Saturday I attended the funeral of a long-time friend, a pastor who has made an indelible mark on my life and on the life of my wife. This was the pastor of the church where I met my wife and where she spent much of her youth. While visiting with the family the evening before, I looked into the exhausted eyes of his children and his wife, still stunned by his unexpected passing and shaken to the core as to what the future might hold for them.
October of this year will mark the fifteenth anniversary of the time when I stood in a very similar position, having suddenly lost my father in a very unexpected way. Ironically, it was through that very experience that I had met this pastor who had become a dear part of my life.
As I looked into their tired eyes, red-rimmed and damp from justifiable tears, I saw a storm raging. The sound of the wind and the crashing of the waves in their gaze took me back to my own experience during that heart-rending period of adjusting to a “new normal” in which my father was no longer available for our frequent phone calls, encouragement, jokes, and advice.
While I was reminiscing about the storm I’d unexpectedly faced, my mind was brought back to a great storm that occurred two millennia ago. That storm and its miraculous lessons helped me through the most difficult time in my life, and I hope it will help you as well.
On the same day, when evening had come, He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him.And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”Mark 4:45-41 (NKJV)
Jesus had been preaching to the multitudes along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. As the multitude grew and pressed in on Him, He boarded a boat and used it as a platform from which to speak. The gentle slope of the shore formed a natural amphitheater setting in which Jesus taught the well-known parable of the sower and the parable of the mustard seed.
As evening fell and the sun began to set, Jesus turned to his disciples and made a simple request: “Let us cross over to the other side.” He’d been working hard ministering to the crowds, and obviously had some business to take care of on the other side of the Sea. So they began to sail across toward the country of the Gadarenes.
Somewhere along the way during the night a great windstorm arose.
Years ago in Southern California, I went on a fishing trip near Catalina Island. A group of men from our church boarded a fishing vessel at about four o’clock in the morning in the pitch darkness. The air was calm and quiet except for the sounds of the dock that seemed so foreign to those of us who’d spent our lives in the city.
After the boat left the dock, we motored slowly toward some rocky outcroppings. As we approached I saw that there was one such outcropping on either side of a fairly narrow passageway, each topped by small lights to protect against accidents. Beyond lay the blackness of the open ocean.
I was soon to discover the real purpose for the rocky outcroppings. As we emerged on the other side, the wind suddenly grew strong and loud. The bow of the boat rose surprisingly steeply, only to crash down on the other side of the first large swell. The spray of the splash glistened on the faces of all of us who stood along the deck, grasping for any hand-hold we could find. The boat rose and fell like some sadistic roller-coaster, sickening many among the land lovers aboard. People, including me, became anxious because of the water pounding over the bow of the boat each time it dropped into the blackness below. Everyone was scrambling and scared.
Everyone except the captain and the deck-hands. You see, they’d been through many such storms. They’d been through far worse. This was no big deal to them.
Two thousand years ago, several of the disciples around Jesus were fishermen by trade. They had seen the worst that this sea could throw at them. They should have been as stoic and as calm as the crew of my modern boat in California. The fact that they weren’t is an indication of just how severe this windstorm really was. Seasoned sailors who had grown up on those very waters were in abject fear for their lives!
I can imagine them shouting to one another to tie things down as they furiously bailed water out of the rapidly filling boat. I can taste the spray of the water as it washed over the sides and see the men bracing themselves against the constant tossing and turning of the boat.
At some point someone looked around for Jesus and didn’t see Him. In a storm of this severity, it would be a logical concern that He might have washed over the side. So they looked for Him. In all the noise and the confusion, the crashing and creaking, howling and shouting, Jesus was…
I can hear the frustrated anxiety in the voices of the men who woke Him, saying, “Master! Do you not care that we are about to die?”
And that’s where I found myself fifteen years ago when my father died. My life, my plans, my foundations were suddenly turned end over end with the loss of the man from whom I’d built my whole identity. I was James Land’s son. I was the preacher’s kid. I’d always been the youngest of James Land’s family. We’d ministered together. We’d struggled. We’d traveled. We’d had highs and lows. But he was the anchor in my whole identity.
And suddenly, he was gone. And I cried out in the storm, screaming into the wind, “Lord! Don’t you care that I’m dying inside? Don’t you care that I don’t know who to be? Don’t you care that I’m frightened? Don’t you care that I don’t know what’s real because my very foundation has shattered?”
