Smoke on the Water

“One day Jesus got into a boat with his disciples and said to them, ‘Let’s go across to the other side of the lake.’  So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep.  Now a violent windstorm came down on the lake, and the boat started filling up with water, and they were in danger.  They came and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we are about to die!’  So he got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they died down, and it was calm.  Then he said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’  But they were afraid and amazed, saying to one another, ‘Who then is this?  He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him!” – Luke 8:22-25 (NET)


When Jesus asked them “Where is your faith?” he was asking the same of us who struggle with the Christian blues in the 21st century.  Our lack of understanding of the nature of faith can send us slipping into depression as reliably as anything else.  God’s gift of faith is precious because it’s what separates a believer from the rest of mankind.  That gift is bestowed by our Father via the Holy Spirit once we accept Christ as our savior but it doesn’t mean we fully comprehend what faith really is or how we can draw courage from it.  Which brings us to the incident on the lake.  If a cursory glance is all we give the narrative it might appear to be a contradiction concerning what we know of our Lord.  He’s exhausted so He falls into a deep sleep curled up on a bench in the boat and slumbers on even as a vicious thunderstorm hits.  We all know what it’s like to be so worn out we could snore our way through an earthquake so we can relate to Jesus in this instance.  He’s no different from us.  But then, after being shaken awake, he tells the storm to chill out and immediately “a great calm” ensues.  In that instant it becomes crystal clear to the disciples and to everyone who reads this story that Christ was both Man and God.  As Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “This is the mystery and the marvel of Jesus Christ – God and Man, two natures in One Person, two natures unmixed yet resident in the same Person.”  It’s imperative to point out at this juncture that if you don’t believe Jesus is Lord of all that exists then you may be many things but you’re not a Christian.  He isn’t just a nice fella nor is He some wise sage you can inject into other religions when you need an inspiring quote; He is Emmanuel, literally “God with us.”  The awe-struck men in the boat were right to ask, “Who then is this?”  That’s because there has never been another like Him born to woman and there never will be again.


Having said that, His being both God and Man is not the crux of the tale.  That vital aspect of who Jesus was can be found throughout the Bible so our focus should be centered on the disciples and their dearth of faith.  I, personally, am thankful for those guys.  Every misstep they made was recorded so we could see ourselves in them.  God could’ve given us the good news of the gospel and left it at that but he chose to include accounts like this one so we can connect with the Apostles and their frailties.  In Matthew and Mark it says Jesus called them cowards, letting them have it with both barrels smokin’.  The wind was howling, rain was pelting, waves were crashing and the boat was swamping faster than they could bail.  Seeing that their Master was still off in dreamland, they not-so-gently roused him and, according to Mark, yelled “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re about to die?”  Most would understand if our Lord had done more than “rebuke” them for hurling that crass accusation but He chastised them for another reason entirely.  “Where is your faith?” He asked.  And there’s our first lesson.  It’s wrong for a Christian to lose control and go running around like a headless chicken.  Christ expects us to stand out from non-believers by not being agitated, alarmed or in a frazzled state no matter the situation.  Paul made that clear in Philippians 4 when he wrote, “In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing.  I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.”  The trouble with the disciples was that they had lost all self-control.  No doubt things had looked dreadful but the Lord was not letting them (or us) off the hook.  He insists that we not use a dire predicament as an excuse to lose faith.  The second lesson stems from their not having confidence in Him.  That’s why Jesus was so upset.  After all they’d been through together; after they’d witnessed His incredible miracles they still didn’t trust Him to save their skins.  They, in their panic, were saying “Don’t you even care?”  They even doubted his love for them!  The thing is, we can act exactly like those men when we find ourselves caught in a horrible set of circumstances.  We fly into a tizzy and any observant unbeliever would be justified in thinking, “What good is their Christianity now?  They’ve gone berserk like everyone else has!”


