As we brace for Hurricane Florence here on the East coast, this week we look at the idea of outer and inner storms – an inner renewal to find faith and peace. Do we calm the outer storm, to bring peace to the inner; or do we calm the inner, to bring peace in the face of the outer?
They say one of the most dangerous rescue operations is trying to save a drowning man! In full panic, he instinctively tends to fight, resisting help. And in the process, he can pull down an experienced swimmer. He is perishing, and he is panicked.
Jesus instructed His disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee. The promise of protection was implicit in the instruction. They were not going down into the sea, but across the sea. Suddenly there was a storm, the kind of violent storm that Galilee was noted for. They panicked and cried out, “Master, save us – we perish!” This was the plea of the outer man. This is the common response when we encounter life-threatening storms. ‘Save us…deliver us…fix this or that…make the storm go away.’ The most natural prayer we can pray is an ‘I perish!’ prayer in the middle of some storm. The disciples had faith that they were going to perish; and Jesus, with faith that they would make it across the sea, was sleeping in the middle of the storm – that’s telling. He was resting, they were restless; He was at peace, they were perishing. He rose and rebuked the wind and waves, and the storm miraculously subsided. And this of course is the desired outcome of our prayers – miracles that make our storms go away! But strangely in the text, no celebration follows. In fact, the story line takes a surprising turn. Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith. They prayed; they prayed because they had a need. They prayed because of faith in Him, their belief that He could meet the need – calm the storm; and that He would meet the need, and He did. But instead of a commendation, they earned a rebuke (Mk. 4:40; Mt. 8:26).
Is it possible that at times, that we are getting answers to prayer; our storms are going away and we have calm waters for sailing, but we are at the same time living under heaven’s rebuke? “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” (NLT) The American King James Version has the more classic language, “Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith?” The Weymouth translation notes, “You are so easily frightened.” The natural tendency is to suppose that the rebuke is because they did not have the faith to subdue the storm themselves; or to believe that they would make it through that storm.
Further, we should notice that their prayer was mixed with an attack on the character of Christ, “Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with His head on a cushion. The disciples woke Him up, shouting, ‘Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?’” (NLT). The ESV contains the words, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Holman, “We’re going to die?” (Mt. 8:25). We pray the same kind of ‘God, you obviously don’t care’ prayers. ‘God, you are enjoying the harp music of heaven today, and we are about to die. Are you going to sleep through our storm?’ Prayers that rise out of a lack of faith in the character of God are greater sources of concern than those that reflect a momentary lapse in confidence in His ability.
The rebuke of Jesus is not focused on a lack of faith that prevented them from dealing with the inclement weather, the outer storm or the rowdy condition of the sea and their sinking boat. They believed in His power, that is why they appealed to Him. The story is not about the outer storm at all, but their inner storm. That’s the point. The outer storm has moved inside them, and they have lost faith, not in His ability as much as in His character – ‘you don’t care!’ This is deadly to vital inner spiritual life – and faith.
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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.