Life can be straight up overwhelming at times. Can I get an “Amen”? If you’ve lived more than 15 minutes in this world, you surely know what I’m talking about. Though I’ve heard it said, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” and though the words themselves sound very similar to the words of Scripture (1 Corinthians 10:13), whoever first used those words to suggest that the Lord is too nice to allow too much pain into your life – was dead wrong. Overwhelming situations are like storms. And Jesus has been known to lead his people through storms. Much like the one his disciples found themselves in, which we read about in Mark 4:35-41.
35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41 ESV)
Sometimes Jesus taught his disciples directly with words. Other times he taught them indirectly through experiences that pressed the truth of his word home and forced them to work that truth out in their daily lives. The same goes for us. And often times, the experiences the Lord uses to teach us are deeply challenging ones, even overwhelmingly so.
Overwhelmed Disciples and a Sleeping Lord
The storm the disciples found themselves in that night was an overwhelming situation. Their lives were at risk, at least from their perspective. They’re on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of the night and a huge wind comes upon them, causing massive waves to fill their boat with water and they begin to sink. And they quickly become overwhelmed.
Truly, they panic, like most of us would have. You can picture them trying to get the water out of the boat as they’re being rocked back and forth by the waves – water pouring in – the boat sinking down into the chaotic waters. This is a bad situation.
And what is Jesus doing? He’s asleep in the back of the boat, zonked out cold! He’s tired from a long day of preaching to mostly hard hearts, but resting extremely secure in the wise Providence of his Father. Jesus is sleeping like a log while the boat is going down.
And so, the disciples wake him up forcefully and ask him, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” But the question is more like an accusation. The idea is, “How could you not care that we are perishing? How could you sleep when we are all going to die?” The disciples are questioning Jesus’ concern for them and calling into question whether he is really interested in their well being.
Have you ever thrown a question like that to heaven in the middle of a panic?
And what does Jesus do? He gets up, rebukes the wind, and speaks to the sea saying, “Hush, be still.” It is very emphatic, like “Be silent! Be silenced!” And Mark says, “the wind died down and it became perfectly calm” (v. 39). A mega storm becomes mega calm with a couple of words from the lips of Jesus.
But then the one who calms the storm with a word now has a few words for his disciples. (Put yourself in their shoes. His eyes lock onto yours, and you swallow that lump in your throat.) “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40).
Suddenly, another storm comes upon them, but this time it’s a storm in their hearts. Mark says, “They became very much afraid (even more afraid, that is) and said to one another, “Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (v. 41)
Even though they are among those who Jesus sees as good soil, and even though they have been seeking to hear his voice, the disciples begin to realize that they don’t get Jesus like they probably thought they had, and in this moment they are beginning to realize that when it comes to Jesus there is always more to learn. Just when we think we are starting to really get him, all it takes is a good hard storm to make it clear that we just don’t know him like we should. And just like it did for the disciples here in this passage, it is the pressure of overwhelming situations (perhaps we could call them storms) that shows us more of what we need to know and believe about Jesus.
Are you in a storm right now, dear reader? Or, do you know of someone who is? Our storms come in different packages, but they come to us all. They can be relational, physical, moral, emotional, financial, or ministerial. They can range from the agony of chronic pain, to persecution, to infertility, to unemployment, to cancer, to singleness, to struggles with habitual sin. Whatever makes you feel overwhelmed qualifies as a storm. And if the wind is not blowing and the rain is not falling in your world right now, it will soon enough. When it does, keep in mind these truths regarding Jesus and his relationship to the storms of your life, derived from Mark 4:35-41.
Four Truths for Storms
First, remember that Jesus will lead you directly into storms. (Mark 4:35-38a)
Did you notice whose idea was it to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee? It was Jesus’ idea (v. 35). Jesus knows what he’s doing and he knows what’s coming. He is deliberately calling his disciples to follow him into this storm.
