I was talking to a group of guys today and our conversation centered on the time when Jesus’ disciples were in a really bad storm. They were scared, so that shows what kind of storm this must have been. I mean, many of these were men who grew up on the sea, and a couple had even made their living as fisherman. A squall that could move them to legitimate fear was no junior varsity tempest.
And this is where we find them: legitimately fearful, crying out for help.
Jesus wasn’t afraid—He was too asleep for all that. Yep, He was somewhere on the boat at absolute peace.
The disciples woke Him, for isn’t the idea of death always imagined somehow to be better when we can look it in the eye first? They shook Jesus awake and announced: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
Here we see clearly that it was death that they were afraid of. They didn’t want to drown. So what is the obvious fix? Just as a warm meal is the obvious antidote to a person’s hunger, the fix for drowning is, well, not drowning. Isn’t that what, in fact, they were asking for? “Teacher, save us from drowning!” they might have said.
So He does. The narrative claims Jesus stilled the winds and calmed the waves. Everything got still, and drowning was removed from the equation.
In the beginning, the disciples were “afraid.” The object of their fear: drowning. Now drowning is rather emphatically removed, so one would surmise that their fears, too, should be assuaged. Peace should reign, and perhaps another hour or so of sleep could be had. But instead we are told that the disciples now “were terrified.” They questioned who this man really was.
I can relate with the disciples, and I think we all probably can to some degree. Often I plead with God to be God. “Come on,” I challenge boldly or “Help!” I cry out fearfully. I claim I want God to be God and for God to do only what God can do. The disciples did the same. Only God can calm the storm, yet when God does just that, they are terrified. Sure, part of their terror stemmed from the fact that they were reconciling how Jesus could be God—but they had just seen Him feed thousands of people, making food pop up from nothing, so yeah, they must’ve known He was a bit more than David Copperfield.
And here is what I realized, they didn’t want to drown, but they also had a certain way they thought that should happen: something natural; something acceptable. What they didn’t want is this radical action, this miraculous answer that would inevitably lead to all sorts of uncomfortable questions with more uncomfortable answers.
The truth of the matter is that I pray for God to stop the storms in my own life, but then I often get upset when He does. He doesn’t meet the needs I think He should or He does so too extremely. I want God to show up and be God but only in pre-approved ways I sign off on. And that isn’t really wanting God at all, but a stop to the storm and nothing else. God is not free to work in my life because it is not God I want, but my own will to win out. I don’t want to drown, and if that is the baseline of my desire, that is all I will ever get.
But not choking and gasping for air, not drowning, is not the same as living. To have life, and to have it abundantly, means to look on at instantly stilled waters and rejoice. It is to see the radical intercession of a good God and trust that He is God and that He is good, even when His goodness is much greater and different than my idea of it.