Discipleship Series Part 4: Staying the course in the storms of life Jill Hookway, 13 th February 2011
Psalm 57 verses 1-11
John 6 verses 16-21
This morning we are going to look at a passage which will be very familiar to most of us – of the disciples out on the lake in the storm, with Jesus appearing to them. Often this passage is read from Matthew’s gospel (chapter 14) where Jesus appears and asks Peter to walk on the water. I think every time I have read a study of this passage, or heard it preached on, the focus is on what we need to do to walk on water. But in John’s report there no mention is made of Peter walking on the water, so, we aren’t going to be focusing on that today! We are not going to look either at whether God planned the storm or why God allows storms in our lives. Many others have studied and preached on that - and I wouldn’t even know where to start! No, today we are going to look at this story, so simply told, yet so dramatic, to see how we can stay the course in the storms of life. We will try to find ways in which we can live our lives so that we are actually equipping ourselves to stay the course in advance of a storm; we will look at what we can do to hold on to the boat during a storm, and how best we can recover when the storm has passed , or at least is passing. I want to add a personal preface to this talk. When Joe asked me to talk on this subject back in the autumn, I wasn’t in a storm. In fact, I was in an exceptionally calm place. I was happy and full of hope. Instead of storm there was sunshine, a warm breeze and cool still water in which I could dip my toes. Yes, I had been in storms, some of the worst storms very recently, so I felt I could share about that from a safe place on the shore! Fast forward just six weeks to Christmas and I find myself where we find the disciples today; shocked, gutted, in the middle of a lake, in the dark, with a horrible storm throwing my boat from side to side. But, I clung on like mad to God! And so, from very personal, recent experience, here are some tried and tested ideas of how to stay the course in the storm of life. Firstly, let’s find out a little bit more about the story… The disciples are about to head home to Capernaum by boat. They have had the most amazing day, where they had witnessed Jesus feed five thousand people from one small boy’s packed lunch. They must have been exhilarated, excited and exhausted after such an adrenaline rush. What a miracle to witness – and they were there, Jesus’ special friends, alongside Him! I am sure they wouldn’t have been able to stop talking about it; desperate to re-live it as they travelled home to tell family and
friends all about it. They wait for Jesus on the shore. We don’t know for how long, but it is starting to get dark and in the end they set off without him. Some of the disciples were local fishermen. They knew this lake, they knew the local weather and they knew how to handle boats. But they find themselves powerless against the violent storm that rises up. (And I am not sure whether was it ever a good idea to set off in a little boat in the dark anyway)! I am guessing not. Very quickly the excitement of the day and the memory of the miracle fade as the storm takes hold and they struggle to hold on. To go overboard in the storm in the night was surely to loose their lives. Can you imagine how they would feel to go from such a high to such a fearful low? And they don’t have Jesus to save them. Then, we read, “Suddenly they see Jesus walking on the water towards them”. Everything changes in an instant as they lift their eyes to see Jesus. Fear is gone and hope takes its place. We know that they reached their destination, because the story continues in the gospels from there. So, let’s move on now to see what can we learn from these disciples? I think that from these simple men, with their experience of Jesus, we can learn how to hold tight and survive a storm; and probably become stronger for it. I am going to suggest three key ways in which I think we can do this – from before a storm even hits, to going through the storm and coming out the other side. First, let’s look at how we can we prepare to stand a storm. Let’s think about the disciples. They were getting to know Jesus! They didn’t know all of Him – there was so much they didn’t understand and didn’t believe. But they had the tremendous experience of having “dropped their nets” to spend all their time with him, observing Him, listening to Him, joining in with Him on the most radical of adventures. I reckon that knowing the power and truth of Jesus, and what He had told them about His father, is what helped them to hold on. Remembering what He had done, the plans He spoke of, what He could do, is what kept them believing…just. How do our lives as today’s disciples compare to these originals? We haven’t had the amazing experience of being physically present with Him, but we can get to know Him. As a start, we can read all about Him – in fact we can read all about God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit because we have the whole Bible to hand! And we can experience Him as we journey with him individually and together as a church. And that is the first thing that we can do to prepare. We need to root ourselves and our souls firmly in the truths of the Trinity. We need to learn about, to know and to be able to remember the truths of their character, their awesome power, their promises; all of which are Yes and Amen in the Lord Jesus. Let’s just think about a few of those truths: From Psalm 36 and verse 5, “Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.” From Psalm 86 and verse 15, “But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. From Joshua chapter 1, “I will never leave you alone”. From 1 Samuel chapter 2, verse 2, “There is no rock like our God.” From 2 Samuel Chapter 22, verse 29 “O Lord, you are my light! You make my darkness bright.” From Matthew Chapter 5, “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” And the truth of God’s incredible, immeasurable love for us in Jesus’ salvation, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John Chapter 3, verse 16).