If we dissect the story in detail we can derive great amounts of wisdom.  First, as we look at the reality of “trials of faith” we must do so without flinching.  The Bible is full of examples and in Hebrews 11 you’ll find a great summary of the men and women whose faith was tested by God.  Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob and Moses had to endure trials.  They’re proof positive that God grants us the gift of faith and then puts it to the test.  In 1 Peter 1 we’re told that our trials may be hard to bear but, “Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away – and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  Peter is merely reinforcing a theme that pops up often in the scriptures so we can’t afford to ignore the truth of the matter.  The storms that slam into our lives are allowed by God and if that doesn’t sit well with you then perhaps you’re not ready for what being a Christian entails because the sailing will get rough.  James 1 proclaims “My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”  We must accept that God doesn’t place us inside some kind of protective shell on this earth.  We’re all walking though the same crazy world as everybody else.  Paul goes even farther in Philippians 1, “For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him.”  In John 16 Jesus tells us that “In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage – I have conquered the world.”  In Acts 14 we’re warned that “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.”


If we harbor an unrealistic idea of what’s in store for us as Christians we’ll be tempted, when inevitable troubles show up, to ask “Why is this happening to me?” as if we weren’t forewarned by God’s Word.  Figuratively speaking, the Lord takes a nap and lets the storms roll in.  We may think we’re prepared for hard times but when they arrive we often start thinking that our Savior couldn’t care less about our predicament and that’s when the real trial begins.  For the disciples it was terrifying enough to see their yacht fill with water but the most disturbing thing was Jesus’ apparent unconcern.  They’d left their homes and families to walk in His footsteps and now they were going to drown like rats in the middle of a lake while He snoozed!  We’ve all been in the same boat.  Whether it was the death of a loved one or a divorce or a lost job or rebellious offspring or a natural disaster that wiped us out we’ve looked to the heavens and asked “Aren’t you going to do something about this?”  It may be the #1 question in all of Christianity.  Hundreds of books have been written that address it (Yancey’s “Disappointment with God,” Crabb’s “Shattered Dreams,” and Zacharias’ “Has Christianity Failed You?” are an excellent lot) but the fact remains that God’s plan includes trials of faith, even though it’s not a topic brought up in many pulpits for fear that it’ll run people off.


Since faith is of utmost importance to God we should want to investigate its nature and its character.  The lesson to learn from the story is found in Jesus’ query, “Where is your faith?”  He wasn’t being sarcastic.  He knew they had faith so that wasn’t the issue.  He asked them where it was at the very moment they needed it most.  Obviously, faith isn’t merely a feeling to summon because faith takes up the whole person and that includes one’s mind, intellect and understanding.  Faith is a response to receiving truth.  Another aspect to note is that it isn’t something that kicks in automatically as if triggered by a thermostat.  That may sound ridiculous but many folks think that way.  They assume that when calamity befalls them their faith will arise like a rabbit out of a hat and all will be hunky dory.  If that were the case the disciples wouldn’t have been hanging onto the mast for dear life, pleading for rescue even though God was right there with them.  They would’ve taken the gale in stride.  No, there’s nothing automatic about faith.  So what is faith, exactly?  Faith is an activity, something we must put into gear and exercise.  When Christ asked “Where is your faith?” he was specifically asking the men why they weren’t employing its power and strength in their hour of distress.  “It’s not that easy,” you might retort, “When you’re scared out of your wits you just want to survive.”  Fair enough.  So let’s delve into how we dredge up faith when hope has gone AWOL.


