From time to time all of us have faced heartbreaking circumstances. A crisis or tragedy comes suddenly and unexpectedly into our lives, and in a moment we find ourselves in the white water of life from which there seems no escape.
Being a pastor, I encounter these situations with people almost on a daily basis. The week of Oct. 9, 2011, was particularly heartwrenching. After our Sunday service, a couple approached me. The wife explained that two years ago she had breast cancer and by God’s goodness it had gone into remission. But recently the cancer had come back with a vengeance: it was in stage 4. The couple stood beside me, weeping.
Then on Thursday, we held a funeral for one of our members. He was in his late 50s, was married and had a 17-year-old daughter. The preceding Friday afternoon, he was on his motorcycle and was suddenly killed. Finally, on Saturday afternoon, I gathered in our chapel with a young couple and their family in a private service for a baby that was stillborn.
Life comes with all of its joys, but it also comes with its tragedies, and those tragedies can threaten to swamp us. Let’s look at how the disciples responded to a storm, and see how Jesus wants us to respond when we are in the white water of life. Our text is Mark 4:35-41.
Verse 35 says: “On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.'” When Jesus says to His followers, “Let’s go across to the other side,” is there any doubt that they’re going to reach the other side? Of course not! They will reach the opposite shore, but between this side and that side, they will face the storm of their life.
Sometimes we may think that because Jesus says, “This is what I want you to do,” no problems will arise. A new believer sometimes feels, “Well, now that my life is committed to Christ, it’s going to be wonderful.” It is wonderful, but those who follow Jesus Christ are not exempt from the crises and white water of life—even when obeying Christ.
“Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was” (verse 36). These experienced fishermen no doubt thought that crossing the sea was something they could handle: You want to go to the other side? We can get over to the other side. We’ve done this before. This is our area of expertise. We must constantly fight the urge to follow and serve Christ in our own strength. It is essential that we constantly rely on His grace and power.
Now the storm comes in all its fury (verses 37-41). “A great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But 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?’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?'”
Isn’t that a brilliant story? As we follow and obey Jesus Christ, crises, tragedies and unexpected situations will blow into our homes, our ministries, our churches and our relationships. In a split second, our lives can be turned upside down: one phone call; one visit to the doctor; one situation with a child, spouse, mother or father. When the crisis comes, we—like the disciples—are often frantic and fearful and feel helpless to deal with the situation. For the disciples, in the middle of their storm, what is Jesus doing? He is asleep! He seems unconcerned and uncaring.
When we find ourselves in the white water of life, it sometimes feels that Jesus has not only abandoned us, but that He doesn’t care about us. But what does Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, do? In the storm He stands supreme, majestic over His creation, and with a word calms the howling wind and the raging sea: “Peace! Be still.”
The Psalmist writes, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Psalm 33:6-9).
In this storm Jesus “spoke and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” Here is God in action. By His spoken word Jesus brings peace: “Peace! Be still!” And immediately there’s a great calm.
I’m not an experienced sailor or fisherman, but I’ve been in boats in the North Sea between Scotland and the Faroe Islands, where Gudny, my wife, comes from. I know that even when a storm is over, it takes a very long time for the sea to become calm.
But in this storm, Jesus speaks and there is a great calm: instant peace. The disciples ask the same question we ask, “Do You not care?” Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly. He does something better. He stands and says, “Peace! Be still!”
Where was Jesus during this storm? Exactly where He always is. With His people. Jesus never abandons us in the white water of life. He is Emmanuel, God with us. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). In the middle of the crisis, the disciples obtain a fresh revelation of the power and majesty of Jesus. Mark is writing this Gospel so that we may know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1).
Jesus asks the disciples, “Why are you so afraid?” Are you afraid today? Afraid of that impending medical report? Afraid of a situation in your home? Afraid of an employment situation? Afraid of tomorrow?
Today may be the worst storm of your life, but be assured that the Lord Jesus Christ will be with you. You are not alone. Jesus is God and is totally in control. He has authority over the demons, every disease and the very creation. Even when your life seems out of control, you can thank Him. He is the sovereign God, and He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). Therefore you can trust Him completely.
So in the white water of life, don’t keep looking down at the waves. Don’t keep looking at the difficult circumstances. Look up to Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.
Robert Murray McCheyne, a godly Scottish minister, said, “For every look at self, take 10 looks at Christ.” For every time you look down at your problem, at your crisis or tragedy, take 10 looks at Christ. Peter, one of the disciples in the boat, later writes, “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus cares for you.
Have you ever approached somebody about a problem, and while you’re talking about the problem, you suddenly realize that person couldn’t really care less? It’s a very disillusioning experience. In fact, the person may start talking about his or her own problem when we want to talk about our problem!
That never happens with our Lord. He cares. He loves us with an everlasting love. Paul writes, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). If Christ has already done the hard thing by dying for our sins, how much more is He able to take care of our present situations in life?
When I was in elementary school in Scotland, my life revolved around a soccer ball—or should I say a football, as we say in Europe. Now, I thought I was quite a good player, but there was one boy at our school by the name of Alan Campbell who was far superior. One day he would play for Scotland’s Under 21 Team and become a professional soccer player. We didn’t know that at the time, but we did know that if Alan Campbell was on our side, we were almost certain to win.
We are always on the winning side because God is for us. In fact, not only is God for us, He is with us. Therefore, whatever crisis you may be facing, whatever you fear, know today that the Lord Jesus is saying, “Peace, be still.”
So keep your eyes on Jesus. He is with you. He loves you. He will not fail you. He will not leave you. And He will take you safely to the other side. ©2012 John H. Munro
Adapted from a BGEA Chapel message on Oct. 13, 2011, by Dr. John H. Munro, senior pastor of Calvary Church, Charlotte, N.C.
Scripture Quotations are taken by permission from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.