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Trusting God When Life Doesn’t Make Sense

The Disciples Face A Raging Storm

One particular night depicted in the New Testament can easily be overlooked, but it was not something the disciples would soon forget. This story is found in just a few verses in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John, coming right after the more memorable event of Jesus feeding five thousand people. According to Mark, tensions in the crowd were growing. John tells us that Jesus knew they were about to take Him by force (John 6:15), so He tells His disciples to leave without Him:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:22–27)

Evening came, but Jesus still hadn’t come. Jesus told them to cross the Sea of Galilee (in Mark), but John’s writings captures the raw emotion of a moment when they had to decide to move on without Jesus. I imagine they waited as long as they could. They probably even debated among themselves as they asked, “Are you sure we should go without Jesus?” These men left their jobs, families, and lives to follow Jesus. Now, they were going to embark without Him.

Fear and anxiousness had to be setting in for them at the thought, “What if we never find Him? What if something happens to Him — or to us?”

They started rowing across to Capernaum. I imagine they stayed as close to shore as possible, hoping to pick up Jesus along the route. It wasn’t working out that way. The wind drove them farther and farther south, so much that they lost sight of shore and the possibility of picking up Jesus. Matthew is graphic in describing the effects of this storm, saying the boat was literally being tormented. The storm raged, the waves crashed, and the wind pummeled them.

As fear, doubt, and anxiety set in, they had to wonder if Jesus forgot them. After all, Jesus sent them out here, so He had to know this was going to happen. Imagine the fearful thoughts that must have gripped their hearts: Did Jesus forget about us? Did Jesus just not care? Things look really bad–how will it end?

Doubts Hijack Perspectives

If this sounds familiar, it also does to me. I’ve thought those words. I’ve felt my heart clenched in the talons of those thoughts. When the storms of life are pummeling our hearts and minds, it’s easy to let doubts hijack our perspectives.

Some of our greatest times of doubt come when Jesus pulls away from us (or we perceive that He does). When we cannot see or hear Him, we begin to question if He cares. Our normal reaction in the midst of a storm is to freak out (anxiety), forget our faith (worry), and run to false comforts (depression). What if God sends us into the storms knowing these trials will develop a deeper longing for Him?

What happened next to the disciples is astounding. The waves grew out of control, and the absence of Christ grew more alarming. And then . . . they saw something. Matthew said, “But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.” The disciples feared the darkness, the rough waters, and the way that Jesus was showing up to them.

It was not normal to go out on the water in darkness. Yet, they did as Jesus told them, even though it was unnatural. The rough seas were also unnatural conditions for sailing. Every good Galilean fisherman knew to stay on shore if a storm was brewing. John mentions that they had gone only about three or four miles, making the point that they were not moving far and fast. The sea was against them, and they were understandably afraid. Yet Jesus knew they were going to be tested in this way.

While smooth sailing is enjoyable, it is never my most vibrant time of spiritual growth. When fear increases and my faith is tested, I grow in my longing for and reliance upon Jesus.

Anxiety was the disciples’ natural reaction in unnatural circumstances. Not only was sailing in the darkness and rough water unusual, what they saw next was even more unnatural—it was supernatural, and they were terrified.