“But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” – John 6:20
It’s hurricane season and the first summer hurricane has just made its way up the eastern seaboard of the United States. There are likely to be more hurricanes to follow. Physical storms are inevitable. But there are other storms in life that are just as inevitable. I’m talking about storms that take the form of a pink slip notification of job loss. Maybe a storm of a letter or voice mail indicating the end of a relationship. Maybe it’s a failed test, a rejection or major disappointment of some kind. Maybe it’s a call to come down to the police station to bail someone out. Maybe it’s a police officer’s knock on the door in the middle of the night to inform you a loved one has been lost. Maybe it’s coming home to a burned out house. Maybe it’s being broadsided or rear-ended while driving. Maybe it’s a call into the doctor’s office to receive a life altering prognosis. Some of these storms you can see coming. If you indulge in recklessness, cheating, stealing, adultery, overeating, smoking, drug abuse, and/or drunkenness the storm clouds are forming; all you have to do is look around you to see them. But most life storms come without warning.
Storms, whatever the form, are inevitable in life. They are part of life. What compounds the difficulty and the painful impact of storms is not preparing for them. Some storms you can’t stop. Some come into life like a runaway train. When I speak of preparing for storms in life I mean understanding how they might be a part of God’s plan.
God is love (1 John 4:16). He desires none perish (2 Peter 3:9). He is sovereign and in control no matter what. “Whatever the LORD pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places” (Psalm 135:6). We may not understand why some things happen. But God as Sovereign remains in control and rule no matter what happens. If something happens, God has allowed it to happen. He is sovereign. God is in control.
But that creates a problem for us. We often look at tragedy and wonder why does God allow that? When bewildering storms slap us in the face we need to moor ourselves to the truth that “He shall judge the world in righteousness, and He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness” (Psalm 9:8). God knows all and being a God of love we must accept that what He allows has a loving purpose even if it appears very unloving in the immediate impact. Like Job we must understand, “Who can say to Him, ‘What are You doing?’” (Job 9:12). When we question God we go beyond our pay scale of authority. God confirms this with the words, “Who has preceded Me, that I should pay him? Everything under heaven is Mine” (Job 41:11).
Storms are going to come. They will often be unexplainable. But there are some truths about the purpose of storms that we do have. These truths help us through the storms. We can know why God at times allows storms to come. And facing the unknowable with what we do know is a firm foundation for weathering the storms of life. Jesus said, “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). What follows are some foundational truths about why storms come and how they can be used by Jesus in our life. Storms are going to come. But Jesus’ promise is that if we build and prepare with God’s word we will make it through the storms.
In John 6 it states, “Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them” (John 6:16-17). In Mark’s parallel account it states that Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and cross Galilee (Mark 6:45). In none of the gospel accounts of this storm does Jesus appear surprised the storm came. He knew what was coming. He directed them into the storm purposely. That’s because He was going to use this storm as a teachable moment.
Ever launch out without the Lord only to encounter a storm? Storms of life teach us how important it is to have Jesus in our boat. This is the most important foundational truth about preparing for storms in life. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Jesus will allow us to launch out without Him. He will allow us to face storms to see how much we need Him. This was the primary lesson He was teaching the disciples. It is an essential lesson to learn.
Then the storm came. “Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing” (John 6:18).
Some go so far as to say Jesus brought this storm upon His disciples. I don’t go that far. But I do believe Jesus permitted the storm to come upon His disciples. He permits storms to enter our life. What right does Jesus have to determine if storms are allowed to come into our life? Jesus “is over all, the eternally blessed God” (Rom. 9:5). Jesus is Lord (Acts 4:33). He is “Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). Jesus “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev. 1:5). Therefore we are not our own. We have been bought by Jesus (1 Cor. 6:19-20). And it was a costly expense. Jesus purchased us with His blood (Acts 20:28; Eph. 1:14). That is why Jesus has the right to ordain storms in our life. He eternally earned that right.
Jesus takes full responsibility for allowing all that has come into our life, including storms. Jesus is big enough to handle that responsibility. Scripture testifies that God does test humanity with difficulty. But when God tests it is always to bring the tested “out to rich fulfillment” (cf. Psalm 66:10-12). That being the case, I believe there may be someone else involved in this storm.
Satan is able to kick up storms in our life. He kicked up a storm in the life of Job, and it led to great loss (Job 1:19). Satan is a destroyer (Rev. 9:11). The only one Satan is out to richly fulfill is himself at others expense. If he brings a storm it is to destroy. God limits Satan’s destructive capabilities (Job 1:12; 2:6). Satan was the cause and instrument of trial in Job’s life. But God was the Sovereign Determiner. Satan had to get permission from God before he tested Job. Satan had to operate within the parameters and limits set by God. That is true with us as well. God creates us and ordains our life span (Psalm 139:16). Even when Satan works, God remains in control.