When you are in a storm, you need these truths close at hand. God doesn’t change when storms come. He is unchanging and ever faithful. What changes is our situation. When the storm comes, so often all we can do is cling on; there is often no inclination or time to study. But if these truths are in your heart and soul, you can draw on them. And they will bless you. They will change, for moments at a time, how you feel. And moment by moment, the storm is passing. Moving on to the second point, how can we hold on in the midst of the storm? Let’s go back to the disciples in the boat. Firstly, they were together. They had friends that were in the boat with them. Yes, they were all fearful, but they were together. When we are in storms we need our friends. We need to be able to share what is happening to us. We are never meant to go it alone and to go it alone makes it so much more difficult. We may or may not want our friends physically with us. But we need them to pray for us, to let us know they stand beside us, and to minister to us. If you have a friend in a storm, make sure they know you are there for them. Not just at the start. Even if they turn you away at first, keep praying and don’t let them stay out in the boat alone for too long! But, for the disciples, friends were not enough! When did the disciples actually start to cope – to feel like the storm was subsiding – even though in reality it wasn’t’? The waves were still raging, they were still in the middle of a lake and it was still dark. But they started to have hope when they lifted their eyes and saw Jesus. What a change! The man who could do miracles, the Son of God, could comfort them and save them. They knew He was there and that was all they needed. The gripping fear they felt started to fade. The storm still rages but they have hope. And boy, are they grateful. Friends, in a storm we need to learn to lift our eyes to Jesus and to keep doing that! Just thinking on Jesus and all He has done – or in fact anything that he has done, has given to us, any aspect of His character that we can hold on to, changes our perspective. Reading His word, or remembering His word, praising Him through a treasured hymn or a rocking worship song takes our eyes off the storm and lifts them to our Saviour. In that moment there is a divine exchange: fear for hope. Lift your eyes to Him! See Jesus standing between you and the storm. Thirdly and finally, let’s think about how the disciples were afterwards, once they got to shore. Were they angry, saying “Jesus, why didn’t you come? Why did you leave us to set off alone?” Did they blame Him - “If you had come when you were meant to, that wouldn’t have happened? If we hadn’t hung around waiting for you we would have sailed in daylight; we would have beaten the storm?” Or did they say, with immense, exhausted relief, “Thank you Jesus that you came?” This passage doesn’t tell us how they felt. But I suspect they were so relieved that they went straight to the Thank you. If there was anger and blame, they subsided the moment they saw Jesus before them on the waves. What do we do during and after the storm? Are we angry, do we blame God or other people? Can you hear echoes of those words I just suggested on behalf of the disciples? I know I can. Grieving for what has happened to us, for our hopes dashed, friends or relatives lost, is a natural, necessary part of some storms; something we have to go through. But, you know, I have learnt that we don’t have to go through those stages of blame and anger; we can learn not to go there. But if we do, we certainly must not stay there. The sooner we can get to “Thank you Jesus” – even for just one thing, our storms seem to subside and loose their grip. And once we are out of a storm, the same is true. As we grieve and move through our pain, we can raise our eyes to God and His promises and be thankful. Thankful for who
He is – and there is so much to be thankful for. Thankful for what He has done for us in the past and all that He will do. And actually, we can start to wonder, God, how can you use this so I can bless you and those around me? So, there are my thoughts on holding the course in the storms of life: Let’s get to know the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the calm waters. Learn about Him, experience Him, be intimate with Him. Commit God’s truths and promises to our hearts and our souls. Trust Him. Even if the storms don’t come, we will stride through life making godly choices, honouring him and shining for others. When we’re in the storm, let’s choose to lift our eyes to Jesus. In so doing we lift our focus from the storm to our Hope, the Saviour of the universe, who has experienced everything we can go through, and whose love for us is unchanging. He is our comfort and our guide. When we’re in the storm and coming out the other side, let’s move through the emotions and feelings of grief, loss, bitterness, blame and anger, bringing them before God. The sooner we get to a place of gratitude the sooner we find shore again. For reflection/consideration If you are in a storm, take time to come before God knowing that God promises to comfort you. Ask Him to remind you of some of His truths and promises – or find a friend who can help with that. Come before Him and cry out to Him. Try to lift your eyes and see Jesus standing before you, putting Himself between you and the storm. Ask someone else to help you do that. Think about a hymn, a psalm or a song and sing/say the words. Think about something that you can be thankful for. Thank God for that. If you have a friend in a storm, remember to keep praying for them. Can you encourage them with simple comfort or the love/promises of God. Can you help them to see Jesus or to find things to be thankful for? Wherever you are, take time to reflect on God’s promises. What verses do you know by heart that lift your soul? Look through Psalm 57. Dwell on the truths there, committing one or two to heart. Commit to taking time to learning about God, perhaps through the psalms or Essential 100. Get into the habit of learning scripture or writing it in a journal that you can go to for encouragement at any time. Ideas for small group leaders Dwell on psalm 50. Let people soak in the truths then ask them to share a particular verse that spoke to them. Encourage people to share their treasured verses that give them hope. Listen to, and pray for those who are in storms. Have a time of testimony from someone who has come through a storm knowing God’s goodness. Have a time of thankfulness – where people share anything and everything that they are thankful for!