Not If, But When by Rob Haynes
I live in an area that is susceptible to hurricanes and other tropical weather. Frequently, when my neighbors and I talk about these big storms, you will hear the phrase, “Not if but when the storm comes…” Throughout the year we prepare our homes, our churches, and our businesses to face the wrath of the storms that will eventually come our way. Like millions of other people who live in such areas, we make these plans year after year. Some may say that we should just move away, but aren’t all of us exposed to natural disasters of other types in some way?
In many ways, the Christian life is like this. Even though we may follow Jesus closely, and do exactly what we are told to do, we will still find ourselves in the midst of the storm sometimes. In those storms, Jesus calls us to even deeper expressions of faith. In Matthew 14, we see the record of when Jesus called Peter to step out of the boat and walk on the water of the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm. While the miracle of walking on water is significant, if we take a look at some of the other points in the account, we can see ways that we can follow Christ in the midst of the storms that come our way.
It’s important to embrace the fact that even when we follow Jesus closely, we are not immune from difficulties and trials. Matthew’s gospel tells us that the disciples were caught in a raging storm even though they were doing exactly what they had been instructed to do. In verse 22, we see that Jesus commanded them to cross the Sea of Galilee. These travelers in the boat were not wayward followers. Rather, they were faithful to follow Jesus’ command. Yet, they were still caught in a storm and had been working for hours, straining against the winds and the waves. They were struggling and most likely exhausted. I wonder if they were questioning how they got into such a difficult situation. Did Jesus know what they were getting into? Did he put them in this storm on purpose?
When the disciples saw Jesus in the storm, they couldn’t quite figure out who he was or what he was doing. Jesus doesn’t condemn them for that. Rather, he tells them to take heart and to not be afraid. He says, “It is I.” Well, at least in many English translations that is what he says. In the Greek text, Jesus says, “I AM.” By using these words, he echoes the Old Testament record of God’s appearance to Moses. When Moses asks for God’s Name, he simply answers, “I AM.” Jesus is telling the disciples ‘I am God; you are not alone.’ He doesn’t give them reasons for why they shouldn’t be afraid by saying things like, “I can calm this storm.” Or “I can walk on water.” Rather he tells them that the LORD, the Great I AM is right here. Jesus is saying, “I AM everything you are looking for and everything you need.”
Then comes the apex of the story for many: Peter’s reply is “IF it is you…” In the minds of many people at this time, there was no doubt that God could give someone the ability to walk on water. The question was: Did God give Jesus that ability? Is this God before me? Peter’s request seems to be more like, “If it is you, pick me over everyone else to come out there.” Peter has a habit of wanting to be picked first over the rest.
Place yourself in the picture for just a moment. Where are you? Are you, like Peter, wanting to get to do the special things? Sometimes, you just have to get out of the boat. Are you sitting in the back of the boat, wishing you had said something? Are you hiding and hoping Jesus doesn’t call you to get out of the boat? Notice once again, that Peter is doing exactly what he is supposed to be doing, but the storm is still blowing. Even the boldest acts of obedience do not guarantee the absence of trials and tribulations.
When Peter was walking on the waves to Jesus, he made the mistake of taking his eyes off of the one who had just assured them that I AM. When he focused on the storm he was filled with doubt. This is easy to do in the storms of life. We may doubt that God has called us, that God is with us, that God is looking out for you, or that God knows what he is doing. So, you try to help God out. This passage reminds us that even in the midst of the storm, even in the midst of our doubts, God still has our hand we call out to him. No need to help him out.
However, if we only focus on the storm, we will lose sight of Jesus. When storms come your way, do you fret and dwell upon them? Or do you look for other ways that God may be working in the situation? Rather than focus on the rain and the wind blowing all around, the call of the Christ is to focus on the presence of God.
I find it fascinating that it is only when Jesus is in the boat does the storm calm down. Then everyone in the boat worshiped him. This isn’t just praise, but full-fledged worship. They confess, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
Those who first proclaimed the Good News of the Risen Christ in Jerusalem, Judea, and through the earth were witness to the storm and to the One who was with them in the storm. What are the storms you are going through? What are the storms you have been through? How can God use those storms, and His presence with you in the midst of them to make a difference in someone else’s life?
Sometimes, showing and sharing the love of Jesus with someone is walking through difficult situations with them. Sometimes it is inviting others to worship Jesus with you in the middle of life’s storms. Or it may be bearing witness to the faithfulness of God’s presence in any storm. Even in the Christian life it is not a matter of if, but of when. May the great I AM find us looking to him in any storm.