From reading the book of Job we see that God allowed the trials of Job to fulfill a greater purpose (Job 1-2). We see that Job and the other human characters were not aware of God’s greater purpose for those trials (Job 3-37). Job and the others did not come to a satisfactory understanding until God revealed it to them (Job 38-41). Even in the end, when God spoke, they did not come to a complete understanding of the role of Satan and spiritual warfare. That is often the case. There are things we will have to wait for God to explain to us. And that may only come when we are in glory with Him. Until then we will have to be content with, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the word of this law” (Deut. 29:29). When we meet Jesus face to face we’ll probably be so enthralled with His presence that all our questions will be consumed in our eternity with Him.
What was God’s greater purpose in allowing the suffering in Job’s life? The greater purpose, at least as far as we can see, was that: WE UNDERSTAND WHAT IS BEHIND SOME TRIALS BECAUSE OF THE BOOK OF JOB. God allowed storms in the life of Job so that future generations would understand there is more to existence than what is merely seen. There is a spiritual realm and a spiritual war with a spiritual adversary who oversees an evil spiritual army that opposes God. That was true then. And it is true now. The book of Job is believed to be the oldest book of the Bible. Therefore, right from the start God wanted humanity to be aware of this spiritual battle. God wants humanity to understand what is behind trials and difficulties in life. Understanding helps us to cope with the storms of life.
This storm came “when evening came,” in the night (John 6:16). Satan is the ruler of darkness (Eph. 6:12; Rev. 16:10). Deception and evil take place under the cover of darkness. Therefore when Satan works his evil plans it is often in darkness (Luke 22:53; Rom. 13:12; 1 Cor. 4:5; Eph. 5:11). When we launch out without Jesus it’s as though we call out for the darkness to come. We can’t afford to go anywhere without Jesus. Satan our enemy is always prowling around looking to devour stragglers (1 Peter 5:8-9). Stay close to Jesus, because He has delivered us from the power of darkness (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 5:5; 1 Pet. 2:9).
“So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid” (John 6:19). They were “afraid” (Greek phobos). This must have been a serious storm for experienced fishermen to be afraid. Mark 6:49 says when the disciples saw Jesus they initially thought He was a ghost. When they first saw Jesus they may have saw Him as a vaporous apparition. But the closer Jesus got the more clearly they saw it was really Him. The closer we come to Jesus the more clearly we will see His purposes for the storms in life. What did Jesus want to teach these disciples and us about the storm?
First, Jesus uses storms to get our attention. In Psalms it states being on the sea and especially in a storm while at sea provides us with an incredible view of God’s creation as well as the God who is the Creator. Psalms states storms at sea cause even seamen to cry out to the Lord (Psalm 107:23-28). When the waters are calm and stormless we might be tempted to think, I’m the captain of my own ship. When storms come and our footing becomes unstable it gets our attention. Storms teach us there is more to life than just us and earthly surroundings. There is a God to whom we must answer and attend.
God uses goodness and patience to get people’s attention (Rom. 2:4). But if that fails, He sometimes will use a storm to wake people up to their need of salvation. Jesus said our soul is more valuable and important than the entire world (Mark 8:36). Storms of life get our attention to that reality.
Second, Jesus uses storms for our correction. That’s what happened in the life of Jonah. God called him to go to the Ninevites and preach to them. He refused, got in a boat, and set sail in the opposite direction. God sent a storm to stop him in his tracks. Perhaps the disciples launching out without Jesus was not just them following His orders but an indication of a mindset creeping into them that was presumptuous and careless. Maybe they needed to be face to face with the deep in order to go deeper with Jesus.
Be patient with me as a share a parenthetical comment from the life of Jonah. Jonah rebelled against the Lord’s calling and plan. And as he did so, there was a ready door of opportunity opened to him to do so. Opportunity is not always an indication of God’s will. In fact, it may be the opposite. When we rebel against God, like with Jonah, the enemy will provide us the resources to do so. One commentator put it like this:
A man was telling me about his diet. “It seemed like the Lord spoke to my heart about cutting down,” he said. “But one day, I thought it might be His will that I have a donut. So I asked Him to give me a parking place right in front of the donut shop if it was His will. And sure enough—after only the third time around the block, there one was!”
Maybe some of you are circling around the block right now, saying, “Well, Lord, if You want me to get involved with him…” or “If you want me to go there…” It’ll probably happen because Satan always has a ship ready. But know this: If you’re running from God or trying to rationalize what you know is not His best for you, a storm is sure to follow.
