There is a classic physics demonstration on the conservation of energy that uses a pendulum. A bowling ball is tied to a string and hung from the ceiling. The professor declares that if you pull the bowling ball up to your chin and let it go it will not hit you when it comes back, because on each swing a pendulum gets lower than the previous one.
This is always a great way to see how much the students trust their professor, or the laws of physics. Most of the time, the student will move out of the way of the ball as it swings back, not trusting what their professor tells them to be true. It’s an effective example that illustrates whose judgment the student trusts the most. The student may believe that their professor knows what he’s talking about, they may believe the math involved that proves the ball won’t hit them, but those elements of belief are not the same as faith. Faith is actually trusting that belief when it’s your neck (or chin) on the line.
This is the same thing that happens in the life of the Christian. We are called to have faith in God—to trust in Him completely; to believe that everything He says is true and will come to pass. True faith in Christ is more than just believing that what He said is true, it is proving we believe by the way we live in the time of testing.
This morning we will be looking at the story of Jesus calming a storm when the boat that He and the disciples were in was in danger of sinking. Jesus chastised his disciples for their lack of faith. As we look at this passage, I suspect that we will find that, like the disciples, our faith is often misplaced.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s gospels all contain an account of this event. It probably takes place at the end of the day in which Jesus told the parable of the sower (which we looked at two weeks ago). It is likely that Jesus had basically spent the day teaching the people, part of which may have even been spent teaching from this boat because the crowds were so big. At the end of the day, Jesus told the disciples to head across the lake (Lake Genessaret, sometimes called the Sea of Galilee).
The Sea of Galilee is actually a lake that sits about 680 feet below sea level. It’s about 13 miles long and 7 miles wide. It is surrounded by large hills and even some mountains. When cool air from the mountains came down into the basin where the Sea of Galilee sat, it would mix with this warmer air and become turbulent. Because there were only some small valleys where this turbulent air could escape, the lake could experience some very violent winds. As a result, experienced sailors knew better than to head out on the Sea of Galilee when a storm was rolling in.
The disciples piloting the boat were certainly experienced sailors. They were fishermen who made their living on this lake, and there’s a good chance that this boat may have even belonged to one of them. These men would probably not have headed out onto the lake if they knew a storm was rolling in. As they set sail, they probably had no idea the fierce storm they would soon face.
Luke tells us that the storm came up quickly. The storm was so severe that the boat was being swamped and they were in great danger. They were probably facing waves many feet high, breaking over the boat, and beginning to fill it with water. We get a sense of panic from the disciples as all this was happening. Remember that these were experienced fishermen. This storm must have been worse than anything they had ever experienced before and they feared for their lives. And during all of this, Jesus remained asleep on a cushion in the boat.
It is at this point of panic and fear that the disciples finally wake Jesus. It is interesting to see the way the different gospel authors record what the disciples said to Jesus when they woke him up. Luke’s gospel shows one of the disciples crying out to Jesus that they were going to drown. Matthew’s gospel records a plea for help, “Lord save us!” and Mark’s gospel records a sense of anger that Jesus was still asleep, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
When the disciples woke Jesus up, He chastised them for their lack of faith. After that, we are told that Jesus commanded the storm to be quiet, and immediately the wind and the waves died down. It would be easy to miss the word immediately here. Jesus commanded the wind and waves to be quiet, and the storm stopped in its tracks. It wasn’t that the storm began to let up and eventually cleared, it just stopped. Not just the wind and rain stopped, but even the waves. The way I picture what happened was that in an instant the situation changed from a raging storm to a serene lake.
The disciples were scared when Jesus was asleep, but it seems that now they were even more afraid. In a matter of seconds, Jesus woke up, yelled at the storm, and it just stopped. They had a sudden realization of just who Jesus was, and the power He possessed. As the disciples shrank in fear, Jesus again rebuked them for their lack of faith.
As I read this passage, I have to admit that I resonate with the disciples. I honestly am not sure that I would have responded any differently than they did. In my desire to defend myself, it kind of bothered me that Jesus rebuked them for a lack of faith. Why was their response a lack of faith?
