them all together by the end of the book. Eventually, each element will be meaningful.

At times, such faith has to be a conscious choice.

Even when I can’t explain why a chromosomal abnormality develops in my son, which prevents him from living on earth more than two minutes….

Even when I can’t fathom why our daughter has to endure two years of severe and profound retardation and continual seizures….

I choose to trust that before the book closes, the Author will make things clear.

Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things [even in storms] God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

I believe that God will one day make all things clear, as we put our trust in him. That trust will not be completely without fear. As we trust Jesus we need no longer have the fear that God does not love us or that he cannot do anything about our storm. But we will have a new fear, a new awe that says, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” And that kind of awe, mixed with faith, is the kind that can see us through the eye of the storm, by God’s grace.

[1] Helmar Heckel, Excelsior, Minnesota


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