God is merciful and persistent. He will allow or even send a storm to correct your waywardness if necessary. He loves you that much. In love God will go to extremes to assure you experience His best for your life. He disciplines and corrects those He loves (Heb. 12:3-11). It’s when we get away scot free with our rebellion and sin that we should really be concerned.
Third, Jesus uses storms for prevention. The context of this incident is that the people wanted to forcibly take and make Jesus king (John 6:15). Jesus walked away and left before that could happen. One day He would be King on earth (Rev. 20). But before that happened He had to go to the cross and break the power of sin and destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8-10). His kingdom had to be built on His redemptive work. It was a satanically inspired desire to seek to force Jesus prematurely into kingship (cf. Matthew 4:8-10). Sometimes God uses a storm to prevent us from doing something prematurely or out of sync with His will. God uses storms to protect us from premature and presumptuous fleshly plans. Jesus uses storms to prevent us from mistakes and wrong decisions. He uses storms to steer us in the right direction.
Fourth, Jesus uses storms for our spiritual perfection. The word “perfect,” or “perfection” as it is used in scripture (e.g. Phil. 3:13 and 15) refers to spiritual maturity not being sinless. Storms in life are a great instrument to bring us to spiritual perfection or maturity. Peter was inspired to write, “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). This doesn’t mean that physical suffering compensates for spiritual shortcomings or atones for our sins in some way. Only the atoning death of Jesus on the cross accomplishes that (1 Peter 1:18-19). What it does mean is that suffering, trials and storms in life give us a higher perspective, a clearer understanding, a spiritual perfection or more complete perception of life. When you suffer or experience a storm in life you come to know what is REALLY important in life.
When the disciples were on that boat, straining and struggling for their lives in the storm, they were blessed with a greater appreciation of what is truly of greatest importance; survival not a ship; heaven not earth; Jesus not a boat empty of Jesus.
Storms in life are of great value. James said we should actually rejoice when trials come our way (James 1:2ff.). Jesus uses storms to get our attention, for correction, for prevention, and for our spiritual perfection. Remember that when the inevitable storm of life hits. Remember that, and invite Jesus into your life-boat.
No one has to go through a storm alone. “But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” (John 6:20). Jesus has a way of showing up when we’re fearful. He will allow us to work and row. Then, just when we’re at the end of ourselves, just when we’re exhausted and the storm hits, there He is. Jesus knows just when to show up. Jesus’ timing is impeccable. Jesus is never early or late. Jesus is always right on time. That’s why we need to wait on Him. Trust Jesus. “It is I; do not be afraid.” He will show up right on time.
How can we invite Jesus into our life-boat? “Then they willingly received Him into the boat” (John 6:21a). We need to willingly receive Jesus into our life-boat. Jesus presents Himself to us in the storm. If we don’t call out to Him He will walk on by (e.g. Mark 6:48). Jesus will never force Himself on you. He will show up and present Himself to you. But you will have to receive Jesus into your life-boat as an act of your will. The word “willingly” (Greek thelo) means to make a determination, make a choice, to take action. When the disciples experienced the storm and then saw Jesus, they actively reached out to Jesus and “received Him into the boat.” You have to welcome and Jesus by faith into your life situation.
This is not a passive welcoming of Jesus into our life situation. The word “received” (Greek lambano) means to take, to get hold of, to seize. This is an action. By faith when Jesus shows up we have to take hold of Him. Jesus is faithful to show up in the storms of life. We need to take hold of Jesus like a drowning swimmer does their rescuer. That’s what it means to receive Jesus actively by faith.
What happens when we take hold of Jesus in the storm? It states, “and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going” (John 21b). This could be another miracle of Jesus; a miracle of transportation. But I think there’s something else going on here. When you take hold of Jesus and bring Him into your life-boat, with Jesus before you, beside you, the storm is no longer the center of attention. When Jesus is in our life-boat our focus on Him brings us into the eye of the storm. When we focus on Jesus time stops, everything stops; everything pales in comparison to Jesus. When Jesus is with you He gets you to where you’re going and when you arrive it will be as though time flew. When we fix our eyes on Jesus we see things in light of eternity and our experience becomes very immediate. Jesus makes the scary and anxiety producing parts of life pass by “immediately.” Just focus on Jesus and He will get you through. Jesus will get you to where you need to be in God’s plan.
Are you out on the ocean on your own? Has a storm hit you? If so Jesus is where you are and He is ready to get into the boat with you. But you have to receive Him into your boat. You have to take Him and hold onto Him. Put your arms of faith around Jesus and He will gladly come into your life-boat and get you through the storm and to the other side.