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Trusting In His Sovereign Grace
Psalm 91:1-7Mark 4:35-41

There is a Dell Computer advertisement out now that features a guy named “Clay” who has 12 fingers. Clay can out-work all of the other employees. His twelve fingers make him more productive, faster, and more efficient. The other employees try and try but they can never keep up with 12-fingered Clay.

Now Dell wants you to say, “I can do the work of a twelve fingered man if I just get that new Dell computer!” But a Biblical reflection on this might be, “God gave me two hands, 10 fingers, and 24 hours, and I need to rest once a week. That’s enough.”

But we don’t say that. We buy into the good old American way of “more, more, more, bigger, bigger, bigger, faster, faster, and faster.” We super size our lives. But like super sizing fast food too often, our spiritual arteries can be weakened by the stress of more and bigger and faster.

Kirk Byron Jones is a pastor. He was climbing the ecclesiastical ladder. More and more sermons, appearances, tasks, seemed to feed not only His vocational desire to serve God and man, but were beginning to actually make him feel good about himself. He confessed,

“I had always done many tasks simultaneously, simply because I could. Persons seemed to benefit from my work, and multitasking fed my joy, as well as my ambition and drive.” 1

But one day he was preaching, after an endless series of messages and preparation and fixing marriages and bringing reconciliation, and he turned to the assistant pastor in the midst of the sermon and said, “I can’t go on.” 2

Have you ever felt like saying that? Maybe there is a lawyer here today who just wants to turn to his partner in the midst of his trial, and say, “I can’t go on.” I wonder if there is a super mom here wanting to put her super cape down for just a while, and feeling like, “I just can’t go on.” Perhaps there is a young person and the pressures of peers, of society, and, sadly, maybe even a parent, are making you think, “I just can’t go on.”

I can tell you that I know of a tired preacher who needed to go to the Lord and take in the lessons for life seen in the Savior asleep in the back of the boat. I learned during my time away that I really needed to spend more time with Jesus in the back of the boat, because if you don’t slip away with the Sleeping Savior in the stern of the boat, you will become fearful in the storms of life.

So when you can’t go on, go in. Go into the hull of this boat, go to where Jesus is and take these four principles of resting in God’s sovereign grace for your own life as His child.

Here are the four lessons we learn from being with Jesus in the back of the boat during the storm. 

I. Public ministry depends upon private moments.

The Lord is, in this passage, not preaching, healing or teaching. He is sleeping. Jesus is resting in the back of the boat. He is resting.

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!   You have given me relief when I was in distress.   Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!  Psalms 4:1

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.  Psalms 4:8

The Lord often sought retreat in order to saturate His life with God. Rest itself is a way for us to say, “I have done what God has called me to do, and I will now rest. My rest is an act of faith that says, ‘without time alone with you Lord, I cannot be authentic when I am with others.”

Many of us remember the great actor Michael Landon. In the final year of his terminal illness, he was asked if the knowledge of his impending death caused him to love his family more. Landon’s response was, “No, I can’t say that I love them more. I’ve always loved them. I do notice them more.” 3 What a response.

What we learn from Jesus is that time alone with the Father sharpens our appreciation for His gifts, for the wonder of His love, for Him and for others.

Preachers need to know this, and God showed it to me recently. I want to live before Him as if my public ministry depends on my private moments with Him. Because it does.

Are you spending enough time alone with Him? Not in the multi-tasking world of today, but truly in the back of the boat, resting in Him alone?

Here is a second lesson we learn.

II. Ministry effectiveness is not dependent upon ministry efficiency but God’s sovereignty.

Jesus’ ministry effectiveness was not dependent upon His ministry efficiency, but rather His Father’s sovereignty.

There were always crowds pressing in on our Savior. But the greatest thing He needed to do at that time was rest in the storm. What we learn is that His effectiveness was not gauged by how much He did, but how He did it.

Over and over God teaches us this. Gideon was called by God to take on the enemy of God’s people, the Midianites, who had 135,000. Gideon had 32,000. Then 22,000 got scared and left. He had 10,000 . But we read something amazing:

The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’  Judges 7:2

So God began to whittle down the numbers of soldiers until Gideon had 300 soldiers. But that was small enough so that when victory came they would be the few and the faithful, and God would gain the credit.

Listen to these passages and consider what they teach us about how to live our lives as His people:

Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts (Zechariah 4:6),

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God (Psalms 20:7),

Isn’t God telling us that when the wind and waves toss our lives to and fro, we can rest in His sovereign grace? Doesn’t it tell us that great things happen not by our ingenious insights and irrepressible gifts, but by His power?

