Master, the Tempest is Raging!
Ever felt like you’re trapped in a tiny little boat and there’s a storm raging around you—or within you—that threatens to overwhelm you? The lightning flashes, the thunderclaps deafen, the rain beats down against your face so hard that you can’t see. And this storm won’t relent. It just keeps coming. On your way somewhere? Any hopes you had of making it to your destination are dubious if not outright drowned.
Looking for companionship and encouragement in the midst of the madness? The rest of humanity seems just as concerned about their own survival as you are about yours.
Struggling to maintain hope that your ship and your spirit will make it through intact? The floodwaters rise and threaten to overtake them both with darkness.
And you cry out in desperation to God, “Do you not care that I’m perishing???”
Anybody but me ever been there?
This story seems to have an obvious and very bleak ending. What can still the storm, after all? Surely not anything I can do. It’s beyond my control. Whether it happens this minute, today, tomorrow, or next year, perishing seems inevitable in the midst of the torrential rain and the wild waves.
And me? I respond in fear. In despair. In anger and bitterness about the circumstances that have brought me to this point of destruction and desolation. Never once do I think that it might be possible for me to be rescued. This storm is too big for that. No one’s capable of it. Okay, maybe God’s capable of rescuing me, but God sure doesn’t seem too concerned. Almost seems like God’s asleep…
And yet I cry out anyway because there’s nothing more I can do. In my fear and despair, my anger and bitterness, I cry out at the top of my lungs and from the depths of my heart—begging, pleading for God to wake up and hear me: “Why are you asleep?? Do you not care that I’m perishing???”
It’s not that I generally expect an answer. What I expect is for God to keep sleeping. For things to continue down the same course to that inevitable bleak ending, the only one I can readily foresee. That, or maybe, if I’m very lucky, for things to eventually settle down, but only because even the worst of storms can’t last forever. When the storm’s end comes, maybe I’ll have outlasted it, maybe not. Even if I’m lucky enough to make it through, I’ll be battered and bruised, reluctant to venture out ever again. Whatever the case, it’s no thanks to God. God doesn’t seem to care that I’m perishing. God’s apparently still asleep.
So when I read the story of the disciples in the midst of the storm I am convicted. Maybe not completely convinced it’ll be true for me as well, but convicted nonetheless.
Three little words from Jesus is all that it takes: “Peace! Be still!” The disciples can barely hear what he’s saying over the raging of the tempest, but all of a sudden the storm stops. Immediately. The wind comes to a standstill. The waves flatten out altogether. Not a drop of rain to be felt. Perhaps not even a cloud in the sky any longer. The boat smoothens its riotous rocking, and all is calm. All except my still wildly beating heart.
Jesus has rebuked the storm, and it has responded.
Why can’t the disciples—me among them—respond quite so readily as that to Jesus’s injunction to peace?
Jesus knows. “Why are you afraid?” he asks. “Have you still no faith?”’
“Well, Jesus,” I want to respond, “what was there to have faith in? I’ve never seen anyone still a storm with three words before, after all, and it was legitimately dangerous. If you weren’t you, you’d have been afraid too!” (I’d have been among the more skeptical, more impudent of the disciples, I imagine. Given even Peter a shock from time to time.)
And yet deep down I have to admit that Jesus is right. I still have no faith. After all that I’ve witnessed, after all that I’ve learned, after all that I’ve even preached and proclaimed, when it comes down to it in the midst of the trials of life, I still have no faith.
I can’t see the power of the one who can speak the world into being. The power of the one who heals people of their diseases and afflictions, who has raised people from the dead and will continue to do so. The power of the one who has conquered evil and reigns victoriously.
All I see is the storm raging around me and a God who—even if potentially powerful—is deeply asleep and completely oblivious to what’s going on with me.
So hearing the story of the disciples is a good reminder. For one, it’s helpful to know that I'm not the only one who gets so caught up in the storm that I can’t see a way out. But even more than that, it’s convicting to be reminded that in the times of deepest need and utmost despair, Jesus does care, and Jesus does have a way forward.
Sometimes, as with the disciples here, Jesus stills the wind and the waves with a simple, authoritative decree: “Peace! Be still!”
But there is immense power in those three little words even beyond the command that calms the tumult. For these words are not just a word of instruction to the storm, as welcome as that is in the tempestuous moment, that moment I’m not sure I’ll survive otherwise.
These words may be that, to be sure, but perhaps even more importantly, they are also an invitation that Jesus endlessly extends to my heart. What he speaks as a rebuke to the wind and the waves he speaks as an encouragement and an opportunity to me. “Peace, little one. Peace! Be still!”
And as Jesus’s words echo in my ears, I encounter a moment of choice. Surrender to the fear and despair that accompany the seemingly inevitable ending of this stormy story? Or choose faith—to believe that the one who can still the storm around me with just a few words can and will still the storm within my heart as well?
“Peace! Be still!” Jesus invites. What will I—will you—choose in response?