by Calven Celliers
On both my visits to Israel, the Sea of Galilee has without a doubt been the highlight of my trip. Luckily, however, I have never had to endure a violent storm out on those waters, but I’m told that this body of water is a nasty place to be caught during a storm. A valley to the north acts as a natural wind tunnel, creating violent squalls with waves that often exceed 10 feet. Under such conditions, even the most experienced seamen would be taxed to the limits of their expertise just to keep the boat from capsizing.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we read about one such occasion,
“22 Immediately after this (referring to the feeding of the 5000), Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home.23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. 24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” 27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!” (Matthew 14: 22 – 27NLT)
Not being natural born water walkers, we are endlessly fascinated by this particular account in Scripture. But anyone who has ever felt abandoned by the Lord needs to slam on brakes at verse 27 – “Don’t be afraid. Take courage. I am here!” – before rushing into the rest of this story. As we read this verse, we need to keep in mind that the poor disciples were nearing the end of their physical, possibly mental and even emotional endurance, when Jesus came walking towards them on the water, and yet He didn’t immediately calm the storm. He allowed it to go right on raging.
Life has taught me that Jesus often forces us to wrestle with challenging circumstances for a while. I suspect that is because if He immediately calmed the storm that had the disciples stretched to their limit of their endurance, they would have been grateful, and they would have learnt that Jesus can calm a storm. But by allowing the storm to rage a little longer He was demonstrating what He could do in a storm. And considering what the disciples would still need to face in their lifetime, this was a critical lesson. It’s one thing to be told something is true. It’s another thing all together to be shown.
“How do I know He’s my fortress, until with arrows flying all around me, I run with all my heart into His open gates? How do I know He’s my hiding place until I hear the enemy crashing in the bush behind me, feel his breath on the back of my neck, and cry out for a place of refuge? How do I know He’s my portion until all I treasure and hold dear is suddenly threatened or taken from me? How do I know He’s my Father until I feel orphaned and abandoned and left alone in the storm? How do I, like Peter, learn that He’s my Deliverer until I step out of the boat and plant my foot on fifty fathoms of frothy sea?” (Ron Mehl)
God has established His Word to tell us who He is, but I believe He uses circumstances to show us. And that’s why when you find yourself in a storm, don’t despair. It doesn’t mean God has suffered a power failure; I suspect it simply means there’s an aspect of His divine character that He still wants you to discover.
Our focus needs to be on the magnitude of Jesus and not on the circumstances around us. As we continue reading this account in Scripture, Matthew wants us to understand something quite clearly. While Peter’s mind was focused on Jesus, he was empowered to walk on the water. But then we are told that three things happened. The focus of his attention shifted and his vision of Christ shrunk. He saw the wind. That shift in attention gave rise to a whole new set of thoughts and feelings that focused on panic and inadequacy, which in turn disrupted his ability to continue walking in Jesus power, and he began to sink. When his focus was on the storm, his fear short circuited his ability to receive God’s sustaining power.
Keep your eyes on Jesus, not on the storm raging around you, and you will overcome because He is with you!