What Do You Expect When Facing the Storms of Life?
The summer following my college graduation, my wife and I did an internship at the church she attended growing up. We stayed with her parents, so our expenses were minimal, and we were excited the church was paying us $75 a week.
After we'd served a number of weeks, a couple in the church offered us the use of their condo in North Carolina. We were very appreciative. Because of our limited funds, we had no expectation of getting any kind of vacation. No one had ever done anything like that for us before, so when we opened the door of the condo, we both stood in amazement. It was beautiful! We'd been surprised by grace. The condo was far nicer than we imagined.
In Mark 4:35-41, the writer tells of a time when Jesus and His disciples were crossing a lake when a fierce storm arose, and the waves began to crash over the sides of the small craft, threatening to sink it.
Ironically, while the disciples were frantic, literally fearing for their lives, Jesus was fast asleep. The context suggests they were trying their best to bail the water out of their boat to keep it from sinking and not to disturb Jesus, but they soon discovered it was a losing battle. At that point, in desperation, they awakened Him.
As I read this story, it caused me to ponder the question, "What were the disciples expecting when they went to Jesus?" Did they merely want Jesus to lend them a hand and bail them out? It was early in Jesus' ministry, and He had only done a few miracles, so were they really expecting Him to rise up and calm the wind and waves?
The Bible says, "The disciples woke him up, shouting, 'Teacher, don't you care that we're going to drown?'" - Mark 4:38 (NLT)
It seems their expectation was less focused on the storm and more on their own well-being. Implicit in their despairing cries was the attitude, "We've done all we can, and it's obviously not enough. Is there anything You can do to assist us?"
I can't know with certainty, but it seems they had a pretty low level of expectation at that point, especially in light of their response following Jesus' rebuke of the wind and the calming of the waves when He called out, "Silence! Be still!" After the threat had passed, Jesus asked the disciples, "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?" (Mark 4:39-40).
Jesus demonstrated unbelievable, unimaginable, and certainly, unexpected authority over the wind and waves, so much so the Bible says "the disciples were absolutely terrified. 'Who is this man?' they asked each other. 'Even the wind and waves obey him!'" (Mark 4:41). I believe it's safe to say how Jesus responded to their need was far greater than their expectation.
While pondering this story, I was reminded of our trip to North Carolina and our amazement at how much nicer the condo was than what my wife and I expected. Why? Because like the disciples, our faith hadn't been stretched enough to realize what a great and powerful Savior we serve. So, my thoughts turned to Jesus' question, "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
Does that seem an odd question to you, given the circumstances? Does the disciples’ fear seem indicative of a lack of faith to you? Wouldn't you have been just as fearful? I'm quite confident I would have been. Yet, Jesus is making an undeniable connection between the disciples’ fear and their lack of faith. Why is that important?
When my son was diagnosed with leukemia as a teenager, can you imagine my first response? Unbelief (I couldn't believe what my ears were hearing), followed shortly thereafter by lots of fear.
Why? Where was my faith? I was a pastor, supposedly "filled with faith," yet in those moments of terror, my heart and mind were more focused on the "storm" my son was facing and my fear of his impending death than the God who has authority over every storm.
I'm grateful He didn't, but the Lord Jesus could have asked me, as He asked the disciples on that stormy lake, "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?" But had He asked, in my mind's eye, I think I would have responded, "My son's life is on the line. Of course, I'm afraid, but what does my faith have to do with that?"
And though I may not have been able to see it then, as the disciples in that boat very likely couldn't make the connection, I can see today with crystal clarity, my faith has EVERYTHING to do with it. Why? How so?
Because every step of progress we make on our journey with Jesus is taken by faith. Our journey begins by faith, develops by faith, and will one day end by faith. And every storm we face has only one purpose—to build our faith. Why? To enable us to see Jesus more clearly ("Who is this man?") so that we may follow Him more closely, understanding that when He is present, fear has no place in our heart or mind.
Fear negates faith. When we're filled with fear, we eliminate our capacity to have faith. Does that mean we should never fear? Of course not. Fear can be a legitimate and needed response in certain circumstances. But even then, if we're paralyzed by fear, it will actually add to, not help us to resolve, the problem.
When the disciples had reached the limits of their knowledge and ability, in other words, when they had reached the end of themselves and their ability to save themselves, they turned to Jesus. And regardless of their expectations, and in spite of their fear, Jesus responded, the storm subsided, and the disciples’ lives were saved.
Do you think the disciples' faith was stretched that day? I believe it was, just as my faith was stretched through the three-plus years my son endured chemo and radiation treatments. To what end was the disciples' faith stretched? With the exception of Judas, who betrayed Jesus and subsequently took his own life, and John, who died in exile because of his faith in Jesus, every other of the original twelve died a martyr's death.
Do you think they ever feared again? Of course, they did, but they didn't allow their fear to overshadow their faith. And when the day came for each of them, as it will for each of us, to decide who will rule their lives—fear or faith, themselves or Jesus—they chose faith, they chose Jesus. It ultimately cost them their lives, but they deemed their life a small price to pay for their great expectation of an eternity with Him in heaven.
What do you expect? When the storms of life come, and they will, who will you turn to for help? And what will your expectation be? Simply to have the Lord save you from the immediate circumstance? Or to allow Him to build life-changing faith in you?
My prayer for myself and for you is as Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:16-21 (NLT) for the Ephesian believers: "...that from His glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God's love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus though all generations forever and ever! Amen."