I recently had the privilege of attending the CCEF National Conference in Birmingham, Alabama. The conference title was Anxiety and the God of Peace.
I heard Robyn Huck of CCEF New England connect Scripture with real anxiety, and I’m following her lead here. The Scripture in question is Mark 4:35-41, and the anxiety is a terrible family storm.
Jane is a Christian and a single mother with three children, all of whom are a source of immense worry. The oldest is a crack addict who has fallen out of rehab often and his life seems to be tanking very fast. The middle one has a job but has not married wisely and they are in crushing debt, and Jane can’t bail them out even if she wanted to. The youngest one, a girl, 17, is spending most of her weekends hitching lifts with truckers, hooking up with them in their cabs, enjoying being an object of desire for them. Jane thinks she may have had an abortion last week. She wonders if it was the first.
As Jane pours all of this out, she is bewildered, helpless and in despair for her children. As she starts to play the tape forward for their lives her tone quickly rises to full-on panic. She feels so overwhelmed by their troubles that she feels she is sinking. The situation is way beyond her resources and her influence. She feels she is a failure and she is going to be crushed under the weight of her disastrous family.
What can you say? What would you say?
Mark 4 shows us, in the plainest of pictures, what it can mean to travel with Christ in the worst of storms. The shorthand way to say it this: “Jane, Jesus is in the boat with you.”
Shorthand makes us twitchy, and for good reasons. There are problems putting ourselves in the place of the disciples in many places in Scripture. Jane isn’t in a boat, and Jesus is bodily resurrected in heaven, not with her. Nor is the storm guaranteed to be over once she wakes Jesus up, whatever that might look like for her to attempt.
So before you resort to shorthand, you have to learn to write it out longhand: “Jane, you belong to Jesus. You are one of those to whom he has sent his Holy Spirit, the other Counsellor, just like Jesus, who will be with you forever. So Jesus is now, by his Spirit, with you, with you always, in everything, to the end of the age. “
Jane might be someone who needs the longhand version, and you might need to walk her through it. But, because humans are wired by their Creator to get metaphor, actually she is OK with the shorthand. If you know what you are doing with it, she is not going to get confused when you say this is a terrifying storm in her life. The waves are breaking over the side and she is nearly swamped, but Jesus is in the boat with her.
But the presence of Jesus seems not to make any difference! The storm is still raging. He hasn’t done anything (yet). He must be not caring enough or not powerful enough. The way the disciples wake him implies both those things – “Jesus, don’t you care if we drown?” He doesn’t care, and he is not expected to do anything to stop it.
When life gets bad, panic is what we do! How can we not? Underneath, however, are one or more of the following thoughts. Jesus is not present enough to know. He is not powerful enough to save. He is not loving enough to care.
How safe were the disciples feeling? But how safe were they actually? Completely. Anxiety grows in the space left by a small, distant, weak Jesus.
As they woke Jesus, they could have said, “Jesus, what is your plan for the storm you have ordained?” They could have asked Jesus if there was something they should have been doing. They could have shouted through the spray, “Just so you know Jesus, we are utterly despairing and have no idea how we are going to survive. We do still trust you, but we can’t see what you are doing, and we are scared!”
But they could say none of those things because they had no clue who they were talking to. Jesus shows them both that they do not know him and he shows them who he is – the sovereign God who alone calms the storm in order to save them.
“So, Jane, what does it mean that Jesus is in the boat with you? Say what you want to him, let him know how it feels, let him know your fears, but he is in the boat with you. So what do we know? You are not going down, he is with you. The storm will not take you. You will not be crushed or drowned by all that crashes in on you. He knows, he loves, he cares, he is able. You are safe because of who he is and because he is with you forever.
“We can’t play the tape forward. Tomorrow isn’t here yet. So, how do you love your kids today? What are we praying for them, what are we texting, what do we want them to know, how can we hold on to Jesus and love them?
“Jesus is in the boat. With you. With me. Mighty Jesus knows how to keep us safe and fulfil his promises. He will lead us and hold us and you and I will be safe.”