It seemed Jesus had fallen asleep in my neediest time.
That was such a difficult time. I didn’t understand. I didn’t know how to cope with His silence. My tears trickled down into the dust and my cries went unanswered. The noise of my storm was all I could hear. His voice seemed to have gone away with my dad.
How could He sleep when all this was happening?
Time has given me a new perspective. The pain of the loss, though never removed, has dulled somewhat. I’ve buried myself in the Word. I’ve learned, and I’ve grown.
Months later, I was asked to preach at the little country church by my parent’s pastor. As I prayed and studied, I was drawn to this story of Jesus asleep on the boat. And that’s when God moved mightily in me.
There is something astounding to be learned from the silence of Jesus in that storm so long ago. He wasn’t helping to bail water from the boat. He wasn’t shouting directions to the men on deck. He wasn’t tying things down so they wouldn’t be swept overboard.
He was asleep. Why?
The answer is as simple as it is profound. He is God. You see, the voice of Jesus is the very voice that spoke creation into being. His were the very hands that formed the land and the living beings on it. His was the very mind that created time and held it in His hand, seeing the end from the beginning, yet not being bound by time’s limitations. He is God.
The fact that He is God means that He was not surprised by the storm. He knew of its existence since before man ever set foot on the earth. He knew who would be on those boats just as He has known of your circumstances since before you were even formed in your mother’s womb. He is God!
He is never caught by surprise. He is never in danger of being overwhelmed. He is never in fear of losing control of a situation. He is God.
And He knew it. So, after a long day of teaching along the shore to the multitudes, He slept. Peacefully slept. Without care or worry.
And herein lies the first lesson: Never mistake His silence for His absence. He was right there with them. He was at peace because He had nothing to worry about. He was right there with me when my father died and I felt so lost and tossed. And He’s right there with my former pastor’s wife and children in their time of grief. He quietly waits to be looked for in the storm.
God has a plan. He always has a plan. As my former pastor’s daughter so eloquently stated at her dad’s funeral yesterday, “all He does is good, and everything He does is a miracle.“
God is sovereign. This means He does as He pleases, in His time, for His pleasure, and for His glory. We have nothing to fear because He has nothing to fear. “The steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way.” (Psalm 37:23)
When we trust in the sovereignty of our God, we have nothing to fear. God is love (1 John 4:7) and perfect Love casts out all fear. (1 John 4:18).
The next thing I noticed in my study of this passage and its parallel passage in Luke 8: Jesus gave them a destination. He did not say “Let’s go sailing.” He didn’t say “Let’s go to sea.” He said, “Let us cross over to the other side.”
God does nothing haphazardly or in an incomplete way. He does not make plans He has no intention of keeping. Jesus gave them a destination because He intended to minister on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. If God Himself makes a plan, no storm the devil can whip up can stop Him from accomplishing His will.
Lesson two: If God has given you a destination, He will stay with you until His plan is complete.
The third thing that I learned while reflecting on this passage is this: When the storm is crashing and the winds are howling your devastation, when your boat is tossed and seems on the verge of utter destruction, you have three choices.
- You can bail furiously, struggling in your own strength to save yourself, all the while filled with anxiety and terror.
- You can resign yourself to your fate and simply yield to the storm and drown.
- Or, you can look to the example of Jesus, remind yourself of His sovereignty, and find rest in His omnipotent strength.
Jesus looked at His disciples and said, “How is it that you have no faith?”
We have been given the Word of God. It is His personal revelation of Himself and His attributes. Within the covers of your bible you’ll find everything He wishes you to know about Himself. Look to Him, 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. (Hebrews 12:2)
Your comfort won’t be found in the words of caring people. Your comfort won’t be gained by busying yourself to try to forget and drown out the storm. I’ve tried that. Your comfort will only truly come from dipping deep into the well of the scriptures, turning to the One and only One who knows exactly what you’re feeling, thinking, and facing. Look to Him.
So, for those in the thick middle of the storm, I urge you… I beg you… Do not mistake His silence for His absence. Remind yourself of the destination and calling He’s placed upon you, and look to the author and perfecter of your faith for your comfort.
May you rest peacefully in the storm, dwelling in the peace that passes all human understand. That peace only comes from embracing the Sovereign in the storm.