Singer song-writer Laura Story once said that when we suffer we assume that God doesn’t love us.
I have found that to be a belief, however false, I’ve held in my own life. Recently, I was going through a troubling circumstance, and I felt irritated with God because I had been praying about it for some time and had heard no answer to my prayers. Feeling especially discouraged one Sunday, I got the kids ready for church, packed the diaper bag, and headed to church — not really expecting anything other than a routine service.
However, I could not have been more surprised when the pastor began speaking a message that might as well have been personally addressed to me. It pertained uncannily to the situation I was going through to the point where I almost fell out of my chair when he began to speak.
I should not have been surprised. God does respond to my prayers on a regular basis — many times through the course of a sermon or church service — but I was surprised. I had begun to doubt that God was going to answer, that He even cared at all. Never mind that I have a whole history of times where He has miraculously answered or intervened for me. This time felt especially difficult.
In Mark 6:41-52, we see a passage where the disciples experienced a similar test of faith in their walk with Jesus. Jesus had just performed the miracle of the five thousand loaves. They knew Him to be capable of miraculous things, and yet, they seemed to forget all that when Jesus sent them out into a storm. Let’s take a look at the passage:
Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, when he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on the mountainside to pray. Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
While Jesus had good things in mind for them when He sent them out on a boat, the disciples could not see the circumstances with His same broad gaze. They saw the fact that it was dark, they were on a boat toiling against winds blowing against them, and that Jesus was not with them. Certainly, these were circumstances that would warrant doubt and unbelief to enter in.
But when we look at the circumstances through a wider lens, we can observe several things about Jesus’ care for them in the midst of the storm:
1. Jesus sent them into the boat for their protection.
While the disciples could only see the storm they had entered into, Jesus sent them where He did to get them away from a larger danger. After the miracle Jesus performed in feeding the five thousand, the crowds wanted to make Jesus king. But their plans were of a secular design and not a kingdom one. Jesus knew the motives of the crowd and sent His disciples, who may have been swayed by the crowds, into the boat and Himself went to a mountaintop to pray.
What we can take away from this is that there may be a situation we are in that we want so badly to turn out a certain way, but God may not allow it for our own protection. He knows the weakness of our hearts and has a perspective that is much different than ours. As the Danny Gokey song says, “Love sees further than we ever could.” God says no to what we may view as the more comfortable or desirable path because He knows what is best for us in the long run.
2. Jesus came at an appointed time to end their struggle.
I don’t know why God waits so long in certain instances to answer, but I do know that He is always aware of what we are going through. There is never a situation where God is running around in a panic trying to think of a solution. Similarly, there is a never a situation that God doesn’t know about. In this passage, even when Jesus was away from His disciples on the mountain, He “saw the disciples straining at the oars” (v. 48). Even though He saw, He chose to wait to come to the disciples until the fourth watch of the night, which was the last.
Clearly, there are situations where we get into storms because of our own bad choices, but there are storms that come even when we follow the will of God. We may be so frustrated because we are straining at the oars. Everything in us may be screaming, Where are you, God? Why aren’t you here? And yet, He may choose not to answer us in the way that we think He will or may not show up in the way we want Him to, but that doesn’t mean that our struggle will last forever. As we see in this story, there was an appointed time that Jesus came to the disciples. Like in the instance of Lazarus, Jesus didn’t come when His friends wanted Him to (even though He loved them); He came at the moment that would give God the most glory — even though from a human vantage point things looked the most hopeless.
We can take comfort in the fact that God sees us from where He is, and though we may be tired and may feel like our situation is just getting worse, God has a point where He will put an end to the struggle.
3. Jesus showed up differently than they expected.
When Jesus did show up in their situation, they didn’t recognize Him. They thought He was a ghost and were afraid until He calmed them with His voice and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (v. 50). Granted, it would be pretty alarming to look up in the middle of a storm and see a figure approaching, but the disciples had been walking with Jesus long enough to know that He was prone to do unexpected things. Except, here, they were slow to comprehend that it was Him.
Perhaps the disciples were so worn out that they had stopped hoping that He would even come. Maybe like me in the church service, they were so burned out with their circumstances that they had stopped looking for Jesus. Commentators note that at the start of the journey the disciples were on the watch for Him. Some say that the disciples rowed close to the shore expecting Him. Others say that the very reason they were out as late as they were and encountered a storm is because they were slow in rowing out initially as they fully anticipated that Jesus would come to them. But when He didn’t arrive right away and the storm blew up against them, they were so exhausted and fixated on the storm that they couldn’t make out their Savior right in front of them.
And perhaps we are no different. We are so tired of our situation that we’ve stopped expecting Jesus to come. We may have boxed in our own thinking in about the way He will arrive that we don’t even recognize Him standing in our midst. But Habbakuk 2:1-3 tells us to stand at our “watch” and “station [ourselves] on the ramparts.” Jesus will not leave us alone, but perhaps we need to adjust our faith level and believe that He will come, although it may be in a different way than we expect.
4. When Jesus came, they immediately got to where they were going.
In the John account, the disciples “immediately” got to where they were going as soon as they welcomed Jesus into the boat. Some scholars assert the idea that this was another supernatural happening of the night. That not only did Jesus feed five thousand, walk on water, enable Peter to walk on water, and calm the storm — all in one day and night — He enabled the boat to reach the shore with miraculous speediness.
Whatever the case, whether the disciples were able to reach the other side swiftly simply because Jesus calmed the storm, and thus the rowing was easier, or because Jesus performed another miracle that night, the disciples could not doubt by what power that boat had made it to the other side .
And I believe that is the way with God. We shouldn’t give up hope or believe that God has abandoned us because there may still be a “fourth watch of the night.” That though our pain has lasted a long time and our difficulty has been beyond what we can bear, it isn’t over. With a snap of His fingers, with one conversation, one phone call, one opportunity, God can turn a hopeless situation into a hope-filled one.
And we will know that no one other than God could have turned something so dire around. Just like with the disciples, when Jesus shows up in our storm, we will be given just one more proof that Jesus truly is the Son of God.
Friend, I don’t know where you are as you reading this, but I know that your struggle may be real and hard and relentless. But I know that Jesus knows, He sees, and He cares. I love these words from L.B. Cowman’s Streams in the Desert: “Difficulty is the very atmosphere of miracle — it is miracle in its first stage. If it is to be a great miracle, the condition is not difficulty but impossibility. The clinging hand of His child makes a desperate situation a delight to Him.”
If your answer hasn’t come, keep on rowing. You’ll see Him soon enough walking across the waves.
*This is another version of a post published August 5, 2016.