There once was a man who dreamed he was at the end of his life. He saw his life as if it were a walk along a beach with Jesus. As he looked back over his life he saw two sets of footprints in the sand along most of the way – one set belonging to him, the other to Jesus. He noticed, though, that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints in the sand. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.
This really bothered the man, and he questioned the Lord about it. “Lord, You said that You would never leave me nor forsake me. You said that once I decided to follow You, You’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most difficult times in my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You most, You would leave me.”
Jesus replied, “My son, I want you to know that I love you and that I would never leave you. Look again at those footprints. During your times of trouble and suffering, the footprints you saw were Mine. I was carrying you.”
Today’s Gospel reading shows us that the Lord is with us through times of trial… or when the storms of life get to be too much to handle. Whether He calms the storm as he did for the disciples, or asks us to let him walk through the storm with us, as Paul talks of in 2 Corinthians, or gives us the strength to fight against it, as He did for David while up against Goliath; he is always with us. He does not ignore the cry of the afflicted.
Jesus Calms the Storm
Imagine with me for a moment you’re living during the time of Jesus. You’re a disciple and you’re getting into a boat with Jesus to cross this huge lake. My guess is that the boats were probably nothing like we have today. The boat by itself was a lot less trustworthy, I’m assuming. All of the sudden this storm creeps up on you and your little boat is getting tossed around like a rubber ducky in a bathtub. You look to your leader and what is he doing? Sleeping. I don’t know about you, but I think I’d be a bit frightened. So, one of your fellow… and very brave… disciples wakes up Jesus and says, “Um Teacher, do you not care if we drown?” Jesus gets up, rebukes the wind and says to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind dies down and everything is completely calm.
In the Old Testament, raging waters were a symbol for chaos and ominous power. In Psalm 89 the Psalmist confirms that God rules over the sea and that when the waves mount up (or present danger and chaos) God stills them.
What is it that most of us do in the face of chaos in our lives? I will venture to guess that we try to fix the problem all by ourselves. Sure maybe we can manage for a while, but ultimately it doesn’t fix anything. When the disciples were facing the raging waters of that sea, did they try to navigate on their own and just let Jesus sleep? No! The immediate response was to wake Jesus up and say, “Help us, Teacher! Do you not care if we drown?” Now, Jesus responded by calming the storm, yet then he said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Let’s look at this for a minute: disciples had little faith, yet Jesus still calmed the storm. The disciples had little faith, yet Jesus still calmed the storm. I am not suggesting that we should settle for having little faith, but it sure is comforting to know that even when our faith isn’t up to speed with the Lord, He still calms the storms. As we stated in our call to worship from Psalm 9; He does not ignore the cry of the afflicted.
Okay, so maybe you’re thinking: Sure, the Lord calms the storms of life… then how come it seems like He’s sleeping during this storm I’m going through right now? Many times in the Bible we see that the Lord does walk with us. The first indication of this that comes to my mind is in Psalm 23, David writes, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” As indicated in 2 Cor. 6, it’s a fact of life that things are going to happen to us that are uncomfortable, chaotic, and that give us a feeling of hopelessness. Paul refers to some very specific things and I think we can all find one or two that we can personally relate to. He mentions troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard labor, sleepless nights, hunger, dishonor, sorrowful feelings and so on. Sometimes God just allows us to go through these things. But there is a promise that we receive that says that He will be with us through those times. Prior to this list Paul quotes from Isaiah saying, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” Paul follows this by saying, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” He’s saying that God is here to help us now. Maybe He didn’t calm that storm that you went through last week. But He sure was there to be the rod and the staff of comfort. I’m sure that many of us are able to look back on our lives and see those specific times when the Lord was with us. Sometimes that’s just the way that it works, it may seem like the Lord is sleeping in His boat; but truthfully He is right there beside us or carrying us through.
I know of a Christian woman who went through 2 and a half years of an abusive relationship with a boyfriend. It wasn’t until that relationship was over with that she could look back and name specifically all of the times that the Lord was right there with her. He had protected her from any more damage than what had already been caused and had brought other people in her life to comfort her. I think that happens to all of us at some point in life. We feel battered and bruised by the waves of the storm, but when we careful look back there are obvious times when the Lord was right by our side. AND we may have actually learned some valuable lesson that otherwise may have not been learned.