I think the answer is that their actions demonstrate what it was they really trusted. These men were experienced fishermen, people who had probably been on water their whole lives—they were confident that whatever happened on this lake, they could handle it. I bet that they didn’t really begin to panic when the storm came up, but started making preparations to face it as they had done many times before. As the storm began and the ship started to sway, I can even imagine the disciples piloting the ship reassuring everyone that they had things under control. Eventually, though, everyone on the ship realized that things were beyond their control, and that’s when they began to panic.
Jesus was right in rebuking them, because their faith was not in God, but in their own abilities. When they realized that the thing they had faith in (themselves) was powerless to help them, they panicked.
Don’t we face the same struggle in our lives? We have a tendency to go along fine through most of our lives. We feel like we have things under control, or that we will be able to manage whatever comes up. It’s not uncommon for us to have faith in: our own experience, our ability to adapt, or “street smarts”. We can put our confidence in our money, our friends or family, our church, our doctor, our government, or our military. We have faith that the problems we face can be solved, no matter what they are. That works for us most of the time. Much of the time, these objects of faith are indeed sufficient to solve the problems we face.
It is when we face storms in our lives that we really begin to panic. We are suddenly faced with the fact that the foundation on which we had based our lives has crumbled. We feel utterly helpless because we have trusted in something that did not last. Our faith was misplaced. We trusted in something that was an insufficient substitute for God.
Jesus was right in condemning the disciples for their lack of faith. He would be right in condemning you and me as well.
This was a new insight for me. I never really thought about why it is that some situations throw us into such panic, while others don’t seem to faze us. The ones that bother us the most are the ones where we feel we aren’t in control.
There is a very simple solution to this problem. We need to recognize that we aren’t in control of ANY situation in our life and are completely dependent upon God to take care of us. True faith not only believes that God is able to take care of us, but true faith also trusts in God’s sovereignty—it trusts the way that God takes care of us.
A.W. Tozer illustrates this truth through a story.
There was a lady, a very intelligent, brilliant woman, and writer of note. She lay beside her baby who was very sick. She was trying to get a little sleep and trying to care for and nurse the baby, too. The little thing had a high fever and was really suffering and she knew it. She watched that little suffering face and after having done everything she could do to assuage its pains and sufferings, she turned away to think it over.
“When I turned away,” she said, “I saw the strain and the pain in the flesh on the baby’s face and the two bright eyes and I knew that baby was suffering. I turned and said, ‘God, I’m through with you. You let my baby suffer like that; I’m through! I can’t love a God who’ll let my baby suffer!’”
She went on to become a rationalist, an unbeliever….What happened there? Just this. She loved her baby more than she loved the God who created her. If the God who created her would let her baby run a fever, she would have nothing to do with Him. That kind of love is not love. That is supreme selfishness.
I’ll admit that this feels really harsh, but I don’t think it is. Though I would find it (and have found it) difficult to watch my child suffer, Tozer is exactly right. When bad things happen, it does not mean that God has abandoned us—but rather that in His infinite wisdom, God has chosen to allow these storms to come into our lives. True faith trusts God even in these times of trial, believing that even if God allows our lives to be touched by death, disease, poverty, ridicule, or anything else, He still is in control, and He is working for the ultimate good (cf. Romans 8:28).
We need to ask ourselves whether we really trust God. If we really believe God’s promises and God’s character, it will be reflected in the way we live our lives. If we truly trust in God’s sovereignty, we will not be people who panic, but people who have calm confidence, no matter what we face.
Why can we be calm? We are not calm because we are confident that God will calm the storm—we are calm because we are confident that God can calm the storm…and if He doesn’t, it is because He is using it to accomplish His will. True faith trusts God’s will in every circumstance, whether we can understand it or not.
The advertising world banks on our misplaced faith. Their goal is to make us feel insecure without their product, explaining why if we will just buy what they are selling, then we will have nothing to worry about. Think about the swine flu. The product being sold was flu shots. Everyone had to get a flu shot and a swine flu shot. If you didn’t get one, you were told you should live in fear of what might happen to you. As a result many people felt a sense of panic, anxiety and even guilt (if they chose not to get a shot). They were robbed of peace.
