Where do you find peace in the storm?
Peace eludes the disciples as they battle the waves and waters that are threatening to swamp the boat. Struggling against lines that are being pulled to the point of breaking in the storm’s wind, bailing water a bucket at a time when the sea easily dumps 40 buckets in the boat at any given moment, and struggling to find a direction to point the boat in a confused, chaotic sea all lead the disciples to look at Jesus, who is sleeping through it all, and ask, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”
Those words, or ones like them, have passed through the lips of millions of followers of Jesus. “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”
They came from the lips of those early Christians who were thrown into the middle of Roman arenas with hungry lions. As the lions approached, death lurking and waiting to pounce at any moment, the question escapes from under the breath, “Jesus, don’t you care?”
They come from the lips of the one who sits at the edge of the hospital bed, holding helplessly onto the shoulder of one who clutches the pink bucket, waiting for the next upheaval to arise. Wishing that there was something that they could do, anything, to take away the pain and discomfort, they mutter as people pass by the hospital door talking and laughing, “God, don’t you care about this suffering?”
They come welling up inside the mother who has who has fled under the cover of darkness from the gunfire and rapers of female bodies on the streets while clutching her toddler close. And, the phrase returns as that toddler is ripped from her arms as she seeks asylum. “Jesus, ten piedad!” “Jesus, have mercy” she cries out helplessly.
Some storms we can handle. Some storms cause the sea waves to rise in predictable ways. Though the waves may be 30 feet tall, if the waves are all coming from the same direction, we know to turn the boat directly into the waves. If you courageously face the waves head on, you know that you can cut right through them and will make it safely through the storm.
The storms of life are no different. Though stressful, most of us can handle one crisis at a time without a problem. Do you have a disagreement with someone? Just face the problem head on, deal with the person directly, and you will likely make it to the other side of the problem just fine.
The problems come when the waters become dangerously turbulent in what seafarers call “confused seas.” Confused seas are exactly what they sound like. They do not have waves coming from any single direction pushed by any single storm. Rather, a multiplicity of storms have caused the waves to be pushed from multiple directions, and there is nowhere to turn the boat so that it might be safe. Waves, crashing from both the front and the sides causes the boat to rock uncontrollably and be overwhelmed by the spray. The waters start to flood the boat and the wind starts to tear at the lines.
In such a storm, where no one knows which direction is the right one or the safe one, the disciples call out to the sleeping Jesus in the back, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing!”
And, when the pressures and dangers of life attack from every angle, and life degrades to worse than overwhelming…when you lose much, much more than you can possibly gain...you have no choice but to cry out, “Jesus, don’t you care? Do something! I thought that you saved. Then do some saving! Why am I forgotten in all this?”
“Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing!” Those are probably some of the more honest words ever spoken in scripture. They come out of a desperate, broken hope that cannot see the end to the storm. They express the very moment when faith has died.
And, those words are right here, preserved for all time in the Bible! What I find most fascinating about it all, is that these words of dead faith are right here, preserved for all of us to read and see. Even the disciples had (How does Jesus put it?) “No faith!” Written right there in black and white, not hidden from the sight of anyone, we read that the disciples had “no faith” because life had become insurmountable.
I actually find comfort in the fact that even Jesus’ closest friends at times had “no faith.”
Christians in the West put so much emphasis on having enough faith, that when we are not able to somehow conjure it out of nowhere, we feel like spiritual failures. As if faith were a commodity that you can just go to the grocery store and buy more, sitting right next to the Doritos. And, who doesn't need Doritos in desperate times? But, you cannot find faith sitting there for sale. You cannot just go get some more.
Nor can you simply wish for more faith. You cannot just get up in the morning and decide, “You know what, today I’m going to trust in the power of Jesus!” Because, quite frankly, sometimes when you look around for Jesus you find that he is asleep in the back of the boat. “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” the disciples chide.
So, I’ll ask the question again, “Where do you find peace in the storm?” The funny thing is that the answer has something to do with that nap that Jesus is taking in the back of the boat.
When we are in the throes of the horrific, we look to the back of the boat and see Jesus sleeping and assume that Jesus is not paying attention, or that Jesus does not care. But, that is an assumption, based on our perception of events. But, we can look at the sleeping Jesus in a completely different way…in the way that Christians from Asia tend to see Jesus.
When I went to India, I visited a beautiful little Christian temple. It was similar to Hindu temples where people could just stop by and pray whenever they got off of work or walked home from school. In the center of the temple was a statue of sorts that represented Jesus (in the style of a Hindu temple); but, when you looked at the representation, rather than seeing a cross or a man dressed in robes with arms outstretched as you would elsewhere around the world, you see a lotus flower.
A lotus flower is like a beautiful lily that grows on the water. I asked the pastor, “Why is there a lotus flower rather than a cross.” And, he responded, “Because Jesus is our lotus flower. No matter the storms that send the waters into chaos, the lotus flower always remains peaceful and beautiful, floating above the chaos. That is Jesus. He is peaceful in the storm because he knows that the storm does not win. He is peaceful in the storm because he has power over the storm. All he needs to is say three words, “Peace, be still” and it is.
This story of the storm is trying to tell us something quite profound. When in the throes of chaos, we tend to look back at the sleeping Jesus and assume that he does not care. But, the story is actually telling us to take a second look. Maybe, we should stop and ask, “Why is he so peaceful.” "What is it that he knows that I do not know?" If we stopped and considered the peaceful Jesus, we would see him rise up, stretch out his arms and whisper into the screaming wind, “Peace be still,” and we would see the storm waters fall to a silent rest.
Where do you find peace in the storm? Do not waste time berating yourself for not having enough faith, or for the inability try to conjure up some non-existent courage. After-all, only God can get water from a stone.
Rather, simply look toward the back of the boat and see Jesus. See him, peaceful, as the boat thrashes about on the sea. Consider why he is so peaceful. Consider that he knows something that you do not.
In him you can see that a peace that rises above the stormy sea is our true reality. Peace is the true reality. Where do you find peace in the storm? Take a deep breath, look to Jesus, and see the power of peace. Jesus is our peace.
In that hospital room where the family member held the shoulder of the loved one, helplessness spread across his face, it was fascinating to look at the face of the man who was violently ill. Of course, you could see the strain that comes with all the gut wrenching, but beyond that, there was a peace about the man.
He was asked about that peace a day later. “Why were you so peaceful while everyone else panicked?”
He pointed to the white board on the wall facing his bed. At first you could not see what he was pointing at because it was so small, but sure enough it was there. Stuck into the corner molding of the white board was a postage stamp sized picture of a cross. Pointing to the picture he said, “When I feel that I am losing control, I just look to the one who brings peace.”
In other words, he simply looks to the back of the boat and realizes that peace is resting close by. Peace is not far away. Peace is there. Jesus is there. "Peace, be still."