This past weekend, our community, like many others, was impacted by Hurricane Florence. By God’s grace we have not been devastated to the level others have experienced, but we couldn’t meet in person. Instead, I was able to take to Facebook Live and share a message with the community that way. Here’s what I shared as the storm raged around the region. Thanks for reading.
A Message for a Stormy Day
Well, good morning. For many of you, good rainy morning. My name is Jonathan Waits and I have the privilege of serving as the pastor of First Baptist Oakboro.
I don’t know about you, but it’s been rainy here the last couple of days. Actually, for a whole lot of folks in this region, “rainy” doesn’t begin to cover it. Florence has given us the kind of rain that would have given Noah some much-needed relief after building a boat for 100 years. We’ve had the kind of rain that will leave people’s land and lives devastated for a long time. It’s the most rain this nation has seen since Hurricane Harvey dumped part of the ocean on southeast Texas last year. Like that one, this terrible storm has already claimed a few lives. Those grieving families are in need of your prayers. And if you want to give toward the relief efforts that are already underway, consider one of the many faith groups with ready-made armies of volunteers who are knowledgeable and skilled in the various aspects of disaster relief—groups like Samaritan’s Purse and the Southern Baptist Convention (specifically, the Baptist State Conventions of North and South Carolina, and the Baptist General Association of Virginia). You can go directly to their websites and give or sign up to volunteer just as easily.
Like many churches in the region, we were not able to be open for services this morning, but, one of the blessings of technology is that we don’t always have to be together in the same physical place to worship the Lord together and grow in His word. If you will then, I’d like to share with you a few things that have been on my heart and mind these past couple of days as the rains have fallen.
There was a time when Jesus and the disciples faced quite a storm themselves. Now, they weren’t on the ocean, and it wasn’t a hurricane, but when you’re on a big enough lake and a big enough storm comes, that doesn’t much matter. Mark tells us near the end of chapter 4 that after spending a long day teaching a crowd of people Jesus and the disciples were ready to hit the waves. Jesus spent a fair bit of His early ministry doing this exact same thing at various locations on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Often, He would borrow a boat, put out a few feet from shore to give Himself some elbow room, and teach the people from there. This particular evening, Jesus was already in the boat and was exhausted. When He finished teaching, He told the disciples—a group that included at least four experienced fishermen—to take them all over to the other side of the Sea. The text puts it like this: “On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with them.”
So, this little flotilla heads out across the Sea of Galilee, and all of a sudden, a storm blows up on the water. Now, the topography of the Sea of Galilee is such that storms like this were not such an unusual thing. The land filters the clouds in toward the Sea and if the conditions are right, things can get wild. But then, at least four members of the party knew this intimately. Anyone else in the group who had spent much time living on the shores of the Sea knew it too. Storms happened. When they did, you kept calm and rowed on.
But, this wasn’t a normal storm. This was the kind of storm that picked up boats, tossed them around for a while, and left them in splinters on the shore. This was a storm that made rowing a pointless waste of energy. It was going to send you wherever it wanted and all you could do was hang on for the ride. Except in this case, the ride was quickly getting swamped. The ride was getting swamped and these experienced fishermen were losing their cool. If it could scare them, that gives us a clue that this wasn’t your every day, average storm. Peter recounted it to Mark like this: “And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.”
Now, have you ever been so tired than when you finally crashed a freight train could have rumbled through your bedroom and you wouldn’t have budged? A few nights ago, we apparently had quite a thunderstorm roll through the area. The next morning, Lisa commented that the storm had kept her up most of the night. Apparently, I was about this tired because the only response I could offer was, “What storm?”