The Bible actually teaches us that the Lord will lead us at times into situations where we come to “despair of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8) and where we plead with him repeatedly for relief and he repeatedly says “no” to our requests (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Sometimes, contrary to the popular adage, God will actually give you far more than you can handle, like he did with his disciples in Mark 4.
Of course, when he does that it’s to teach us greater dependence upon himself (2 Corinthians 1:8-9; 12:9-10), and so he does it for our good. In Mark 4, Jesus was putting his disciples in a situation where they would end up asking questions about his identity. He wanted them to get to the point where they start asking, “Who is this?” It is in pain where we learn things about the Lord, and learn a dependence upon him that we would never learn in times of pleasure and ease.
Second, remember that Jesus cares about you in your storms, but is never panicking with you in them. (Mark 4:38b, 40)
The disciples’ question of Jesus indicates that they were basing their lives as disciples of Jesus upon a deadly assumption; namely, that if Jesus cared for them, he wouldn’t allow them to be put in such difficult situations. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”, they asked. Of course he cared. He cared for them more than they could fathom.
In fact, you could say that Jesus’ concern for the well-being of the disciples was the reason he led them into this storm. Just like Jesus’ love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus motivated him to wait two additional days before coming to heal Lazarus (John 11:5-6 – “he loved [them] and so he waited”), so Jesus’ love for us is the reason he will lead us into storms of our own, and leave us there for a time, as if he were sleeping through them like he was through the storm in Mark 4. This is because his priority is not our comfort. His priority is our spiritual growth. That’s why he took the disciples into the storm that night; and it’s why he slept like a baby while they feared for their lives. When we are panicking, Jesus is not, because he has good purposes for our storms, whatever they are and whenever they come.
Third, remember the presence (or absence) of storms in your life at any given time is not necessarily tied to your faith. (Mark 4:40)
I find it encouraging that Jesus did not wait until the disciples had enough faith before he calmed the storm. In fact, he calmed the storm despite the smallness of their faith. Something we can take away from this, I think, is that there are times when we will have great faith and the storms of life will keep on coming, and other times when we our faith is weak and the Lord will calm our storms simply because he is good. So, you don’t have to wonder either what you’ve done wrong to deserve your storms, or what you’ve done right to send them away. Knowing this frees us up to simply humble ourselves under the Providence of God and learn whatever we can learn whether the skies above us are full of clouds or not.
Fourth, remember that Jesus is sovereign over your storms. (Mark 4:41)
Why is it significant that Jesus is able to calm the storm? It’s significant because it displays his deity. Only God can calm storms.
29He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. 30Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. 31Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men! 32Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. (Psalm 107:29-32 ESV)
What that tells us is that Jesus is sovereign over every last detail of our lives, including our storms. Nothing takes Him by surprise. Nothing throws Him off guard. He is sovereign over it all and we can trust Him fully.
What about your storm?
I, unlike Jesus, cannot read your heart, dear reader. Nor do I have any clue what most of you are dealing with right now. Perhaps you’re struggling financially. Perhaps you’re lonely. Perhaps you’ve been sinned against in some grievous way. Maybe your health is failing you and you live in pain every day. Maybe you’re in a difficult marriage and don’t see a good way forward with your spouse.
I do know that many pastors and aspiring pastors tend to read this blog. How about you, brothers? I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that it can kill you in more ways than one. The struggles of pastoral ministry are legion and they are at times absolutely ruthless.
Perhaps you’re panicking – fearing for your life – doubting Jesus’ love for you. Don’t. (I’m speaking to myself as much as to anyone else here.) Don’t panic, friend. Jesus has led you into this storm because he cares for you. And it may feel like he is sleeping, but he’s not. He knows what’s going on. He knows what you’re dealing with. And he is with you. Perhaps there are things to learn about him in your storm that you simply would not learn another way. So, learn those things. Humble yourself. Trust your Lord. And know that the storm isn’t going to last forever. One day, whether now or when he returns, he will speak to your storm, saying, “Peace, be still.” And eventually, the rain and the wind will stop for good.