A couple of weeks ago I preached on Matthew 8:23-27 – the famous passage where Jesus calms the storm on the Sea of Galiee. As I was leaving church that evening, I got speaking to another pastor from our church. We joked about how it often seems as if God tests us on what we preached the week after preaching it. He was preaching on the demon possessed man the week after, and we both joked that if the above was true we were in for an interesting couple of weeks!
We laughed, we hugged (legally) and wished each other a restful Monday.
As is normal, the post-preaching slump hit on Monday morning – only this time it didn’t really go away. The rest of the week, as it turned out, was a stormy one. In fact if I’m being honest, weeks later the storm still hasn’t subsided. Just as we joked I found myself being tested on the very thing I’d preached on.
While I’d argue Matthew’s main point in sharing this was to show the primarily Jewish audience that Jesus is God – Lord over nature – I don’t think it’s a stretch to draw out the principle that Jesus is also sovereign over the Storms of life. Storms in the Bible often represent difficult circumstances and situations, after all.
As part of that message I linked the passage of Jesus in Storm with Jonah in his storm. The two passages have several striking similarities, but maybe that’s a discussion for another post…
Where do we turn?
One of the practical challenges I asked during the message was the question of how we deal with our storms. Are we like the sailors in Jonah’s storm, who prayed to every god under the sun before going to the true God? Or maybe we’re like those sailors who tried their best to fix the problem themselves by pointlessly throwing their cargo overboard?
Or are we like the disciples, who instinctively cried out to Jesus in the midst of the storm “Lord, save us!”.
To those without faith, my point was that there is no one else in the universe other than Jesus Christ who can save us from the storm of death and God’s wrath. To believers, my challenge was to ask where they go to when they face storms of life – do they go straight to their idols and false gods (Netflix, food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, etc) – or do they instinctively cry out to the One who can actually deliver and sustain them?
The week after preaching that, and in the weeks that followed, I found myself faced with that very question. When storms come, do I instinctively go to my loving Father in heaven, or do I turn to the things of the world to comfort me?
If God really was testing me then I can honestly and wholeheartedly say that I failed the test.
In the days and weeks after that message things weren’t easy. Jodie, myself and the kids all got sick, which lasted a couple of weeks. Finances grew tight as we were hit with unexpected expenses. A member of our congregation passed away. During the COVID pandemic I haven’t been as pastorally hands on as I would have liked to be, and have had to deal with the after effects of that. The logistics of planning in person services and gatherings again – organising venues, teams, etc – simply became another burden rather than the joy it should have been. My mental health and general mood began to slump. In recent weeks a situation has arisen that is extremely difficult for myself and those close to me to deal with.
In all of this if I’d heeded my own words I would have turned to the Lord and trusted him for everything. But I didn’t – at least, not at first. In the weeks proceeding that message prayer became a chore. Picking up my Bible became a constant battle of the will, which I often lost. I had planned to write an accompanying blog post along with my sermon but I couldn’t find the mental energy to start writing again.
Instead of turning to Jesus, I found myself turning to some of the very things I’d pleaded with people not to turn to. I became very aware of my hypocrisy, and had to laugh at how true (almost prophetic…?) that light-hearted, tired conversation with my pastor friend at the end of that busy Sunday turned out to be.
So why am I writing all of this?
Well, me being a hypocrite who sometimes doesn’t even follow his own instruction does not stop Jesus from being perfect and good. It does not stop the comforting power of the God who loves us from comforting and loving us. And when we do fail to turn to him in the storms of life, it does not mean that he abandons us. Quite the opposite, actually.
He Knows Me
A couple of mornings ago I found myself in the outside seating area of a McDonalds. I’d dropped my car off at a nearby garage to get parts of it fixed and had time to kill while I waited. So I went to McDonalds, got myself a coffee, sat outside and opened my Bible.