As one who teaches and preaches on a pretty regular basis, I have a bit of an appreciation for how much it can take out of you. Jesus had been teaching all day. He was probably exhausted beyond words. He may have been fully God, but He was fully human too, and His full humanity was fully worn out. As soon as the boat left the shallows, the gentle rocking had Him zonked out in no time. (Is it wrong to wonder how loudly God snores when He gets that tired?) He was asleep so deeply, in fact, that when this monster storm blew up, He didn’t even budge. Not even the water filling the boat woke Him. He didn’t so much as turn over to find a more comfortable position until the disciples all finally started hollering, “Jesus! Wake up! We’re going to drown!” Actually, they were a bit more pointed in their wake-up call than that. “But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’”
Have you ever been in a situation when you were sufficiently discombobulated that you were completely losing your cool, but you were with someone who had obviously faced something like this before and didn’t even seem ruffled by it? What did you say? “Don’t you care?!?” Now, where we are on this side of the cross along with 2,000 years of history, we sometimes have a hard time remembering that Jesus was every bit as human as He was divine. For the disciples who had only been with Him for a few months, and who were still adjusting to the idea that their rabbi might be something more than the average bear, they struggled with thinking He was anything but only human. They didn’t have a mental category for someone who was more than that. Even the greatest prophets were still only human. They were tired. They were scared. And they were more than a little exasperated that their illustrious teacher was sleeping in the back of the boat, obviously unconcerned with their plight. And though they would surely have never dreamed of saying something like this at another time, they were scared out of any sense of decorum. “Jesus! Don’t you care that we’re all going to die out here?!?”
And if you’re like me, you wonder at least a little bit how He woke up. Did He jolt awake at their call? Did He rouse a bit more slowly because He was asleep so hard? Was He a bit disoriented? Whatever His wake-up condition was, Jesus quickly figured out what was going on. He woke up, sat up, and told the storm to quit. “And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’” Now, who does that? Apparently, Jesus does. I remember one time at a retreat in high school when the power went out briefly as we were getting ready in the morning. On a whim, I shouted, “And God said, ‘Let there be light!’” And would you believe the power came back on right then. It was certainly a funny moment, but nobody—including me—believed it was anything more than a total fluke. It was a relaxed morning, somewhat interrupted by the loss of power. Nothing was a stake and, as I said, the power came back on quickly.
When Jesus sat up and told the storm to quit, they were not enjoying a relaxed, midnight boat ride. The situation was terrifying and intense. For the disciples, they were thoroughly convinced their lives were on the line. They were desperate. I’m not sure what they wanted Jesus to do, but they figured He’d done other miracles so He could probably do something. We’re not told what they thought when Jesus sat up and said, “Peace! Be still!” but what came next probably got their attention. “And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”
Dumbfounded likely doesn’t begin to cover their reaction. Perhaps we might think they were excited or went straight from fear to relief, but put yourself in their sandals for a minute. This guy you knew was special, but didn’t have any idea how special just told the wildest storm you’ve ever seen in your life to cut it out…and it did. You’d be ready to jump out of the boat figuring you’d be safer in the water than with this guy whose power has just been revealed to go beyond what you could hope to get your mind around. That’s just about what Peter reported happened: “And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”
Not being there with them, I’m certainly amazed that Jesus did this, but what has always caught my attention is that after Jesus stops the storm and saves their lives, He looks at them and doesn’t say, “Are you guys okay?” I mean, we expect something like that, right? He had to have been able to hear the terror in their voices as they shouted for Him to wake up. In their shoes, we would have wanted to hear something like, “That was quite a storm, wasn’t it! I’ve got things under control now, guys. You’re okay. We’re all okay. Let’s get to shore and relax a bit.” Did they get that? No, they did not. “He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’”
Let that sit on you for just a minute and then let’s ask the hard question: What on earth are we supposed to do with this? These guys were terrified for their very lives and Jesus chastises them for not having enough faith? What gives? Well, a lot of folks have looked at this and figured Jesus’ response to the disciples was a result of their being afraid. And, given His initial question to them, that makes a lot of sense. But, while they certainly should have learned to not fear the things of this world during their time with Jesus—including its storms—I’m not so sure their entirely natural fear was the only object of His rebuke.
