Facing Life’s Storms

Scripture: Mark 4:35-41
Hymn: Stand By Me

“That’s life,” sang Frank Sinatra, “that’s what all the people say.  You’re riding high in April and you’re shot down in May.”[1]  How true!  One moment things are great, and the next our whole world may be turned upside down.  That was the disciples experience crossing the Sea of Galilee, when without warning, a furious squall came up and the waves broke over their boat nearly swamping it.  It was a fearful and life threatening moment for the disciples, but Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. Fearing for their lives, the disciples woke him, shouting out in terror, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” [2]

The story finds us there, doesn’t it?  Suddenly, trouble comes and our boats get rocked to and fro on life’s seas.  Like the disciples, we may cry out in frustration, desperation and fear, “Why me?  What did I do to deserve this? Wake up, Jesus, and do something!”  Oh, yes, you are not alone if you’ve felt that way!  We are all in that boat together!

Have you noticed that when the storms of life rage, the One we often ignore when we bask in the sunshine is the One who suddenly becomes central?  That’s so often the way it is; when things are smooth we go it alone with little thought of Jesus, but all of a sudden problems become spiritual issues.  Storms become times of questioning.  Where is God when we need him most?  After all, God is supposed to be at the helm of the boat.  That’s God’s job isn’t it?  And so, people ask, “Lord, don’t you care?”  Don’t you care about this virus that is running rampant in our nation and around the world?”  “Don’t you care that I’m worried someone I know might get sick with this disease?”  “Don’t you care that my grandparents are at risk from this pandemic?”  “Don’t you care that I feel so alone right now?”  Don’t you care that I’m stressed out with all that is happening right now?”  “Lord, don’t you care?”  That is a timeless question.

How quickly our fears cause us to become so overwhelmed by the storms that we fail to see anything else, and we begin to think there is no hope.  That was most certainly the disciples’ conclusion.  They said, “…we are  perishing.”[3]  However, the emphasis of the story is clear; help is as close as the One in the boat with us.

There is something worth noting here: God does not test us, but troubles certainly do!  Some people wrongly think that God brings storms and troubles on us to test our faith, but the Bible makes it abundantly clear that God is with us and that God is for us – always!  As St. Paul said, “If God is for us, who is against us?”[4]   Jesus is not far removed on some far off shore watching, but he is in the boat with us.  So, our troubles are his troubles.

We cannot fail to notice that when Jesus’ disciples complained that Jesus didn’t care whether they were about to drown, he stirred from his slumber, rebuked the wind and said, “Peace! Be Still!”[5]  That is, he came to their aid, and when the wind died down and it was completely calm, he turned to his disciples and asked, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”[6]

When we hear Jesus’ questions, at first it may seem that he was belittling them, but Jesus wasn’t the kind of person who put people down.  Belittling someone achieves nothing, but to create animosity and erect barriers.  That was certainly not Jesus!  William Willimon said, “…Despite the disciples misunderstanding, their lack of faith, Jesus does not desert those who have dared to travel with him.  He keeps sailing with them.  Jesus does not seem to resent the misunderstanding of his closest followers.  He is (thank God!) not too choosy about his travel companions!  He keeps saving them, even while they fear that they might perish.”[7]

So, Jesus didn’t ask them about their faith to chastise them, but to challenge them to think more deeply.  This is the crux of the lesson for the disciples, and for us.  We all know that storms will come in life; and when they do, we must learn to think more deeply, to reflect on the love and mercy of God, to remember that Jesus is stronger than the chaos of life; that he has the power to calm the storms that beset us.  From that “deeper reflection,” springs the strength to deal with our fears.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is to calm down and try to be rational. The British Navy has an unusual custom.  If there is a sudden disaster aboard ship, the ‘still’ is blown.  Now this particular ‘still’ is not a place where whiskey is made, but it is a whistle that calls the crew to a moment of silence in a time of crisis.  When the ‘still’ is blown, people aboard the ship know what it means, “Prepare to do the wise thing.”  And it works!  Observers of this system note that the moment of calm has helped avert many a catastrophe.[8]  It’s amazing what you can do when you claim control over your troubles, when you practice stillness, when you do not give into panic and fear, but hear the words of Jesus spoken with authority, “Peace! Be still!”[9]

A great many of our problems boil down to our attitudes, and often the power to master our troubles comes with a simple change in the way we see things.  Some people doubt that it is possible to master trouble so simply, but it is possible.  G. Ray Jordan told a story about “…a young boy who was frightened night after night because of a constantly recurring dream.  He kept dreaming of a frightful tiger until his nervous system was almost shattered.  The little boy thought this wild animal was going to pounce on him.  One evening a keen-minded psychologist took him upon his lap and said to him: ‘See here, my boy, I understand that every night you meet a tiger.  Now, really, he is a nice, friendly tiger and wants you to like him, so the next time you meet him just put out your hand and say, ‘Hello, old chap,’ and you will see.’

For some reason the boy had confidence in this statement. So he crawled into bed and fell asleep.  But, as usual, it was a restless, tossing sleep.  However, those who were there watching by his bed saw him stir.  He thrust a small hand out from under his blanket and mumbled, ‘Hello, old chap,’ then his frightened breathing changed into the restfulness and natural sleep.  He had made friends with his enemy.”[10]

Oh yes, what a change in attitude can do!  Clifford H. Richmond said, “…instead of blaming life for our troubles we need to look into a mirror and discover the real culprit.  We cannot permanently make things better on the outside until we are made better on the inside.  If we want more health, happiness and well-being, we must become better persons.” [11]

We can conquer the enemy of fear and trouble when we have the confidence of knowing Christ is with us in all situations.  What brings calm is not running and hiding from our troubles, but facing up to them – head on – in the confidence that Christ is with us in the storm saying, “Peace! Be still!”  If we allow him, Christ has the power to transform us in our times of trouble; but, that’s just it – we must allow him!

A dear man from my youth used to tell me stories about his service during World War II as an infantryman.  Once, he was near the German front in a small bunker and the fighting was fierce.  Bombs were exploding all around him and bullets were whizzing just above his head.  He and his buddies in the bunker were frightened, but he told me of how he shouted out these words of assurance, over and over again: “I don’t care if it rains or freezes; I’m in the hands of Jesus, Jesus!”  On the battle ground that day, that saying gave him and his buddies the strength to persevere in the most desperate of situations.

So remember; no matter the depth of water, or the waves that come crashing over you, Jesus is with you in the boat of life saying, “Peace!  Be still!”  You are in the hands of Jesus, Jesus!

Rev. Matt Sergent
March, 29, 2020

[1] Kelly Gordon, Dean K. Thompson, That’s Life, sung by Frank Sinatra, Reprise Records, 1966.
[2] Mark 4:38 NRSV
[3] Mark 4:38
[4] Romans 8:31
[5] Mark 4:39
[6] Mark 4:40
[7] William Willimon, “Jesus Lord of the Storm” Pulpit Resource, June, 22, 2003.
[8] Rev. Mona West, When Jesus Gets into Your Boat, June 25, 2006.
[9] Mark 4:39
[10] G. Ray Jordan, Look At The Stars, Abingdon/Cokesbury, pp. 101-102.

[11] Clifford Homer Richmond, Making Life Sing, p. 36, A Collection of Sermons for More Abundant Living, Fifth Edition.