Strong Faith for Stormy Seas
These are tricky days, and they prompt us to further reflect on how to follow Jesus well in turbulent times. Especially, how do we build faith for stormy seas? The disciples of Jesus teach us through their mistake how to prosper in faith when it looks like we might be sinking.
In Mark 4:35-41 we read that Jesus and his disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee. It helps us understand this passage to remember that several of the key disciples had been fisherman; they had grown up on this 8X13 mile-wide lake and were experienced in navigating various kinds of storms. But in this instance they encountered a storm of a new calibre, something they had not experienced before. There’s a key lesson here:
Past success in storm navigation does not prepare us for super-size tsunamis.
The difference was that Jesus was with them – or, it should have made a difference. But in looking at the storm, and in not knowing who was really in the boat with them, they became gripped with fear. Jesus was taking a nap, they interpreted this as either naivete or lack of compassion.
They ran to Jesus, waking him and asked, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ (v. 38). Jesus, being God, rebuked the storm, which instantly obeyed him. And then the disciples became more afraid, because they realised that the man in the boat with them was not simply a man, but God in the flesh.
What we learn about navigating storms
First, we need Jesus in the boat of our lives - especially when we are encountering larger than life storms that shake everything we know.
Second, don’t ignore the word of God. Jesus said, ‘Let us go to the other side’. If I said that, it would be an intention; when Jesus says that, it is a fact before it happens – that is, it is a non-contingent promise, a promise guaranteed to come to pass.
Third, sometimes we encounter disorientating storms.
The most miserable night of my life happened a number of years ago when I experienced a strong case of vertigo. I had never experienced vertigo before, and I have not had it sense. But it was awful.
We were expecting our sixth daughter, and Jean, being very pregnant, was sleeping somewhere else in the house. I was alone, and all of a sudden, I felt wrong in the head, and it seemed like the bed was spinning on two different axes - both roll and yaw for those of you who are pilots … this went on for hours – I fell off the bed and couldn’t crawl to the toilet without falling over; Jean couldn’t hear my pleas for help – it was miserable!
This current moment feels a bit like that; it is disorientating – we can’t do simple things that used to be easy. Nothing we have experienced prepares us for this moment.
Fourth, in the middle of the storm we are tempted to question God’s goodness. The disciples asked Jesus if he cared. They were evaluating Jesus on the basis of circumstances rather than evaluating their circumstances on the basis of Jesus. It is tempting to question God, but the Lord invites us to recognise who is in the boat with us.
This reminds me that there are two simultaneous storms that are waging – the storm on the outside, and the storm on the inside. Right now, there is a coronavirus storm that is shaking the world. For some of us, that outside storm is creating an inside storm of fear, anxiety and worry.
Fifth, God is bigger than the storm. When Jesus awoke, he rebuked the storm and brought calm. And here’s the big point: we can’t control the outside storm, but Jesus can always speak peace to the inside storm.
Sixth, the disciples didn’t understand who was in the boat with them. They asked each other, ‘Who then is this …?’ It’s important to know who’s in the boat with you.
There are so many lessons packed into this short but powerful story; perhaps the most important one emerges in Jesus’ challenge to the disciples in verse 40:
He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Jesus expected his disciples to have rock-solid faith in the middle of the storm. Whereas they learned something about Jesus when he calmed the storm, he learned something about them when, in the midst of the storm, they were gripped with fear.
How to build strong faith
How can we build strong faith that will sustain us in the face of storms? Here are four keys to build strong faith in your life:
- Look to Jesus
We always have a choice – we can look at the storm, or we can look at Jesus. If you look at the storm, Jesus will seem small; if you look at Jesus, the storm will seem less big. Keep your eyes on Jesus in the middle of the storm. Comparing our spiritual lives to a marathon, the author of Hebrews tells us:
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12.2
So keep your eyes on Jesus, and will develop your faith.
- Go to the Word
Remember that Jesus told his disciples, ‘we’re going to the other side’. They seem to have forgotten this in the middle of the storm. The greatest way to build faith in the middle of the storm is go to the Bible, read the Bible, meditate on the Bible, believed the Bible.
Jesus himself taught that
Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’. God’s word is food to us. (Matthew 4:4)
The reason it’s important to feed on God’s word, to eat it like we eat bread, is that we walk by faith, not by sight. That is, to follow Jesus well means that we live in or inhabit his promises.
But this is difficult because we are hard-wired to walk by sight. That means, we live on the basis of our physical sense perceptions. The problem is that our physical sense perceptions are insufficient to navigate storms; we often cannot see sufficiently into the future to make correct decisions for today.
Airplane pilots function with something called instrument flight rules. When visibility is constrained, they have to rely on the instrument panel for navigation.
We’re living in a moment like that now; we don’t know exactly what might happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month. That’s why you need the Bible, God’s word, to be your instrument panel.
The Bible tells you what is up and down, even when you can’t feel it. Walking by faith means that God’s promises are your instrument panel; they are the navigation tools by which you make decisions.
The Psalmist wrote, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’. By making a regular appointment with the Bible, God will guide you into the future He has for you.
- Go to the Holy Spirit
Jesus promised that he would not leave us alone, but that he would give us a comforter. That is, the Spirit of God walks with us through the storms of life. And we go to the Holy Spirit especially in prayer. God is perpetually with us by his Spirit, but when we run to him in prayer, we become more aware of his presence with us. Look at what Jude writes:
Building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit. Jude 20.
As we go to the Lord, praying in the Spirit, our faith gets built up.
- Connect with each other
Perhaps even more so in these days of social distance and national lockdown, we need to connect with and encourage each other. Here’s what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5.11
It requires some intentionality, some focus, some proactivity, some effort. But do it. This is how we grow in faith – we speak words of life and blessing over each other.
So, in summary, here is how we build faith for stormy seas:
- Look to Jesus
- Go to the Word
- Pray in the Spirit
- Encourage each other
Remember, keep trusting in Jesus: he will take us safely to the other side.