The recession hit many people very hard, because we had been sold a bill of goods regarding investments; namely that if you don’t invest your money, you’ll be destitute later. If you don’t start putting money in an IRA, you’ll never be able to retire. We were told that if we simply trusted in financial planners, then we wouldn’t need to worry about money. How did that work out?
The world around us tells us over and over that if we will just put our faith in “X”, then we’ll be secure. We won’t need to worry. To steal a line from an insurance company, we’ll be in good hands. That is a lie. It is only when we rest in the hand of God that we can be truly secure.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t get vaccines or that we shouldn’t save or invest our money. I’m saying that we should not place our confidence in these things but should instead put our ultimate confidence in the Lord. Instead of panicking simply because the world tells us to, we should live by faith. If our faith is in God, then we won’t buy into the lies of the world. We won’t feel ourselves being pulled in a thousand different directions. We won’t be paralyzed by fear. We’ll be able to keep working hard when they’re talking layoffs, we’ll be able to fly on a plane without being concerned about terrorism, and we’ll be able to watch election results without panicking that our government can no longer save us.
Like the student in physics class, the question of who or what we truly trust is revealed by what happens when we face difficult times. Will we trust in God, or something else?
Jesus reminded the disciples that God is bigger than every storm. God has the ability to stop the storm with a single word. The wind and the waves obey Him instantly.
The same is true of the storms we face. We may not ever find ourselves on a boat that is being swamped by waves, but we may find ourselves in a counselors’ office, a hospital waiting room, a gurney going into surgery, in court, at a funeral home, at home in front of a mountain of bills, or any other number of life storms. In those times, we must remember that God can calm our storms as well, and that if He doesn’t He has good reason for it. We need to trust His judgment more than our own.
I don’t mean to minimize the storms that you face. Like you, I pray fervently for those I love. I pray that they would be healed of their cancer, that the unknown ailment they face would be something minor, or that God would do something miraculous to restore them to health. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. We need to remember that God is in control, and I think those prayers show a faith in God’s ability to heal. At the same time, I think we need to understand that we also need to have faith that God knows best even when He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we think He should.
So, how do we develop this kind of faith? I suspect we would all find it tough to stand in front of a bowling ball swinging toward our face, but what if it was a Styrofoam ball? If we thought it wouldn’t hurt even if it hit us, we’d probably be willing to stand firm and see what happened. God gives us lots of opportunities with Styrofoam balls before we ever face the bowling ball. God has given commands about how to live our lives, and we often try to duck out of the way of those little things. If you want to develop faith, try standing firm in the little things of life, areas where there isn’t a lot to risk. Say to God, “I don’t understand why you want me to do this, but I’ll do it anyway.” What I think will happen is that you’ll see that God knows what He’s doing even in the little things, and over time, you’ll learn to trust Him in the big things.
Scott Krippayne wrote a song which illustrates exactly what I think Jesus’ point in this story was—that our faith in God is demonstrated and developed in the storms of life.
All who sail the sea of faith
Find out before too long
How quickly blue skies can grow dark
And gentle winds grow strong
Suddenly fear is like white water
Pounding on the soul
Still we sail on knowing
That our Lord is in control
Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still
He can settle any sea
But it doesn’t mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child
Faith in God means trusting that He knows what He’s doing. It means living according to His plan, and His rules. It means that even when we don’t understand, we continue to trust in Him. Having faith in God means that we believe He can intervene into any situation, no matter how dire, and calm everything around us in an instant. But faith in God also means that we will rest comfortably in Him whether He calms the storm or allows it to rage on.
Like the student who declares that they believe in the laws of physics, our faith is proved in the difficult times. The student who moves out of the way of the ball demonstrates that they don’t really have faith in what their professor has said. We say that we believe what God says. Do our lives reflect that belief? If not, then our faith is misplaced. As a result, we will fret, worry, and complain. But if we do believe, then even in the midst of the storm we will be able to rest confident that God is in control. Like Jesus, we’ll sleep well in any situation.