The Storms of Life (pt 2) – Mark 4:37-40

(This is an unplanned follow-up to a post I did about this passage earlier this week.)

“I was in that boat.”
Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up and had to go to the bathroom. Don’t you hate when that happens? I usually try not to think about anything when I wake up so as not to get my mind going because then I have trouble falling back asleep. I checked the time: 2:30. I realized I was thirsty so I poured myself a glass of water and suddenly a realization dawned on me about the storms of life and specifically about this passage.
I felt God gently whisper something to me: “I was in that boat.”
Think about it for a minute! The disciples were never actually alone; Jesus was with them in the boat. Similarly, don’t I have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside me? So am I ever actually alone when the storms come? Never!
Our suffering pales in comparison to that of our Savior!
Jesus promised that He will be with us. One of my favorite Bible verses (Heb 4:15) says that Jesus, because He has experienced being human, is able to sympathize with us! But that verse doesn’t say that Jesus is able to sympathize with just the good parts of human life; it’s talking specifically about suffering. Jesus is able to sympathize with our weakness. Earlier, in Hebrews 2:18, the author states that Jesus is able to help us when we suffer because He has suffered Himself.
In fact, it’s doubtful that anyone has suffered to the degree that Jesus has. On the cross, Jesus absorbed God’s full wrath for the sins of all mankind (Mt 27:46). Our suffering pales in comparison to that of our Savior! He is infinitely more familiar with suffering than we are.
And that is one of the most beautiful parts of the Gospel. It means that, no matter how dark the storm clouds, Jesus is always able to help us walk through. This is because, as Jesus promised in John 16:7, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us. We have God dwelling inside us!
So my encouragement to you is the same as that of the author of Hebrews: look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured more suffering than we can ever hope to imagine on the cross and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2, paraphrase). Look to Jesus not only for an example, but also for hope and empathy!

The Storms of Life – Mark 4:37-40

We all claim that we want God to reveal Himself to us, but what does that look like? How does God most often seem to demonstrate His power? Perhaps for the same reason people tell us to be careful what we wish for…

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

There was a time early in Jesus’ ministry when He was traveling with His disciples in a boat at night. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself! During the day before, Jesus had spent some time teaching on the shore in this boat (Mk 4:1). At the end of the day, for whatever reason, He decided to go to the other side of the sea (Mk 4:35). (By the way, I have my suspicions that Jesus knew what He was doing.) All seemed well until “a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling” (Mk 4:37). It’s at this point that the disciples get scared. Wouldn’t you? Mark 4:38 says that they woke Jesus up and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Isn’t that an easy question to ask? When the storms of this life come, and they will, don’t we sometimes feel as though God doesn’t care? Don’t we wonder if He sees what we’re going through? I can make you one sure promise in this life: Troubles will come (Jn 16:33). Ask anyone who has been around longer than… a week! You’ll find that this life does bring storms. Storms may look different from person-to-person; for some it may be a bounced check, for others it may be a broken leg! But Jesus promised us that the storms will come (Mt 7:24-27).

Don’t you care that I’m drowning?

And don’t we find it easy to wonder why it seems as though God does nothing? Doesn’t it sometimes feel as though God is just watching from afar; as though He’s sitting up in Heaven on His throne watching us as the storm sweeps over us, the waves crash into us, and it’s all we can do to keep our head above water?
“Teacher, don’t you care that my life is falling apart? Don’t you care that I don’t think I can make it? Don’t you care that I’m hurting, I’m alone? Don’t you care that I’m drowning?”
“Don’t you care?”
But isn’t this what gives our lives their meaning? Doesn’t God demonstrate His peace through our storms? Doesn’t God demonstrate His power through our weakness? What would happen if we didn’t have any storms? I know I would become arrogant and self-reliant. Wouldn’t we start to think that we deserved all the credit for all our great accomplishments? I know I would.

Are we really that different?

