One of the privileges of being a pastor is having the opportunity to be with individuals and families as they navigate some of life’s most joyful celebrations — and its most painful challenges. And while I am generally blown away by the strength and faith with which many people deal with the hard times, I do occasionally struggle with the question of how to encourage folks who have got it in their heads that being a Christian is supposed to exempt them from suffering.
Even a cursory reading of the New Testament, it seems to me, makes it clear that the storms of life shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus himself once said, “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). In today’s New Testament lesson, the Apostle Paul “strengthened and encouraged” the disciples in his newly-planted churches by telling them, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21-22). And in the well-known story from today’s gospel lesson (Mark 4:35-41), Jesus doesn’t prevent his disciples from encountering a storm; instead, he challenges them to trust his presence in it.
You’ve heard that story, no doubt. Jesus and the Twelve are crossing a lake when a violent squall comes up that threatens to swamp their boat. But as the disciples begin to panic, Jesus remains asleep. So they wake him and cry out: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v. 38) And at times, that’s our question, too…isn’t it? “Teacher, don’t you care that my finances are falling apart, or my child is sick, or my spouse is dying, or my once-healthy body is suddenly falling apart?”
In the gospel story, Jesus responds by getting up, rebuking the waves, and returning the sea to its customary calm. However, we need to be careful, I think, about interpreting this to mean that if we just cry out Jesus will bring a speedy end to our trials. After all, he doesn’t tell his disciples, “Chill out! I’ll fix everything!” Instead, he asks them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (v. 40) In other words, he invites them to realize — that even as the storm rages around them — he is still with them and will not leave them forsaken.
I think that the words of a song by Ryan Stephenson say it pretty well:
In the eye of the storm, You remain in control
In the middle of the war, You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm
Eye of the Storm
It’s my sincere desire that our ways would be clear and “storm-free” today. But even if they’re not, my deeper prayer is that we would trust Christ’s presence in the midst of our storms -— and would discover that his love is abundantly able to sustain us.