Sunday, August 12, 2012

Calming the storm

Mark 4:35-41 (NIV)

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
I’ve always enjoyed this particular Gospel tale, though I can’t exactly put my finger on the reason. It’s not as if I’ve spent a significant amount of time on boats, and most of any water hours I did log were on my grandparents’ pontoon. In addition to that boat being different in nearly every aspect from whatever craft is central to this story, I don’t recall ever being out on the lake in weather any more inclement than a spot of wind or perhaps some unexpected light rain. (I do pay some attention when Kristie watches “Deadliest Catch,” so perhaps that’s a factor.)

Yet still I find myself able to appreciate this tale both literally and metaphorically. The image of being on a ship as it is tossed about completely embodies the feelings of a total lack of human control. And while we’re caught up in that overpowering storm, there is Jesus, calm as ever. Not only does he have the power to calm the storm, but also the composure to chastise those who doubted his power.

This boat has little in common with the one from Mark 4:35-41...
I can rarely identify with Jesus because he always does the right thing under pressure and I usually only determine the right thing to do after trying one or two wrong things, but I do not enjoy my sleep being interrupted. I mean, I’m sure Jesus handled this situation better than how I usually respond if Jack or Max wakes me up for no good reason if I’ve dozed off on a Sunday afternoon, but still — I can at least imagine his initial reaction and be impressed at how he handled the situation.

The more I think about this story, the more I wonder if the point is what literally happened — Jesus exerting power over nature and thereby revealing to his disciples the scope of his power — or the metaphor I mentioned earlier — Jesus as the source of calm no matter the circumstance. Probably the way any given person takes the message has a lot to do with their mindset as they encounter the passage.

One thing that strikes me on this reading is how the disciples don’t actually ask Jesus to do anything, they just kind of wonder how he can be seemingly oblivious to the storm. Evidently they didn’t think he could do anything, so perhaps that’s why they didn’t ask directly. But I like the notion of God knowing what we need before we can even form the words to ask. I often feel like that in my prayer life — I’m not praying to receive anything specific, more so telling God what concerns me and leaving the rest up to Him.

Surely God knows the concerns of my heart even if I don’t put them into words, but there’s something about taking the extra step of at least trying to pray about those concerns that makes them all the more real. The same is true of confessing sins. A general acknowledgement of being a sinner is good, but being honest with God about what sins I feel I’ve committed forces me to acknowledge those acts, and it also makes me think twice the next time I encounter the same choice.

The hymn “Lord, I Want to be a Christian” was woven through this morning’s worship service, popping up several different times. There was emphasis on the “Lord, I want to be like Jesus” verse. In this case, I want to be more like Jesus for my kids. When they are in the midst of a figurative storm, I want them to know I care and to trust me to do something. And I also want to be able to do it. I know I won’t be able to speak calmness into their lives, but I will try my best to smooth the rough waters for them whenever possible.

Inevitably their problems will become my problems, and I’ll never be able to solve any of them. So we’ll have to turn to Jesus, together, and ask for help. To do so regularly will be a sign we humbly respect God’s power and authority, we have truly put our trust in Him and we have released ourselves from worrying over that which we cannot control. We are not, as the disciples were, terrified by the power of Jesus. Rather, it gives us strength to face whatever life may bring. That is a wonderful blessing.

A prayer for August 12:

Lord, thank you for being a calming presence when life seems to be spiraling out of control. Thank you for knowing my thoughts and concerns even before I speak them, and for being willing to listen as I struggle to put my worries into words. Please help me be a similar source of calm for my family, but also give me the wisdom to know when I cannot handle something on my own. I will continue to put my faith, my trust and my hope in you, and I know you will never abandon me. I am grateful for your faithfulness. Amen.

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