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Dealing with Trials: Caught in a Storm

 Mark 4:35-41

An old Quaker once stood up in a Friends meeting and told the congregation about a young man whom he knew. This young man lived a very undisciplined life and did not believe in the truths of the faith. One day this young man asked a pious Quaker friend to go sailing. A sudden storm came up and the undisciplined and unbelieving youth was drowned.

Having said this, the old Quaker sat down. He had obviously made his point about where undisciplined and irreligious living will lead. But after a few minutes, he stood up again and said to the meeting: "Friends, for the honor of the truth, I think I ought to add that the Quaker also drowned."1
No one is exempt from trouble. All of us, at some point in our lives, find ourselves caught in the storms of life. That is certainly what the disciples learned that day on the Sea of Galilee.
The day had begun with Jesus preaching and teaching for the crowds on the shore of the sea. But the press of the crowd became so great that Jesus climbed into a boat and pushed out a little way from the shore. From that vantage point He continued to speak to them.
As the day drew to a close, Jesus turned to the disciples and said, "Let's go over to the other side." After a day of pouring Himself out for the multitudes, Jesus was drained. Shortly after they had cast off from shore, Jesus was asleep in the stern.
Halfway across the lake they were caught in a sudden storm. Because of the topography of the lake, these storms were not uncommon. The problem was that they usually came without warning and were often fierce in their intensity.
This particular storm broke with such fury that the boat was almost swamped. Fear gripped the disciples, even the experienced sailors among them. But at the height of the storm's fury, Jesus continued to sleep in the stern of the boat. They woke him up, shouting, "We're going to drown! Don't you care?!"
With sleep still in His eyes, Jesus got up in the stern of the boat. Over the howl of the wind and the cracking of the boat, Jesus called out to the storm: "Quiet! Be still!" Even more suddenly than the storm had come upon them, it now ceased. The winds stopped blowing; the waves stopped crashing; the sea was like glass. It was completely calm.
After His rebuke of the storm, Jesus then rebuked the disciples. With the sad look of disappointment on His face, He asked them, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
Apparently the disciples were so stunned by what they had just seen Jesus do that they did not hear -- at least they did not pay any attention to -- what He said. They did not respond to Jesus' question about their faith; rather, still gripped by terror they said to one another, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!"
I must tell you that as I read and studied this story about the power of Jesus and the weakness of the disciples' faith, I soon began to identify with them. I began to ask myself some very sensitive questions in the light of this story.
For instance, I wondered, How often have I let Jesus sleep so long as the sea was calm?
I am afraid that too often I have treated Jesus like a life preserver or a fire extinguisher -- something you keep around in case you need it but that you don't bother with until it's needed.
Too often, as Christians we take our faith and our relationship with God for granted. An ancient saying suggests that "familiarity breeds contempt." While our familiarity with Jesus may not breed contempt, it very often breeds apathy and deadness. W. S. Handley Jones has aptly described how we often get:
Too well, O Christ, we know thee; on our eyes
There sits a film, through which we dimly see,
Of frozen faith and stagnant memory.2
When we as Christians let our relationship with Jesus lapse during times of calm, we are putting our spiritual well-being in serious jeopardy. Our faith is like a muscle: if it is not used, atrophy sets in.
The adventurer Harry Pidgeon circled the globe in a small sailboat. Once, during an interview, he asked, "Do you know the most dangerous thing a man sailing alone has to face?" The interviewer responded, "I suppose storms and rocks."
"You're wrong," Pidgeon said. "It wasn't storms I was afraid of; but the clear, calm weather when a good breeze was blowing. In a gale when a man goes on deck, he holds fast to something, for he knews he might fall overboard; but in fair weather he's apt to walk around the deck without thinking. Then a little roll of the boat can throw him overboard and he is lost."3
That's exactly what sometimes happens to us. When the storm is raging, we hold fast to Jesus, but when the weather is fair, when things are calm, we forget to hold on. We walk around self-confidently. In that situation, it doesn't take much of a bump to throw us for a loop. I am afraid that there have been times when I, like the disciples, have left Jesus alone when things were calm.
