“Peace! Be still!” –Mark 4:39

In July of 1977, I and some others got caught in a small boat in a vicious squall on Lake Superior. The thing I remember most is the sense of terror I felt, and thinking I might die.

Victor Hugo, author of the well known novel the Hunchback of Notre Dame, also wrote a story called "Ninety-Three," a story of a ship caught in a dangerous storm on the high seas. At the height of the storm, the frightened sailors heard a terrible crashing noise below the deck. It turned out to be a cannon that was a part of the ship's cargo that had broken loose from its moorings. It was sliding back and forth with the swaying of the ship, crashing into the sides of the ship with terrible impact. Knowing that it could split open the sides of the ship, two brave sailors volunteered to make the dangerous attempt to retie the loose cannon. They knew the danger of the cannon inside was greater than the fury of the storm raging outside.

When I got caught in the squall on Lake Superior the outer storm raging around me was very dangerous and life-threatening. However, the inner fear and terror that I felt was equally as dangerous because it clouded my thinking, paralyzed me, and if it wouldn’t have been for a wise and seasoned guide who was in the boat with us, I would have made the wrong choices in that situation – choices that could have led to our demise.

Storms of life may blow and rage all around us, and they do. But it is not these exterior storms that pose the gravest danger. It is the terrible confusion and chaos that exists within us which can ultimately overwhelm us. The furious storm outside may be awesome and consuming, but what is going on inside can pose the even greater threat. Our hope lies in conquering this inner chaos and confusion.

The disciples thought the biggest danger was outside the boat. However, they would soon learn the real danger was within the boat, within their own hearts. In a word, they lacked faith. Without faith their lives were at risk to the storms which would inevitably come - and come they did, and come they will. So what can we learn from this boat ride in the tempest?

First, we learn that storms can come suddenly.

The day we were caught in the squall it was a clear, blue-skied, sunny day with a gentle breeze and few waves. We got a little careless and were farther from the shore-line than we should have been. In a matter of minutes the squall line exploded behind us and caught us completely off guard.

The Sea of Galilee is not Lake Superior by any stretch of the imagination. It is something like seven miles across at its widest place. They set sail that beautiful afternoon on the Sea of Galilee. The sun was shining and Jesus, weary from the day’s activity, fell asleep. As the late afternoon faded into dusk, trouble began to loom. The white puffy clouds that dotted the sky were replaced by low hanging, ominous black clouds. The calm waters began to churn with white caps, and then large waves slammed the side of the tiny boat. They were taking on water. The Sea of Galilee is notorious for these sudden and violent squalls.

You don’t have to be in a boat on a lake for trouble to come just that fast in your life. Everything can be going beautifully, people can be congratulating you and things can be going your way. Suddenly the telephone can ring, the medical test comes back, or you are holding the pink slip in your hand, and everything in your life is turned upside down.

Amazingly, as this stormy squall was happening, Jesus was asleep. The disciples saw this as indifference and lack of concern on the part of Jesus. He doesn’t seem to know that a storm is raging. He apparently is deaf to the howl of the wind. He seemingly doesn’t feel the waves crashing into the side of the boat or the water splashing upon his face. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Doesn’t God care about what I am going through?

The sudden furious storm outside may be overwhelming, but what is going on inside can pose the greater threat.

The second thing is that storms can not only come suddenly, but they can make you lose direction. When the squall hit us on Lake Superior, within minutes I was consumed by my inner fear and panic, so much so I had no clue which direction to head. My inner chaos was so intense I didn’t even think to first turn to the seasoned guide. If it would have been up to me, I would have had us go in the wrong direction which would have taken us to a rocky shoreline upon which we would have perished.

The disciples were experienced fisherman. They had charted those waters hundreds of times before. They had been caught in storms before: Why all the fear in this storm? Was this storm worse than all the others? Probably not! I think they were distracted by Jesus’ seeming indifference, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing.” They are chastising Jesus for not grabbing an oar and helping out. They were distracted, not by the chaos of the sea, but rather by the chaos inside their souls.

It is at this moment that the unexpected happens. Jesus gets up. He does not grab an oar. He calms the storm. The disciples expected that Jesus would grab an oar, instead he calms the waters. They were looking for another helper, instead they got a savior. They were looking for human help. What they got was divine presence. They were looking for a hand. What they got was a God. The disciples are stunned and more afraid than ever.

It is here that the disciples lost direction. Jesus asks, “Why are you so afraid?” They didn’t realize who it was that was sailing along with them in the boat – even after he calmed the storm.

