“And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them . . .” Mark 6: 47-48a
I have a deep respect for storms.
Living in the Midwest, I have nurtured a wariness for weather’s fury: the power of sudden, golf-ball sized hail in a summer thunderstorm, the screaming wind that announces the arrival of an F-4 tornado overhead, the smothering white-out of a winter blizzard rolling over the the frozen prairie land of Illinois . . . mountains of powdery, dry snow . . . and the deafening silence after.
Storms have a way of commanding our attention. Sometimes, too much.
Read the story of Jesus walking on water in the middle of a huge storm, and see this picture: the night’s blackness, the pitching waves in the Sea of Galilee, the growing unease with what may be coming, the small group of men in an open fishing boat terrified of it all.
But focus too much on the storm, and we can miss one of those, ” wait a minute. . . ” moments that signal something . . . astonishing.
It is an uncomfortable truth that stretches our limited idea of who God is and how He works, and its this:
Jesus ordered His best friends onto the sea knowing it would eventually boil up around them and terrify them with winds that would work . . . against them.
He sent them into a gathering storm. What’s that about?
They had just shared together in another amazing story when, with only a meal for one, He fed a crowd of 5,000+ people. His apprentices were both amazed, wondering and really tired from managing supper for such a huge group of people.
As this was wrapping up, He could have said, “Men, its been a long day, and you need rest. We are a night’s journey from our next stop, Bethsaida, across the sea. A bruiser of a storm is brewing . . . can you feel it in the wind? Let’s overnight, here, sheltered on the beach, and then set sail in the strong and promising sunlight of tomorrow.”
That’s what I would have said, but He didn’t say that.
Instead, He ordered His friends into their small boat and told them to set sail. He, Himself, would send the crowd home. He would soon follow.
His job? Saying goodbye to the crowd. Their job? Obey . . .Get into the boat. Get going.
So, the gospel record tells us that the disciples did just that: immediately onto Bethsaida they went, and around 3:00 am, the storm hit with waves nearly swamping their boat. They worked to steer to the other side of the sea, rowing for their lives.
. . . but the wind was against them.
But still on the shore was a Watchful Savior. He saw his friends pulling with futility at the oars, their terror of the moment.
He didn’t leave them to their own capacity or their fearful imagination:
Onto the water He walked.
As He drew near the boat, the disciples didn’t recognize him. Believing they were seeing a ghost, their greatest need at that moment was not rescue: they needed to know who or what that was walking . . . on the water.
“Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid,” He said.
That’s what we need to hear most. We need to be reminded that He is ever-present.
Too often, we seek to be rescued from our trouble when what we really need is to see Jesus walking on the waves to us in the middle of it all.
We need to remember that He sees the circumstances of our concern. He is living with us in our everyday life . . . what He has ordained for us . . . the good days, the hard nights, working with us as we navigate the complexities of following His lead, especially when its very, very dark.
He knows the storms into which He is sending us. He knows when we’re making headway painfully, when the wind is against us.
I am learning that God is always working and present with us in the circumstances of our obedience.
True to his word to never leave us or forsake us, He’s not just an uninterested observer on the shore: Its 3:00 a.m., and He’s wading deeply into our storm.
He wants us to know He is there. We don’t need to be afraid anymore.
Everything changes when we see Jesus.
“But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.” Psalm 3:3-5