First, we must refuse to let ourselves be controlled by the situation.  The disciples’ emotions were being manipulated by the ferocity of the wind, the waves and the storm.  When things were most perilous our Lord wanted to see them apply their faith to curb their hysteria.  But they didn’t.  In many ways faith is a refusal to lose your head.  That may not seem very spiritual to you but it’s the essence of faith, nonetheless.  Faith is being the eye of the hurricane.  Lloyd-Jones said, “Faith is unbelief kept quiet.”  When terrifying events occur the last thing a Christian should do is go bonkers with fear.  That response won’t improve things, remaining calm will.  At the same time we shouldn’t regard displaying self-control as a sign of resignation.  Waving the white flag is not a demonstration of faith.  Having gotten hold of your nerves and gained a modicum of calm, the next thing to do is remind yourself of what you believe, what you’ve been taught and who you belong to.  The boys in the boat didn’t.  Had they paused to remember who was along for the ride things would’ve been different.  Their Master wasn’t going to let them drown.  They’d seen him do the miraculous.  He’d turned tap water into Chablis.  He’d healed the blind and lame right and left.  He’d even raised the dead, for heaven’s sake!  No way would He let his ministry sink to the sea floor.  If their faith had been in charge it would’ve interjected the all-important “but” that changes everything.  “All seems hopeless right now but I have faith that my Lord is in control and I trust Him without condition.”  Faith holds on to truth with both hands.  That’s how to apply faith.  When hardships arise, and they certainly will, we must say to ourselves, “Yes, it’s bad but…”  But what?  But God!  But Jesus Christ!  Say, “They’re on my side and I won’t let fear rob me of that assurance no matter what.  I don’t understand what’s happening right now but I do know this, I know God loves me so much that, while I was still a sinner, He sent His Son to suffer my punishment so that I’ll spend eternity in His kingdom.”  You might want to sing out like Tom Petty, crooning, “You can stand me up at the gates of hell/but I’ll stand my ground/and I won’t back down!”


If Tom’s a bit too secular for your taste you can turn to Romans 5 and read aloud, ”For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life?  Not only this but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.”  That’s faith in a nutshell and it’ll remind you of what Peter called God’s “precious and most magnificent promises.”  The next step involves applying all that faith to your particular situation.  Jesus was asking his followers, in effect, “Why don’t you focus everything you know about me and what I’ve taught you on this problem?  Don’t you know you’re safe in my everlasting arms?”  That’s what he’s telling all of us.  We must believe without a doubt what we’re told in Romans 8, “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God.”  I’m not saying that everything is going to make perfect sense but you’ll know that your Father in heaven isn’t standing idly by with nary an iota of concern for you.  That’s not how He is.  He’s right there in the boat with you.  If you’re going through an awful stretch you can be certain that He is only permitting it because it’s truly for your own benefit.  Be reassured by a verse in Hebrews 12, “Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful.  But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it.”  In other words, we must pull up our faith and say “I know that God’s not punishing me because He loves me.  Evidently there’s something to be gained from this mess.  What doesn’t kill me will make me stronger.  I will endure and I will learn.”


Finally, I’ll emphasize the value of even the weakest faith.  We dare not come down too hard on the disciples because, in the final analysis, they did turn to Jesus.  They may’ve displayed faith the size of an amoeba but it led them to seek help from the one who cared for them most.  When we fail we should do likewise and, when we do, He won’t conceal his disappointment.  He’ll ask “Where is your faith?”  He’ll express that it would’ve made Him smile to see you brandish your faith like a sword and take a stand against adversity.  But then He’ll open His loving, forgiving arms and hug you.  He’ll bless you and give you serenity.  As He did for the disciples, He’ll grant you the peace you desire in spite of your lack of faith.  He’ll never turn his back on you.  As a result you’ll gain an even greater knowledge of His compassion, His mercy and His grace.  So when the lightning flashes and the thunder roars through your life, call up your faith and view the tempest as an opportunity to prove your trust in and allegiance to Almighty God.  In the process you will glorify Him.  However, if the world and the devil besiege you and they become too much to handle, run to Christ and He will deliver you.  That’s the matchless character of our Lord and Savior.  He never lets go.  Never.



(Inspired by the sermons of Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book, “Spiritual Depression.”)

Debra on the beach


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