In a boat, in a storm

Have you felt that God stuck you in a boat and told you to row out onto a lake, at night, in a storm, where you would get blown off course and probably drown? And all the time you wonder why on earth He made you do this in the first place?

Don’t worry, you’re in good company. Even Jesus’ disciples felt like that. In John 6, the disciples witness one of Jesus’ most famous miracles, the Feeding of the Five Thousand. They must have been feeling pretty good, enjoying the rock-star status of their Messiah and compiling twelve baskets of leftovers on which to gorge themselves for the next several days.

And then Jesus did what He usually did in these situations: ruined the party. He told them to get into a boat and row to Capernum, which was all the way on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. AT NIGHT. But Jesus himself wasn’t going with them. He went up to a mountain instead.

I wonder if Peter, usually the outspoken one, might have tried to argue: Wouldn’t it be better if we waited until morning? When you can come with us? But all we know is that the disciples got into the boat (I’ve always wondered: did they take the twelve baskets with them?) and started rowing to the other side of the lake.

They should have known that Jesus was up to something. Sure enough, the wind started to blow and the waves got rough. According to normal weather patterns on the Sea of Galilee, the wind would have been against them, pushing them backward and off course with every stroke.

I can feel their pain. A few years ago, my daughter Danielle and I were in South Carolina for a week, and we decided to go kayaking. Normally kayaking in the wetlands is a piece of cake. But there had been storms all day and the current was quite strong. We would have to paddle against the current, but the guide assured us that if we could just get to the first turn in the waterway, it would be easy from then on. So we set out, thinking, “We can do this.”

But it wasn’t until we were in the middle of that waterway that I realized just how powerful that current was. We paddled like crazy; I used muscles I didn’t even know I had, but it felt as though we were going backward rather than forward. Panic set in. I was sure we’d never make it.

I’m guessing that the disciples had it even worse. It was dark, the waves were tossing their boat around like a bathtub toy, the wind was howling, and they couldn’t even see where they were going. They must have been thinking, “Why did Jesus make us do this? Is He trying to get us killed?”

How is it that we can be doing God’s will and still run into so much trouble? How is it that we can think we are being obedient and still suffer frustration and despair? Then we cry out to God and ask, “Why? Why?”

Jesus never does anything without a purpose. He was shaping his disciples into men that would trust and believe Him even when nothing in their lives made sense. One minute they were witnessing an incredible miracle before a cheering crowd, the next they were rowing against the wind in the middle of the night, all alone.

This is our journey as believers.

Don’t miss God in the storm

What the disciples didn’t know was that Jesus was watching them the whole time. He was sitting on a mountaintop, overlooking the lake; He had His eyes on them. And sometime between three and six in the morning, He joined them. Walking on the water.

John tells us that when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, “They were afraid.” Not overjoyed. Not relieved. Afraid. They actually thought that things were getting worse—that not only did they have a storm on their hands, but a ghost was coming for them as well.

When we’re in the middle of a storm, we are unlikely to recognize God when He shows up. His appearance may look like one more problem sealing our fate.

Don’t miss the miracle in the storm

Jesus tells the disciples who He is, and they let Him get in the boat. John now gives us a small detail that I had missed for a long time. When Jesus got into the boat, “immediately the boat came unto the land to which they were going.” (John 6:21)

That word immediately. How could that be? If the disciples had rowed only three or four miles, they had at least two miles to go. Maybe even more if they had been blown off course. I believe that tucked into that word immediately is another amazing miracle. Jesus didn’t calm the storm here, as He had done the last time He was in the boat with His friends. He skipped over time and space altogether. He defied the laws of physics by 1) walking on water and 2) breaking the time-space continuum. If the disciples weren’t sure about Jesus’ Godhood before, they certainly could have no doubt now.

Like us, the disciples learn everything the hard way. Jesus had told them many times who He was, but He had to show them how to trust Him, by sticking them in the middle of a lake, in the middle of a storm, in the middle of the night.

So the next time you are in a storm, look around. Look for Jesus. Know He’s there, even if all you see are wind and waves and ghosts walking on water. Trust him to get you to the shore safely. You might even want to let go of the oars.

“…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

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