But as I read the story, I also wondered, How often have I reacted in anger when the storms have hit?
Perhaps you will remember that a number of years ago two prominent movie stars died in separate alcohol-related accidents. William Holden died in a drunken fall, hitting his head on a table. Natalie Wood drowned when she fell into the ocean from her yacht.
A friend who was close to both of them, actress Stephanie Powers, was quoted in the newspapers as saying: "Two of my best friends are gone; how can a God who is supposed to be kind and loving allow this to happen?"4
Even those of us who are Christians sometimes react in anger to the storms of life. In spite of the fact that we know we are all liable to fall prey to the infirmities that are common to all flesh, deep down inside we seem to think that an exception will be made in our case.
I admit that there have been times when, in the midst of trials and tribulations, I have reacted in anger. "Why me?" I have wanted to know. "What did I do to deserve this?" I have demanded. Just like the disciples in that boat, I have screamed at God: "I'm drowning! Don't you care?"
We know that Jesus will always see us through any storm. We know, as the British preacher, Graham Scroggie, has put it, "A storm with Christ is better than a calm without Him." Knowing that, we still seem to respond to the storms of life with anger.
Finally, as I read this story, I also realized How often I have stood amazed at the work of God's hand when the storms are passed!
I confess there have been times in my life when, in times of calm, my relationship to my Savior has not been as strong as it should be. And there have been times that my first reaction to the storms of life has been anger and fear, not faith. But I must tell you that time and time again, I have looked back -- after the storms have passed -- in amazement and awe.
I have to admit that things have not always turned out as I might have wished. There have been times when, instead of stilling the storm around me, God has stilled the storm within me.
In his book entitled A Spiritual Autobiography, William Barclay tells of the time his 21-year-old daughter and her fiance were drowned in a yachting accident. He wrote, "God did not stop that accident at sea, but he did still the storm in my own heart, so that somehow my wife and I came through that terrible time still on our own two feet."5
As I look back over the stormy times of my life, times like when my daughter, Melody, faced open-heart surgery, I never cease to be amazed at the ways that God has worked in my life. Not only has He brought me through, but time after time I see how He used the storm to bless me. Like the disciples, I have exclaimed, "What kind of God is this?!"
A sculptor once ruined a huge piece of beautiful Carrara marble. It was left in the courtyard of the Cathedral in Florence, Italy, for almost a hundred years. Most sculptors were convinced that it was beyond repair. But in 1501 a young sculptor by the name of Michaelangelo was asked if he thought anything could be done with "The Giant." He measured the block and carefully noted the imperfections caused by the bungler earlier.
To his mind came the image of the young shepherd boy David. So he carefully made a sketch of that biblical character as he envisioned him. For three years he worked steadily, his chisel skillfully shaping the marble.
Finally, when one of his students was allowed to see the towering figure, eighteen-feet high and weighing nine tons, he exclaimed, "Master, it lacks only one thing, and that is speech!" From a ruined block of marble, Michelangelo had created one of the great masterpieces of all times.6
In much the same way, I stand amazed at what God is able to do with the trials and tribulations of my life. Admittedly, He has not yet created a masterpiece, but what He has done is remarkable. I may take Jesus for granted during the times of calm, and I may react in anger when the storms hit, but I always stand amazed at what God has done when the storm has passed.
Back in the days of sailing ships, one ship was caught in a storm at sea. Most of the passengers became panicky, rushing here and there in fear. Only one small boy seemed to remain calm and cheerful, even at the height of the storm. When someone asked him why he wasn't afraid, he replied, "Why should I be afraid? My father is at the helm."7
May God give us the faith to realize that no matter how threatening the storms may be that assail us, our heavenly Father is at the helm.
1. William J. Rauch, Clergy Journal, April 1982, p. 20.
2. W. S. Handley Jones, "He Is Not Risen."
3. Our Daily Bread, August 12, 1983.
4. Donald B. Strobe, Preaching, November 1987, p. 12.
5. William Barclay, A Spiritual Autobiography, p. 45.
6. Our Daily Bread, April 10, 1980.
7. T. A. Kantonen, Emphasis, July 1979, p. 7.
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