Ever been listening to the radio or watching the television and all of the sudden you hear. “This is a message from the Emergency Broadcast System. The following is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. In the event of a real emergency important information from you local news and weather would follow. Remember this is only a test.” And then comes that dreaded noise that we all immediately turn off. Those things are so annoying!! Think about it though, if we didn’t experience that test, we wouldn’t be prepared in the event of a real emergency. Sometimes we face trials in life as a test of our faith. It’s a way for God to see if we’re ready for the bigger emergencies of life. Let’s look at the story of David and Goliath. Goliath, a Philistine has made an attack on the Israelites. He’s a giant man, over nine feet tall, with all this heavy armor on ready to fight an Israelite. King Saul and all his men are terrified of Goliath. Three of David’s brothers get to go out to this battle, but David has to stay back and tend to the sheep. For forty days Goliath comes out to fight, yet none of the Israelites would go up against him. One day David is asked to take food to his brothers at their camp. He sees what is taking place and tells Saul that he will fight the Philistine. Saul tries to discourage him, saying that he’s too young and too small to fight Goliath. David replies by saying that the Lord will be with him. He recognizes that the Lord has always been with him in times of trouble and will be this time too. With that faith he goes out and kills Goliath with a single stone. He passed the test, and as you read on you see that God eventually makes David the king of Israel. God is going to test us.
When I looked up the word “trial” in Harper’s Bible Dictionary it referred me to “temptation”. I thought, “Temptation? What does that have to do with the trials of life.” Well, I found the answer. Temptation is generally regarded as an enticement to do evil. It is also used in the Bible to convey another message. It is that of “testing” or “proving by testing”, to determine the depth of one’s commitment to God. For example when God commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice and also in the testing of Job. Many times in the New Testament some of the writers thought of persecution as a “testing” in this manner. The intent of this testing is to ultimately strengthen the person’s faith and devotion to God.
So, sometimes, just as in the case of Abraham and Job God will test our faith and devotion. These are considered storms in life as well. I’m sure it was no walk in the park for Abraham to willingly give his son as a sacrifice, nor was it for Job to face every test that was put to him. But also keep in mind that God never tests us beyond what we can handle. After enduring these trials, He provides a way out. David had the faith that he needed and God gave him the ingenuity and strength to go against Goliath. Abraham didn’t have to sacrifice Isaac and Job was given back everything that he has lost and then some. The Lord really blessed his life after all that he had gone through.
So, no matter what, through the storms of life the Lord is doing something. He’s either testing our faith and devotion, helping us through to teach us and guide us, or He knows we can’t handle it and will rebuke the wind and say to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!”
Maybe your boat hasn’t been rocked, maybe it has. Maybe your Goliath isn’t nine feet tall and really scary looking, maybe he is. Whatever the circumstances of your storm, we can be assured that the Lord is doing something. He does not ignore the cry of the afflicted.
The Barcelona Olympics of 1992 provided one of track and field’s most incredible moments. Britain’s Derek Redmond had dreamed all his life of winning a gold medal in the 400-meter race, and his dream was in sight as the gun sounded in the semifinals at Barcelona. He was running the race of his life and could see the finish line as he rounded the turn into the backstretch. Suddenly he felt a sharp pain go up the back of his leg. He fell face first onto the track with a torn right hamstring.
As the medical attendants were approaching, Redmond fought to his feet. “It was animal instinct,” he would say later. He set out hopping, in a crazed attempt to finish the race. When he reached the stretch, a large man in a T-shirt came out of the stands, hurled aside a security guard and ran to Redmond, embracing him. The man was Jim Redmond, Derek’s father. “You don’t have to do this,” he told his weeping son. “Yes, I do,” said Derek. “Well, then,” said Jim, “we’re going to finish this together.”
And they did. Fighting off security men, the son’s head sometimes buried in his father’s shoulder, they stayed in Derek’s lane all the way to the end, as the crowd gaped, then rose and howled and wept.
That’s what God does for us. When we are experiencing pain and we’re struggling to finish the race, we can be confident that we have a loving Father who won’t let us do it alone. He left His place in heaven to come alongside us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.