Likewise, our Lord didn’t go to the ends of the earth. He was obedient to God in a relatively small area of the earth and was obedient even unto death on a cross. But the cross and the grave gave way to resurrection, and this became the sign of God’s power.  That power has spread to the ends of the earth.

I recently read John Piper’s wonderful book, The Hidden Smile of God, about the lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper and David Brainerd. Do you know what really struck me about these men? John Bunyan’s ministry effectiveness was not dependent upon his efficiency, but God’s sovereignty. John Bunyan spent most of his ministry in jail. In fact, it was there he wrote the great Pilgrim’s Progress. William Cowper -- who wrote such hymn classics as “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” and “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” -- spent his whole life afflicted by severe depression. But William Cowper’s ministry effectiveness was not dependent upon his ministry efficiency, but God’s sovereignty. David Brainerd, a man expelled from Yale, a washed up minister, a man afflicted with hypochondria, and a naturally gloomy disposition, was a man mightily used by God to reach the Indian nations of colonial America. Yet he only lived 29 years, 5 months, and 19 days. He only ministered for four short years in that time. What caused Jonathan Edwards to take his diaries and publish the Life of Brainerd in 1749? The book based on that one short-lived life and extremely brief ministry was used of God to send Henry Martyn to India, William Carey called Edward’s Life of Brainerd “precious and holy.  David Livingstone of Scotland and Andrew Murray of South Africa and Jim Elliot of 20th century America all looked upon Brainerd as a man who inspired them to give their lives to missions. Why has David Brainerd’s life, so short, so sickly, and a ministry so brief been used so powerfully of God?

Piper answered:

“The answer is that Brainerd’s life is a vivid, powerful testimony to the truth that God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling satins who cry to Him day and night to accomplish amazing things for His glory.” 4

The Lord rested in the back of the boat because He was resting in God’s sovereignty. The Lord would multiply His ministry. The Lord God would bless His quiet talks with His disciples and cause them, through the Cross, to be read the world over.

And, my beloved, God will sanctify even your sorrows to use you as His instrument in His kingdom.

A third important lesson we learn from Jesus in the back of the boat is this:

III. Our relationship with the Father is not determined by our incessant labor, but His steadfast love.

The Savior could sleep in the storm for He knew that His relationship with His Father was not determined by His constant labor but by His Father’s constant love.

There are some beautiful Psalms that reflect this truth. Listen to these and just let the wave of peace come over your heart right now:

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.  Psalms 62:5

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  Psalms 91:1

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.  Psalms 116:7

I think that many of us, especially in the evangelical community, are tired. We confess that we are saved by Christ alone and we rest in Him, but we live like the future of the world depends on us. I am not discounting the truth that God has given us a glorious task to do—to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth—but I am saying that when we have done our all, we can leave it with the Lord.

Dr. Richard Swenson, a physician who wrote The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live within Your Limits, said:

“We must stop believing that chronic exhaustion is normal, that a listless spirit is inevitable, that burnout is piety…but rather our goal is Sustainability, service, passion, and joy.” 5

Could we be honest and say that some of us have not trusted God for our children, we have not trusted God for the salvation of our loved ones, we have not trusted God with our careers, and we are tired, and we have even lost our joy? Listen to the Savior who slept in the back of the boat in the midst of the storm. Listen to Him as He speaks to you:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28

And hear God say to you from the Book of Hebrews:

"...for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his."  Hebrews 4:10

"Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest..."  Hebrews 4:11

Some of us need to rest from working to please God. He is pleased with His Son. Rest in Jesus and you will be resting with the Beloved. Some of us just need to rest from our anger, our troubled spirits which desire to gain the upper hand, repay for an evil we think has been done, or a great need that we think only we can meet. Rest. Rest with Jesus. He is the Lord of life, including Lord of the storms.

And this leads us to the last truth I want to show you out of this passage.

IV. Our lives cannot be destroyed by earth’s wind and waves, since our souls are sustained by God’s promises and power

Jesus could sleep in the storm.  Jesus’ mission could not be destroyed by earth’s wind and waves since His life was sustained by His Father’s promise and power.  Jesus' disciples  had to learn that the storms could not destroy the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus chided them before calming the sea. The Savior asleep in the stern while the saints were afraid in the storm was a call to rest in His sovereign grace.