After the disciples cry out to Jesus, He simply commands the wind and waves to “be still” and they obey (Mk 4:39). Just like that the storm simply stopped. It’s almost like He was God. It’s almost like He was in charge the whole time. It’s almost like the disciples were worrying for no reason… But we already knew that didn’t we?
It’s easy for us to read this story and wonder why the disciples were so terrified. I mean, they had Jesus with them. Surely they knew that God was all-powerful and could stop the storm at any time. How could the disciples be so foolish? But are we really that different? Is our storm really that much bigger? Are our circumstances the special exception where God has no power to act on our behalf?
Look at how Jesus responds to His disciples: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” It’s almost as though Jesus is disappointed. I can’t help but read this with my name in front of it: “Daniel, why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? After all that we’ve been through, after all that you’ve seen, have you still no faith?”
Have you still no faith?
So here’s how the conversation goes:
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing,” we ask as soon as the storm starts getting rough.
Jesus answers our question with a question: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
So why are we still afraid? Could it be that we lose perspective? Could it be that we forget that, just as Jesus had power over the storm in Mark 4:37-40, He also has power of the storms in 2011? Could it be that we believe the storm has more power than God? I ask God to show Himself to me, but as soon as that takes me out of my comfort zone, I become afraid. Jesus simply asks us to trust Him even in the midst of the storm.
Which brings us to the original question: We all claim that we want God to reveal Himself to us, but what does that look like?
I firmly believe that it will look like cloudy skies more often than clear skies.

Spiritual Amnesia

Has it ever seemed like things are going really well in your relationship with God one day, and then almost the next day you’re spiritually in the dumps? Maybe your quiet times are going great and the Bible is really challenging you and speaking to you, and then the next thing you know it’s hard to even focus on what you’re reading. If you’ve been a Christian for longer than a year, this has likely happened to you. Like any relationship, the Christian life is full of ups and downs.

I was actually thinking about this earlier today. I decided to dub it “spiritual amnesia.” Spiritual amnesia is where, for whatever reason, you just forget who you are and, more importantly, whose you are. Why is it so easy for us to forget that we are redeemed people? We are holy and righteous. First Peter 2:9 tells us that we are the people of God and we are to worship Him. But sometimes we forget…

This has happened for thousands of years to many heroes of the faith. For example, Abraham is considered the father of faith (Gal 3:7) but he suffered from spiritual amnesia. In Genesis 12:1-3 God promises to make Abram a great nation. Abram then starts his journey of faith with God, he’s protected from Pharaoh (Gen 12:17), he rescues his brother, Lot (Gen 14:16), but pretty soon Abram doubts God. In Gen 15:2-3, the father of faith wavers in his faith. Sounds like Abram had a case of spiritual amnesia.

Another example is found in 1 Kings 18. In 1 Kings 18:38-39, Elijah witnesses God defeat Baal by sending fire to consume wood. Then God ends a multi-year drought (1 Kings 18:45) and then empowers Elijah to outrun a chariot (1 Kings 18:46). Then in Ch 19, THE VERY NEXT CHAPTER, Elijah hears that Jezebel wants to kill him, so he goes into despair and asks God to kill him (1 Kings 19:3-4). After going toe-to-toe with all the Baal prophets and seeing God win, Elijah is then afraid of one person. He was certainly suffering from spiritual amnesia.

Another example comes from John. In the John 6:10-11, Jesus feeds five thousand people. Later that night he walks across the sea to Capernaum (Jn 6:19). The crowd follows him and then in Jn 6:30-31 they ask him for a sign saying, “Our fathers ate manna from Heaven.” They seem to have forgotten that just yesterday Jesus had fed five thousand people bread… from Heaven! This is also a clear case of spiritual amnesia!

There are plenty of other examples of this behavior. In the book of judges, it happens repeatedly (Judges 2:19)! It seems like a common pattern for people in the Bible to forget about God. Sadly, I see this pattern in my own life too… So how do we “fix” it? Is there a cure?

I don’t know.

I think the only thing we can do is continually seek the face of God. The more time we spend with God, the more we will remember. Often I feel like the person described in James 1:24 who just can’t seem to remember who he is. As soon as I stop reading my Bible I forget that I’m a son of God. I forget that I have the Holy Spirit inside of me. I forget that I’ve been given everything I need to live a life that will please and glorify God. I forget.

But James 1:25 tells us we must look intently. There must be a purposeful, consistent, persistent gazing. We must have a pursuit of God. Too often, Christianity is portrayed as a once time event. Like turning 18. Once you turn 18, you’ll always be 18 without ever having to try or do anything else. Becoming a Christian is a lot more different. Becoming a Christian is about beginning a lifelong relationship. Being a Christian is a lot like being in love. We must pursue God, just like he pursued us. Being a Christian means responding to what God has already done.

Perhaps if we focus on what God has done we won’t be so quick to develop spiritual amnesia.

Grieve with hope

God never promised that life would be easy. In fact, Jesus promises pretty much the opposite in John 16:33. Jesus says we will have trouble. Life is full of pain, grief, and sorrow. These emotions are all part of the human experience. They’re a part of who we are and how we experience this fallen, broken world. Ecclesiastes 3:1 reassures us that this is normal. There are times and seasons for everything.

