Storms can suddenly and unexpectedly overtake us in life. And when they do, they present a multitude of opportunities to become fearful and anxious.
My recent storm began with months of sleepless nights when my heart felt like a herd of horses galloping in my chest. You’ve probably taken your car to the mechanic because it’s making a menacing noise, but when you get there, all is quiet. Then, on the way home, the menacing noise emerges again! So it was with my heart. The problem seemed to go into hiding whenever I stepped into the ER or wore a heart monitor. But one morning, after a sleepless night, I lost consciousness. The EMT’s were able to get evidence on the EKG that my heart was in paroxysmal rapid atrial fibrillation. That means it was unpredictably beating at 177 beats per minute, which my body could not sustain. I was hospitalized to get it under control.
I also have a rare blood cancer. I was diagnosed 13 years ago, and it has no cure. Without treatment, my blood becomes so thick that my organs shut down.This cancer and the medication I take for it, both suppress my immune system and increase my risk of infection.
While I was in the hospital being treated for the heart condition, I contracted a super bug — a nasty drug resistant bacteria. Treatment was a week of IV antibiotics. What no one realized until I returned home was that the antibiotics were creating a medium for an even more dangerous drug-resistant bacteria to grow. People regularly die from it.
A week later I was back in the hospital, in isolation. Fluid was filling my lung cavity and surrounding my heart. This made it difficult and painful to breathe. The bacteria suppressed my bone marrow so that I was not producing red blood cells. The doctors began talking about blood transfusions. The anemia was so intense that I fell asleep texting and talking with my husband. The doctors thought I may have blood clots in my lungs, so they did a CT scan. I’m allergic to CT scan dye, so for the next week, I had an angry rash over 25% of my body. Eleven pounds of water had taken up residence in my legs and feet. My fibromyalgia was very unhappy with the hospital bed, so my pain level was getting intense.
My body’s systems were like a row of dominoes. When the first one fell, they all came toppling down. The doctors were saying, “You are a complicated case. Nothing is straightforward with you.”
At the same time I discovered that my infant grandson was in the hospital on oxygen with RSV and pneumonia. Both he and my daughter had contracted it. She was staying at the hospital with him. My son-in-law was deployed. They were all the way across the US, and I couldn’t help them.
Storms lead us to ask questions. Did the medication set this all off? Do I need to stop the medication and go back to traditional chemo? Can my body endure chemo again? I was scheduled to speak at a women’s conference. Was I going to be able to keep my commitment? Since atrial fibrillation is unpredictable, was this the end of ministry as I had known it? But, there was one critical question I had to answer, and the answer would determine how I would weather this storm.
Who is Jesus?
Mark 4:35-41 tells us about a sudden fierce storm, the opportunity for fear and anxiety, the questions asked, and finally that critical question — Who is Jesus?
This passage ministered to me in my storm. Jesus had finished a long day of teaching the crowds by the Sea of Galilee. He asked his disciples to go to the other side of the lake to rest. When got in the boat, Jesus, exhausted, fell asleep on a cushion in the stern. Suddenly, a fierce storm overtook them. Waves were crashing and filling up the boat. I imagine the disciples were bailing fiercely. They were afraid for their lives, but Jesus slept through the storm! They were frustrated that he was not doing anything about their situation.
Isn’t this just like us? The storms of life hit, and we are scared and frustrated because it seems like Jesus is not doing anything about it. But Jesus knew that storm was going to hit. He knows everything. It was part of his plan to test their faith.
When God tests our faith, it’s not because he doesn’t know what we believe. It’s because we don’t know what we believe. Those tests reveal what we believe so that our faith can grow. Storms evoke a response of either faith or fear.
They woke Jesus and asked, “Teacher, don’t you care we are perishing?” First they called him teacher, not savior. How many mere teachers can heal diseases, cast out demons and raise a widow’s son from the dead? The disciples had seen Jesus’ power with their own eyes yet when the storm hit, they forgot. Isn’t that like us?
Second, their question, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” exposed their doubt concerning Jesus’ care for them. Isn’t that one of our first responses when storms hit and things feel out of control? We doubt God’s goodness. “If he really cared, he would not allow this to happen to me.” Jesus doesn’t answer the disciples’ question. There had been plenty of evidence of his care for them.
We have even more evidence. Look at the cross! There, Jesus weathered the greatest storm anyone will ever experience in order to love and care for us. Surely, he will care for us in the smaller storms that overtake us in life.
Instead of answering their question, Jesus demonstrated once again who he is. He commanded the wind and sea to be quiet, and it calmed immediately. Then it was Jesus’ turn to ask the questions. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Faith is the opposite of fear. If they had faith in Jesus, they would not have been afraid. Jesus wanted them to remember all he had done. They saw his authority over sickness, demons and death. But, because they didn’t remember, he spoke to the wind and sea to demonstrate his authority over it. It’s easy to dismiss miracles that happen to others. But, this miracle was personal. It was happening to the disciples, in their boat, and it had tremendous impact.
They finally asked the critical question. “Who is this that even the wind and sea obey him?” They were beginning to see that Jesus is not just another teacher. What he did was the work of Elohim, the God who spoke creation into existence, commands it, and sustains it by his powerful word. This storm was planned to help them see who Jesus really is and to perfect their faith in him.
Thankfully, even though the disciples were fearful Jesus stayed with them through the storm. He does the same for us in our storms.
We are in the same boat as the disciples. When storms overtake us, we must answer the critical question: Who is Jesus? How we answer it will determine how we weather the storms of life.
(Bonnie Dripps helped her husband found DiscipleMakers in 1981.)