It’s hard to be in a modern Christian church environment for long without hearing someone talking about how to survive one of life’s storms. It’s a favorite topic of well-meaning people everywhere, and with good reason. Life is full of storms. Sometimes it seems like they even outnumber the sun-drenched happy times, and for some of us that’s actually true.
Often we’ll hear Mark 4:35-41 cited when things start to get rocky. The story tells of Jesus and his disciples travelling by boat across the Sea of Galilee when a storm comes upon the boat suddenly. Jesus, asleep in the rear of the boat, is awoken not by the wind, but by his panicking disciples who don’t even bother to ask him to intervene for any laudable reasons–they skip right to self-preservation: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38, ESV). We are told that Jesus rebukes the wind, and then commands the sea itself to be still, creating a “great calm.” Then he turns his attention to those in the boat, saying “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40, ESV).
If you’ve been around the church for any amount of time, this text has likely been used at some point in your life to explain that the only thing required to extricate yourself from a storm is simple faith. Money problems? You probably need more faith. Stuck in that marriage that you rushed into? Try an extra helping of faith! You feel alone and misunderstood? Sprinkle some faith on that! I’m sure that you can see where I’m going with this, because it’s never quite that simple, is it?
I’ll leave it to others to talk about the interesting points of the Mark story, how we see that Jesus and his disciples are not travelling alone across the sea, that they have many boats accompanying them (they share the storm with others); how we see the disciples acting together for a shared need and seeking after where God was, not waiting on God to intuit that they were in trouble; that even when Jesus acts to save everyone, his very actions–the ones they implicitly asked for–fill them with great fear because they do not understand what has happened, who has happened. You can write a book about this passage alone.
Rather, I want to encourage you. I want to encourage you to seek after God, to find where God is, and to remember that God’s actions inside a storm are motivated by the same extravagant love that motivates God’s actions outside the storm. It doesn’t feel like that most of the time. It doesn’t for me. In those storms, I forget how to listen for God. I forget in the heat of battle that God is for me. That doesn’t always mean rebuking the wind. Sometimes the sails will tear from the mast, and I’ll lose my oars overboard, and it will look and feel like I’ve been left adrift on the sea, and I’ll forget that God loves me. That’s where the faith bit comes in. Faith in storms doesn’t look like hope that God will suddenly change everything. Instead, faith in storms is hope that God knows what he’s doing, and that God is truly working all things for our good, even when we don’t know what our good is.
I’m working on believing and trusting that. It isn’t easy, but I’d love to talk with you about it. Just pull your boat alongside mine.
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