What was it again they said to Him? “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” The disciples didn’t cry out something like, “Jesus, we’re dying, help us!” They questioned His concern for them. That’s different. They interpreted His sleeping through the storm as a lack of concern for their well-being. But where would they get such an idea? They’d seen the people He’d healed. They’d seen the miracles He’d done. They’d seen Him rescue people from the clutches of demons. They’d been there when He’d healed with a word at a distance when He had other things He could have been doing. They knew He had a clear mission to His life, that He was supernaturally guided along this path, and that there was a determination on His part to get where He was going that no amount of resistance could stop. Why would they question His concern for them even in a storm as wild as this one? Because they didn’t yet really believe He was the Messiah. They didn’t yet have faith in Him. They didn’t yet know Him as the Jesus we do. Because of this, and because of the storm, they feared for their lives.
And that, my friends, is where this matters for us. Let me explain why with a simple question: Do you believe Jesus is who He said He is? Do you believe He is the Son of God? Do you believe He is the Savior of the world? More intimately than that: Do you believe He cares about you? Do you believe He cares enough about you to willingly lay His life down so that you can live?
Here’s the thing: Life’s storms are going to come. They’re going to come whether we are walking with Jesus or not. Sometimes Jesus followers have been allowed to develop the false idea that He will somehow protect us from life’s storms such that we won’t ever experience their full fury. Anywhere this has happened it represents a failure on the part of the church. Try telling that to the disciples. They were as sure as could be that they were toast, that Jesus didn’t really care, and they literally had Him in the boat with them. Walking with Jesus doesn’t mean life’s storms aren’t going to come and it doesn’t mean they aren’t occasionally going to come with a fury that makes even Florence look like a gentle spring rain. One thing the Scriptures never do is to try and sugarcoat the difficulties of living in a world broken at every point by sin, even and especially for those who are committed to faithfully following Jesus.
Life’s storms come and sometimes they are big. Sometimes they don’t even end suddenly and miraculously like what the disciples experienced here. Sometimes they rage on until the vestments of our lives are broken beyond quick repair and even lost. For every disciple whose storm was cut miraculously short, there are dozens more whose weren’t. We can try to puzzle out why that is, but we’ll quickly find ourselves drowning in a sea of questions most of which are not answerable in this life. We can try and puzzle out the problems associated with pain in this world and there is a time and place for that, but for those in the midst of a storm, their worry is not why it is happening, but how to get through it.
This brings us to the other important thing here: When we face the storms of this life we are never alone. Ever. For all the disciples’ fear and trembling, they had Jesus in the boat with them. The master of the wind and the waves was within reach. For us, we have the promise of Jesus’ unfailing presence through the Holy Spirit dwelling within our hearts. In other words, and again: When life’s storms threaten and even rage around us, we are never alone. The God who loved us enough to die for us will not leave us or forsake us. He’s been with us throughout the ordeal of Florence from the weakening of the storm before making landfall, to the minimal loss of life, to the limited impact relative to its size. He will be with us after the storm as well especially through the hands and feet of the volunteers—the vast majority of whom will be driven to their work by their seeking to work out their love for Him—running toward the chaos to bring relief, help, and hope to those most affected. When we face life’s storms, we are never alone. We’re never alone because we serve the Savior who is with us.
So do not fear. Do not tremble. Do not despair. Though the winds blow and the waters rise, you are not alone. Though the house shakes and the trees tumble, you are not alone. Though the car won’t start and the fridge won’t run and the mold spores grow and the mud piles high and kids won’t behave and the bills keep coming and the roads wash out and the rivers run free and the chaos seems to reign, you are never, ever alone. When we face life’s storms, we are never alone. We serve the master of the storms and even if He does not stop them on our timetable, He won’t ever leave us to face them alone. When we face life’s storms, we are never alone.