Now, one of the things I’m often saying is that we can’t just treat our Bible reading like a tick-box exercise. Ten minutes spent reading the passage our Bible reading plan tells us to read like robots every day is better than nothing at all, but if that’s the only way we engage with the Bible…it’s not going to do us much good. The Word of God is living and active. It is alive; it speaks to us today, in our present circumstances. There are passages, parables, poems, prayers, instructions, proverbs and truths about God that can guide us in every situation we can face. One benefit of getting to know the Bible intimately is that you get to know where to turn when you need to hear the comforting, encouraging and sometimes rebuking voice of God.
That morning I didn’t feel like going through my reading plan (sorry Jeremiah, but God’s judgement on Assyria had to wait) so I turned to one of my favourite Psalms, Psalm 139. Here’s the first few verses:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.Psalm 139:1-6 (ESV)
I took my time to chew on every word, every line, every verse. And as I did, the comfort that washed over my soul was like a warm blanket, and the peace of God filled me in that McDonald’s outdoor seating area.
Like this, but in McDonalds.
God knows me. He knows my heart. He knows the frustrations and thoughts I have but (rightly or wrongly) choose not to give voice to. He knows when I feel distant from him, why I feel distant from him – even though he never is. He knows how fickle I am, and he knows how aware of it I am. He knows my hypocrisy, he knows my failings, and he knows my occasional tendancy to run from him rather than to him.
He knows every thought I think, good or bad, gentle or sinful.
There is no hiding before him. All is laid bare and exposed before the God who made and knows our hearts. It is a scary thought – but it’s also a comforting one.
He is With Me
Psalm 139 (which I’d encourage you to take time to read through just now) reminds me; that in all of this, he is with me. He is before me. He is behind me. He surrounds me. There is not a place I can go, physically, emotionally or spiritually, where he is not present. There is not a situation I can lead myself or fall into where his arms aren’t ready to embrace me with love, grace and mercy.
It’s not because I’m awesome, or because I deserve it. In fact the Bible says that before God brought me to faith I was incapable of doing good. I was incapable of loving God. I had absolutely nothing to offer him, but while I was still dead in my sin, Jesus died for me. He didn’t die for some future, perfect version of me. He didn’t die for the Jordan I could one day become. He died for the sinful, helpless, or as my calvinist pals would say, totally depraved version of me.
Since I am in Christ and am covered by him, despite my ongoing battle with indwelling, lingering sin, I am justified, and made perfect by the blood of Jesus Christ.
His righteousness surrounds me in my coming, in my going, in my successes, and in my failures; in my devotion and in my wandering.
I was bought, saved and welcomed into the family of God not based on anything I’d done, but based purely on his mercy, goodness and love. And as Paul said in Romans, if Jesus Christ saved me at my worst, how much more will he save me now, that I’m alive and justified in Christ?
There is nowhere I can go to escape God. There is no place, be it in my own soul, or in my current situation, where he cannot find me. Even the darkest darkness is light to him. If I woke up tomorrow and somehow found myself in the depths of the sea, or floating in space in some galaxy billions upon billions of light-years away, the Lord my God would still be with me.
He is patient. He is kind. He does not boast. He keeps no record of wrongs. He is slow to anger.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We can’t reduce God to a sippy-sappy being who is nothing more than a projection of our own emotional longings. He is jealous for us. He is a Good Father who does discipline those he loves. He is storing up wrath for those who reject the mercy offered by his Son.
But for those of us in Christ, we need not fear these things. Jesus overcame the storm of death, and endured the storm of God’s wrath himself. He faced them so that we wouldn’t have to.
And because of that the storms of life are like nothing to him.
Trust him. Love him. Turn to him.
Even if you’re a hypocrite with a tendancy to wander like me, take heart; Jesus is our Good Shepherd, who will never abandon his sheep.
Christ is our anchor in the storm. He is sure and steadfast. He will never fail. Never give up. In him, we are never alone.
Take heart, believer: In Christ, the storms may come…but they will never overcome.
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