Specifically, Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us that there are times to mourn. There are times for sorrow; but there are also times to celebrate. Life is a paradox. One of my favorite quotes comes from the character Brian in Vanilla Sky, he says, “Just remember, the sweet is never as sweet without the sour, and I know the sour…”

I think life is a lot like that. It takes the sour to appreciate the sweet. It takes death to appreciate life. And it’s okay to mourn when people die. In fact, it’s Biblical. Look at the Psalms. Sixty-seven psalms are regarded as lament psalms either wholly or in part. Sixty-one are laments in their entirety. To me, one of the saddest Psalms, is Psalm 88. Look at Psalm 88:14, 16, 18. Those verses are tragic. Yet in Psalm 88:1 the Psalmist refers to God as “the God who saves me.”

After Job lost everything, he went into a deep state of sorrow. In Job 2:13, his friends show up and just sit there with him for a whole week. No one says anything; they’re just there for him, supporting him, comforting him.

Even Jesus, in Mark 14:34 says that his “soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Even Jesus! Arguably the shortest verse in the Bible (depending on what translation you use) is John 11:35 where the text says that “Jesus wept.” If Jesus can mourn, so can we. If Jesus can feel despair, so can we. It’s okay.

It’s not a sin to feel sorrow, despair, or depression (although it can be easy to sin while feel like this). The problem comes when we try to hide our emotions from God; or when we try to “sterilize” our prayers. Many of the Psalms are full of questions to God. Questions like, “How long, O LORD, how long?” (Psalm 6:3), or “Why have you rejected us forever, O God?” (Psalm74:1). Those are just two examples but there are dozens of others.

My point is simply this, when time are hard and we feel pain, we need to be honest with God. We need to bring our pain to Him and lean on Him for strength. Psalm 142:1-2 talks about being open and honest with God. Psalm 143:1 asks God to listen, with verse 10 asking for guidance. And Psalm 144:1-2 gives praise to God calling Him our fortress, stronghold, deliverer, and shield.We need to admit that we don’t understand the world but that we trust in someone who does. God is in charge and it’s not our place to know all the answers to life’s questions.

The good news is that we have hope; if not in this life, then certainly in the next. God will be victorious and He will be glorified. Although most of the Psalms are lament psalms, read the last one, Psalm 150:6 is the last verse in the book of Psalms and it simply says, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.”

God also promises that he will be with us during hard times. One of my all-time favorite Bible verses is 1 Peter 5:10. While it does promise that we may suffer for “a little while” it also promises that God Himself will restore us and make us “strong, firm, and steadfast.”

To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:11).

Hebrews 12:1-3

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

It was a Saturday during the summer of 2006. Some friends and I were stretching before a run and I was feeling really good. It was a gorgeous Alaska morning and we were about to do our long run for the week; I think I was going to run 5 miles. This run served as a decompression for me from the stress of the week. It was the perfect way to start a weekend. We said a prayer and then started. I took off at a quick pace and was thankful for my health. Once I got about 3/4 of a mile out, I decided that I wanted to pray a little bit while I ran. So I took a side-trail that went up a hill to better see the mountains and sunrise. As I topped the hill, I said the words, “Thank you for this beautiful view, God.” It was at that moment, while I was fixated on the mountain and the far-off scenery that I stepped on a rock. I blew my ankle out (my 4th sprain for the season) and fell to the ground. Hard.

My run was over. I limped back to the car and waited for my friends to finish their runs.

During runs, and in life, I think it’s important to remember what awaits us at the finish line. I think we need to visualize our ultimate goal. We must look to Jesus. He waits for us at our finish line. However, Jesus also said that we must take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). There is a daily, moment by moment element to our walk with Christ that must not be ignored either. If we look too far ahead, we will not pay attention to the path right in front of us.

When I’m running, I keep the finish line in my head, but I keep my eyes focused on the path directly before me. As you’ve read, I learned this lesson the hard way. I took my eyes off the path and looked at something far off in the distance. I paid for my carelessness by spraining my ankle.

In life, we must constantly keep Christ in the back of our mind as our ultimate goal. He is the author and perfecter of our faith, the beginning and the end, the starting line and the finish line. However, we must keep our focus on the daily opportunities we have to serve God.

Jesus endured the temporary pain of the cross for the joy set before Him. He kept His eyes on the finish line, but also completed the task immediately in front of Him. I hope to imitate Jesus by keeping in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:25) daily, but also always remembering the eternal promise of life everlasting.