Bonhoeffer wrote of the German Church’s weakness during the storms of Adolph Hitler’s reign of terror:

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?” 6

Sometimes I have fought the storms to learn that they are more powerful than I am.  I too learn to feign faith in the storm. And then it must be asked, “Am I still of any use?”

But God used Bonhoeffer in his storms.  Christ in the stern, resting quietly, and calling us to rest in Him, reminds me that storms can bring fear or fresh faith.

It is hurricane season again, down south on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. I remember August 24th, 1992. That was when Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida. We were there. We lived in Coconut Creek, just west of Fort Lauderdale area. One of our professors, Dr. Reymond, Professor of Systematic Theology at Knox Theological Seminary, lived right near the ocean. It was clear that the storm would come his way. So we invited Dr. and Mrs. Reymond to our house.

I will never forget  when that great storm began to bear down on us, and the winds were whipping, and the trees were snapping, and the lights went out, and we huddled together in the center of our house, Mrs. Reymond looked down and pointed. “Bob is snoring!” Dr. Reymond was fast asleep. Mrs. Reymond looked at us and we all laughed. “He literally will sleep through a storm,” she said. The well rested Dr. Reymond woke up later, but by that time the worst of it was over.  Mrs. Reymond greeted her sleeping husband a little sarcastically and said -- reminding me of Alice Cramdon talking to Ralph on the Honeymooners -- “Well, Bob you just slept through the greatest natural disaster to ever hit North America.” And do you know what that professor of theology said, “Well, ‘Shirley girl’, a good conscience makes for a good night’s sleep.” We all laughed. But it was one of the best theology lessons he ever gave me.

“Thou will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee” (Isaiah 26:3).

My beloved, here is the truth: our lives cannot be destroyed by the storms of fear, or hate, or divorce, or mistakes, or hurtful words, or diabolical deeds, or sin — since our souls are sustained by God’s promises and power. This is what Paul meant when he wrote:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:37-39

So those are the lessons, my beloved:

Public ministry depends on private moments.

Ministry effectiveness is not dependent upon ministry efficiency, but on God’s sovereignty.

Our relationship with the Lord is not dependent upon our incessant labor but His steadfast love.

Our lives cannot be destroyed by earth’s wind and waves, since our souls are sustained by God’s promises and power.

I read Robert Murray M’Cheyne this week. And here is what he said: “You will never find Jesus so precious as when the world is one vast howling wilderness. Then he is like a rose blooming in the midst of the desolation, a rock rising above the storm.” 7

This is a lesson I am still learning. Maybe you are too. But our Savior is a gentle instructor. He is careful to awaken and come to us and show us His power over the storms. I want to share with you a song I wrote for this message. It is called, “Let Me Trust Your Sovereign Grace” and I pray it is of ministry to you.

When the wind and waves of life
Drove my soul to find relief
I was guided by the storm
To find Jesus underneath

(Refrain)
When the storms of life betray
All the promises You’ve made
I will cling to Calvary’s place

I will trust Your Sovereign Grace
Though Your presence with me goes
I seem to still be tossed and turned
By an unseen enemy
And I know I need to learn

(Refrain)

And when life is finally o’er
And I stand before You, Lord
I’ll see the storms that stirred despair
Were the winds that blew me there

(Refrain with ending)
When the storms of life betray
All the promises You've made
Let me cling to Calvary’s place
Let me trust Your Sovereign Grace

Let this passage now lead us to the stern, where Jesus is, not sleeping now, but interceding so that you can.

Let us pray: Our Father, lead us to rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Lead us to rest in Your sovereignty for the storms we may face in this life. Help us to be still in our lives and know that You are God. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

_____________________

Michael A. Milton is Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, TN.

_____________________

Notes
1. Kirk Byron Jones, Rest in the Storm : Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and Other Caregivers (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2001).
2. Ibid. 10.
3. Ibid. , 55
4. John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 132.
5. This quote came from Jones, Rest in the Storm, i. See Richard A. Swenson, The Overload Syndrome : Learning to Live within Your Limits (Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 1998).
6. Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, “After Ten Years,” in Letters and Papers from Prison (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1971), 16-17 (this may be accessed on http://www.kairosjournal.org/document.aspx?DocumentID=187&QuadrantID=3).
7. See David F. Haslam, “Robert Murray M‘Cheyne (1813 - 1843)” at http://web.ukonline.co.uk/d.haslam/mccheyne/cheadle/RMMCSSDFH.PDF (accessed on August 25, 2005).

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