“Do you still have no faith? Do you still not understand who I am?”

Their real problem was not as much the storm outside, but the storm of doubt and unbelief that raged inside.

It never ceases to amaze me how easily some Christians are thrown into chaos, panic and fear when the storms of life arrive. The converse is also true. It never ceases to amaze me how incredibly at peace and filled with hope and assurance some Christians can be when the storms of life arrive.

That’s what the disciples learned this day on the Sea of Galilee. They thought the danger lie outside the boat. They would soon learn the biggest danger lie within the boat, within their own hearts

Where and to whom do you turn in the midst of the storm? It is an urgent question. It’s a life and death question. The answer will depend upon where you place your ultimate trust and faith.

Storms can come suddenly and blind-side us. They can make us lose direction and navigation and fall prey to our inner fears and confusion. If we do not understand who it is that is in the boat us then our inner fear and chaos has the power to paralyze, even destroy us. When Jesus awakened, he rebuked not only the storm but the disciples.

“Why are you afraid,” he asked. “Have you no faith?”

The promise that is made to us, and I believe the point of this story, is that God is present in the midst of the storm. God is already in the boat with you. If the disciples had realized and trusted who was in the boat with them all along the story might have had a very different unfolding.

You need not panic, though the situation may appear bleak. You have a seasoned guide in the boat with you - the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s gone all the way into death and come back. You need not forsake your witness-the Lord Jesus Christ is in the boat with you. You need not become immobilized-the Lord Jesus Christ is in the boat with you. You can trust Him. That’s the promise!

Will the clouds, wind and waves dissipate immediately? There’s no guarantee they will. Will you no longer have to struggle with problems? That is never promised. Well, you say, it doesn’t sound as though the promise that is given is all that great. All I can say is that kind of trust and faith got Noah through the storm; Abraham and Sarah through despair; the Jews through the wilderness; Mary through her pregnancy; Jesus through the crucifixion, and it will be sufficient to get you through your night of dark storms as well.

In her book, Living With Mystery, Stacey Padrick talks about searching for answers in the midst of life’s mysterious difficulties. She wrote the book in the face of suffering a chronic, severe form of lupus which strickens her to the point of total bed-rest with severe symptoms of illness and pain for long stretches of time.

In the chapter entitled “The Mystery of Suffering” she talks about how we’ve come to view suffering as totally negative, a sign of God’s neglect and indifference. But she reminds us through the powerful testimony of her own life, that God does everything he can to keep us from running from the storms and sufferings that stalk us, even to the point of dying on a cross.

My dear Christian friends, Jesus died on the cross – for you! The cross tells us that storms, trials, adversity and hardship are more the norm for life than not – even for the Son of God. When life is relatively free of hardship, and all is blue skies and smooth sailing it is so easy for our faith to become shallow rooted, superficial and lacking any real substance. Then when a storm suddenly brews our faith dissolves and we are left puzzled, perplexed and thrown into a state of chaos and fear, and we just don’t understand it.

My friends Jesus died on the cross – for you – and me! Why should we expect any less? “Take up your cross,” he said to those who would follow him.

Stacy Padrick’s says...

“We (all long) for the time and place when life will be how God intended it in the beginning: perfect, sweet fellowship with Him in the Garden of Paradise. (In that Garden) we will know and love Him absolutely and completely. Until Christ takes us home to walk in unbroken communion, we now fellowship with Him in the other garden: Gethsemane, the garden of suffering and tears. We need not fear entering that Garden for Jesus is already there, waiting for us in the dark of night. And he reaches out to welcome us with hands that bear the scars of suffering—and palms upon which our names are inscribed.”

I could paraphrase her words using the metaphors of today’s gospel.

We all expect that life should be how God intended it to be...blue skies, clear sailing and warm and gentle breezes. It’s so easy to believe when things are like that. But until Jesus meets us in death and takes us by the hand and leads us home that’s not the way it’s going to be. More often than not our little boats will be rocked and battered by hostile winds and waves resulting in an even bigger tempest in our hearts and souls. But we need not fear, Jesus is in the boat with us. He is being battered by the same winds and waves. His boat is our boat, and he is being swamped too. Jesus expected that this would happen...we don't! He’s been waiting for it...we aren't; we live in denial. He’s ready...We're not!

So, listen to His assuring words. Let him speak them into the tempest of your soul: “Peace, Be still!”

Pastor Joseph Holub
Holy Love Lutheran Church in Aurora, Colorado

All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of author


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