I preached a sermon recently as part of a team preaching through 1 Peter. The second point of that sermon was, “Life is Pain.” That’s just a fact. Life is pain. Peter jumps with both feet directly into that reality.
Jesus modeled a life of prayer for us. The apostle Paul directs us to “pray without ceasing.”1 But it is when trouble hits that we are really driven to out knees. It is then that we agonize before the heavenly Father.
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
– Mark 4:37-38, ESV
What happens, then, when we do agonize in prayer, either for ourselves, or for another, and the answers do not, come, or the outcome is the very opposite of that for which we prayed. These are the times when we may conclude that God has ignored our prayers, or that he heard them but simply does not care.
Dear child of God, banish this thought from your mind. God cares about the sparrow,2 and you are worth more than many sparrows to him.3 You are God’s child, and he cares deeply about his own children.
I cannot dive deeply into this because I do not fully understand it myself, but what I am coming to realize over time is, the storms that cause me to tremble in great fear appear differently from the seat of God’s throne. Storms that seem to threaten my very life are the storms through which Jesus sleeps peacefully in the back of the boat – not because he does not care, but because he knows the storm is no real threat to me.
The disciples concluded that Jesus didn’t care, and they were bold enough, or frightened enough that they leveled that very accusation against him. What happened next, boggles the mind.
And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
– Mark 4:39-41, ESV
Many years ago, I wrote about this very incident in what is, currently, an unpublished manuscript. I’m going to share a section of that with you below.
To date, the disciples had seen Jesus do some amazing things, but to do what Jesus did in the boat, on the Sea of Galilee, took Jesus’ authority to a whole new plane. So profound was the difference that the disciples looked at Jesus in amazement (and I suspect a little fear) and asked, “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” What kind of man, indeed. Who is it that can speak to nature and have it obey him but the one who spoke it into existence to begin with?
Not far from my home, about 25 miles by straight line, is Sherman Crater on Mount Baker. In the winter it is common to see steam plumes emanating from the crater, as Mount Baker is an active volcano. About two hours to the south is Mount Rainier, another active volcano. Just a little south of that is Mount Saint Helens which erupted on May 18, 1980, killing fifty-seven, decimating two hundred square miles of forest land, causing $1.1 billion in property damage, and depositing ash in eleven states and five Canadian provinces. Even after the eruption, Mount Saint Helens ranks as the second most threatening volcano in the United States.4 Just over the Washington – Oregon state line is Mount Hood, yet another active volcano. From where I am sitting, a volcanic eruption is a real possibility.
Imagine, if you can, the two of us standing atop one of these volcanos on the verge of a full eruption. This is not in the least unrealistic, as there are well traveled trails that will take us there. As we stand at the top of the mountain, hot, glowing magma is boiling to the surface and spitting out of the crater, like a percolating coffee pot with no lid on it. The spewing magma, and the seismic activity that make it hard to stand, tell us that the mountain is about to let loose with a full eruption. With just seconds to spare, I speak to the mountain, telling it to pipe down and behave itself. What would you expect to happen? Nothing, of course. But how astonished and even fearful would you be if the mountain complied with my demands?
That is how it was for the disciples in the boat. What response could they have other than, “What manner of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him.” It is worth noting that this is the same God who parted the Red Sea and allowed his people to cross it on dry land.5 This is the same God who stacked up the Jordan River so his people could walk across its bed into the promised land.6
When Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus was deathly ill, Jesus “stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”7 Lazarus did indeed die.
Shall we conclude that Jesus did not care? Or is it possible that we are misreading the situation and that it looks very differently from Jesus’ vantagepoint?
When the Canaanite woman cried out to Jesus on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter, “he did not answer her a word.”8 How should she respond? Should she conclude, “Well, phooey on him. Clearly, he just doesn’t care?”
No, that was not her reaction at all. Rather she continued to appeal to him, worshipping him, to the point that even the disciples begged him to just send her on her way. Still, she persisted.
Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
– Matthew 15:28, ESV
Consider each of these cases, and others you have encountered in scripture. The storm was unpleasant, and seemingly threatening, yet the disciples witnessed the calming of the storm. Lazarus was terribly ill – ill to the point that he died and was buried. Yet he experienced a resurrection, witnessed by Mary and Martha. The Canaanite woman was deeply grieved by the destructive, demonic possession of her daughter, yet she witnessed the miraculous healing and return of her daughter’s right mind.
In each case, the delay of God was not a lack of care, but it did result in a profound strengthening of the faith of those involved. Can this not be the case for us as well?
Life is pain. Returning to the 1 Peter sermon, the third point was that the second point (Life is Pain) is actually a good thing. The pain proves our faith is genuine as it is tested by fire, yet remains. In the end, that genuine faith is “found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Stand firm. He cares for you.
1. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (Incidentally, this verse, not “Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the Greek New Testament.)
2. Luke 12:6-7
3. Matthew 10:29-31
4. Dell’ Amore, C., (May 18, 2010). Mount St. Helens Still Highly Dangerous, 30 Years Later. Retrieved 7/4/2015 from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/05/100518-mount-st-helens-30th-anniversary-science-environment/ 5. Exodus 14:21-22
6. Joshua 3:8-17
7. John 11:6
8. Matthew 15:23