This is the third post in my "Confessions of a Recovering Bi-Vocational Pastor" series. If you want some context to what follows check out my previous posts:
Confessions of a Recovering Bi-Vocational Pastor
Exodus to Exile
Venturing into the waves...
I'm a big man. In our current climate of trying to describe folks while also trying to be delicate towards how they feel about those descriptions, one would call me a man of size. This is mostly due to the massive amount of fat shaming that occurs in our culture and the everyday judgement associated with it. But that's for another day. I have no problem saying I'm big, I know I'm big, it is weirder if you try to dance around the description.
As a big man I'm not easily moved. It makes me great at certain aspects of sports. I'm a wrecking ball in football and I can force my way to the basket in basketball with my size. When I walk down the street I notice that most people move out of my way. I don't ask them to nor do I expect it, but it just happens. When I walk through the crowd I feel like Moses walking through the parted Red Sea.
But there is a place where my size advantage doesn't help. No, not the clothing stores, although that is also true, shopping is a nightmare for a big guy unless you are particularly fond of Hawaiian shirts. I'm talking about the ocean.
I just spent a week in Hilton Head on vacation and it was one of the best weeks of my life. I spent a week with people that I love dearly and was afforded an opportunity to share in many new experiences with them. Walking with Beautiful along the shore as the sun set was perfect. Watching my daughter Eden experience the beach for the first time was an absolute delight.
As Eden and I sat in the water and played in the waves I often found myself in a position that is uncommon for me, I was being pushed around. Sometimes, as I played with her, I could even be nearly knocked over as I held Eden above the waves and used the core muscles I've been strengthening to keep myself mostly upright. Later, without Eden I ventured deeper into the water. The deeper into the water I went, the less my size mattered and suddenly I could easily be overcome by the power of the water crashing in. The beach is fun and so is playing in the waves crashing in but as we taught Eden this past week, the water is also something to be respected.
There is a story in the Gospels that I have been thinking through often the past couple months. In the story Jesus had just finished telling some parables to teach the people about what the Kingdom of God is like and Jesus suggests that they should cross over to the other side of the lake (Sea of Galilee, the largest freshwater lake in Israel).
So they set sail across this lake with a few other boats following and as they make their way across the a lake a fierce storm erupts. The winds whipped up huge waves so much so that they began to brake over the bow of the ship filling it with so much water that the disciples on board start to freak out. Now, it is important to note, some of these disciples were fishermen by trade, these are experienced sailors, men who have faced storms before and have probably lost a few friends to the waters. These guys knew when it was time to panic and they were sure they were going to sink.
In the midst of their despair as the waves rose around them they look for Jesus. The wind howling, the rain pouring down, and the waves crashing over the feet in the boat. I imagine lightning and darkness. These men are terrified and sure they are about to die. Where is Jesus?
Jesus was sleeping. Back in the stern of the boat, the story says Jesus lay sound asleep on a cushion.
The disciples overcome by fear look back and see the one they were following sound asleep. How could he be sleeping?!?! The waves are crashing over the ship and he sleeps? The storm rages and we are in despair and he is silent? What faith they had in Jesus was being put to the test as the waves rose along with their doubt.
And in that moment they run to him and they begin to shout over the loudness of the storm raging and waves crashing:
JESUS! MASTER! Don't You care that we're going to die?
Their doubts had risen with the waves to the point now that they believe that Jesus doesn't care for them. Jesus, they believe, is leaving them to perish.
Jesus is awoken by their cries and gets up. In what had to be one of the most epic things anyone has ever seen, Jesus then shouts into the wind whipping across his face as water pours down from above and the thunder clapped and the lightning flashed and waves broke over the bow:
ENOUGH! BE STILL!
Imagine with me, being in their shoes, seeing this man scream ENOUGH and suddenly the wind dies down to nothing, the waves stop, and a calmness returns. You wouldn't have words to say for a while.
In that silence Jesus speaks:
How can you be so afraid? After all you've seen, where is your faith?
Jesus turns to the terrified disciples and doesn't immediately offer comfort. Instead, they receive a rebuke.
Jesus' statement didn't comfort them. They were still afraid, slowly coming to grips with what they had just experienced, but it did force them to begin to question who Jesus was. In the story they even say to one another:
Who is this Jesus? How can it be that He has power over even the wind and the waves?
The storm they had just experienced tested their faith and found it wanting. This isn't going to turn into a come to Jesus call for you in the storms of life, this isn't K-LOVE or some cheesy Christian song. They were on the verge of death, they looked for Jesus and found him sleeping. In their peril, Jesus was silent.
The waves are crashing over me...
I can relate to this story. As I walked out into the waves in Hilton Head I found that my sure footing became much less sure as the waves rose. Sometimes they crashed over me and I could be completely displaced from where I stood. My life has gone down a similar path, I've been rocked off my once sure footing and I am displaced.
I too am in the midst of a raging storm and my doubts have rose along with the waves that are now crashing over my boat. I look for Jesus and find silence. I long to hear His voice and hear nothing but my own voice bouncing off the ceiling back to me. In my peril, as I question everything, I feels like Jesus is asleep.
In the height of my doubt, when the waves are at their highest, and the wind threatens to topple my ship I too find myself repeating the words of the disciples:
JESUS!?!?! Don't you care for me at all!?!?
I know that some of you can relate to this. I'm not going to give you a Joel Osteen treatment by slapping a smile on my face while saying something like "you just gotta have more faith in Jesus as you go through the storms of life and when you do you'll find that sunshine is just around the corner and you'll be happy forever."
That would be a disgrace to the Story that I read in Scripture. The Story is full of struggle, I mean, the name Israel means "man struggles with God." We downplay struggle in the church far too often, hoping that folks will just get over their questions or better yet not ask them at all. But if the truth is The Truth it should stand tall against the barrage of any and all challenges. I believe fully that I have freedom to struggle, that I shouldn't just shove it down and march forward as a good little soldier. You shouldn't either. Struggle and in the end, maybe we'll find our faith strengthened together through our questions.
This story is meant to encourage us. Like I said in my last post, when turmoil overcomes us we can either fix our gaze on our circumstances or we can fix our gaze on Jesus. We can't do both. When we fix our eyes on the circumstances of our turmoil we are in danger of believing lies. For the disciples, they believed in this moment, that Jesus was leaving them to perish and didn't care at all if they all drowned. There is encouragement to not be afraid and to trust more deeply. To trust that Jesus is in control even when it seems that He isn't. That Jesus cares for you even when He is silent.
But right now, I'm not encouraged. Right now, the storm is raging, the waves are crashing over the bow, my doubt rising with the wind and waves, the thunder claps, the rain pours, and I'm looking for Jesus. I want to fix my gaze on him, to hear his voice, but when I look in the stern of the boat I don't see Jesus, I see nothing. I am alone.
In the silence my mind races. I have many thoughts and questions, too many to share for this post, but there is one thing that is grounding me, one thing I'm grasping on to as the waves crash over me. I'm clinging to the truth of the Story. The Story that says I'm broken, you are broken, and this world is broken. That Jesus is the rescuer who brought and is bringing His Kingdom to bear upon this broken world. And that one day all things will be made new again.
The Story is my compass that I hope will guide me home through this raging storm. Until then, I long for his presence and voice...come, Lord Jesus.