Friday, July 10, 2009

Storms, Boats and Sleepers

Someone commented recently on Jesus’ ability to sleep in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee during a terrible storm that He “could sleep because, in His world, there are no storms."

Sounds good, but Jesus was in our world. Of course there were storms in Jesus' world because He was in our world! That was the point of Him being here. He was here as a human being to show God's people what is possible for human beings in this realm. We may progress in our faith that we too can walk fully trusting in God as He did but this is a journey of experience, not just a set of faith principles.

The thing that concerns me about this statement is that no one should think that a denial of the existence of storms is truly what was meant by “resting” in the midst of storms. That only works until the storm bursts through our self-deception.

I have been in the ‘faith movement' long enough to know that too many think faith is the focal point, and that living the successful Christian life is mostly just a matter of thinking rightly. Having faith and speaking faith are wonderful foundational truths but the pit fall is that many people put their faith in their own faith. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. So we believe what the word of God says and our belief becomes trust that grows out of our experience with God’s faithfulness. Our faith is in God, not in faith.

There may be no storms in Heaven, but in this world, brother, there are storms! Even Jesus experienced storms. Hebrews 2:17-18 says, Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren....For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.

If there were no real storms to test His 'mettle' then in that way Jesus was not like us. I believe He was like us in every human way otherwise we could not follow in His example. He would have an advantage that we could never rise to. He was made like us so we could see an example of what we can become.

When we understand that His purpose in coming into our world as a “son of man” was to show us what is possible if we allow ourselves to be transformed in His likeness - that changes things! How we look at things changes – including how we look at the things which we suffer and the storms that come against us in life.

Jesus could sleep in the boat during a terrible storm because He was fully persuaded that God had sent Him here with a mission that would be fulfilled. No storm in hell could prevent Him from fulfilling that mission.

I don’t think we appreciate enough how Jesus grew up even in the things of God as a “son of man”. I don’t believe He entered this world all-knowing, but that Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. We should not mistake the point that Jesus came to live like us and be like us in all of the experiences of human life.

In the incident in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve and had stayed behind listening and asking questions of the teachers in the temple, when his parents confronted him frightened and anxious at having lost him, it says that he went back to Nazareth with them and “was subject to them.” He had answered them that He must be about His Father’s business, but He wasn’t teaching in the temple, He was there learning and asking questions of the teachers of the Word of God.

He was submitted to his earthly parents and human teachers as any normal boy, a true “son of man.” I believe that Jesus learned from the scriptures what His destiny in this world was. He learned like we learn from the word of God and from the storms of human life.

Storms of Life God's Teaching Tools

Even though the four gospels do not speak many details of Jesus’ youth, he undoubtedly experienced the normal ‘storms’ of a human life. How about the storm of being known as a “bastard” child? I am purposely not sugar-coating that word because it was probably not sugar-coated in his life growing up. Jesus probably heard himself called that more than once or twice.

Even Joseph, if he had not been visited by an angel telling him it was okay to stay with the Spirit-impregnated Miriam, would have “put her away secretly” “not wanting to make her a public example.”

There is not a lot of detail about Joseph’s influence on Jesus life but we do know he acted as a true father to Him, and to Jesus' brothers and sisters. We know that Joseph taught his a son the trade of carpentry, a time honored tradition of fathers giving sons training in how to make a living. However, by the time Jesus entered His ministry at there is no more mention of Joseph and it is likely because Joseph had already died. That is a storm in the life of any son at any age, much less a son under the age of thirty.

Scripture says that Jesus learned obedience from the things which He suffered. Not just the things that He suffered at the end of His life, but the things He suffered throughout His life. Like all of us, Jesus learned obedience as a “son of man”. He was not only the “Son of God" but truly a "son of man."

That Jesus could sleep in the boat during the midst of a terrifying Sea of Galilee storm does not mean that He entered this world ‘above it all’. What good would the faith He was modeling to us be if that were the case?

And no one can really fake faith like that. We might be able to fake being ‘above’ all the smaller storms of life, but there is a 'perfect storm' that will show up in all of our lives if we are just faking it. Faith has to be real and to be real it has to spring from trust. That kind of faith is built on believing what God’s Word says and seeing the trust-worthiness of God demonstrated in our journey of life.

Jesus was not just dropped down into our world knowing everything from the start to the finish. He had purposely laid all-knowing-ness aside in order to learn as we do - being made like unto us in all things “that He might be a merciful and faith high priest in things pertaining to God.”

He learned God’s plan for His life the same as we do, through the scriptures,
which He said in John 5:39 “the scriptures…and these are they which testify of Me.”

Jesus was able to sleep in the boat because He had seen in the scripture what was written of Him. He knew his death was not going to come in an accidental boat capsizing, but it would come as the sacrificial lamb of Pesach/Passover. He could sleep because He knew God was not going to let a storm interrupt the plan that was conceived before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8).

Paul’s stormy boat ride

We can see the same attitude in the apostle Paul when the boat that was bringing him in chains to Rome after being arrested in Jerusalem was shipwrecked in the Adriatic Sea (Acts 27). Paul knew he had a destiny – a specific mission from God that he was going to carry out, so no shipwreck could claim his life.

After the ship was broken up on the reef and all the people on the vessel safely made it to the shore of an island, Paul’s faith would again be tested by facing certain death. As he gathered wood on the beach for a bonfire and a highly poisonous snake bit him, Paul could just shake it off because he had a specific word of the Lord of God’s purpose for him in Rome. Nothing from hell or on earth could cut him off from completing his destiny.

The thing is that we grow into trusting God through experience. We come to know what God's purposes are for us and the things we are destined for that hell cannot cut off. We don't get there without lots of experiences which grow our understanding and trust of God - and we sure don't get there in denial that storms exist (or that snake bites can be deadly)! I have seen this approach in the faith movement over the past few decades and it is something that has shipwrecked the faith of many because in this world, there are storms.

If we don't know how to process the storms that hit our lives - if we don't know that there is purpose for our good in the storms and it doesn't just mean that 'our faith wasn't strong enough' or God doesn't care - then storms will be able to wipe us out. Storms will be able to shipwreck our faith if we have the expectation that our lives are supposed to sail along in a storm-less sea. Our faith is not in our faith, our faith is in God.

Paul did not always sleep peacefully in the bottom of a storm tossed boat. He not only learned to trust God for his safety, but he also received a specific word of the Lord that the ship was not going down. Paul was a great man of faith, but he grew into that just like the rest of us. He wrote in 2 Cor 1: 8-9:

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, 10 who delivered us from so great a death ..."

Paul LEARNED through the storms in his life to not trust in himself but in God....and that "no weapon formed against him could prosper" because the Lord had spoken to him a destiny to fulfill.

All the storms pointed to Paul's mission

So by the time that Paul was carrying the contributions from the churches to the Israeli Body of Messiah in Jerusalem (Acts 20), all the prophets along the trip were prophesying warnings to him that he would be arrested in Jerusalem. I believe this is where Paul's trust in God to take care of him was finally perfected. This is where he underwent the major test of trust in God with his life. Would he trust and press in despite the danger or drawback to safety?

Imagine that - every prophetic person he ran into was saying, 'Paul! Don't go! They are going to put you in chains - I am seeing it in the Spirit.'

But Paul told them, 'Quit making me cry. I am bound by the Spirit to complete this journey, to fulfill this mission no matter what anyone sees awaiting me. This is my destiny in the Lord; this is my mission directly from the Lord. Can I be turned from fulfilling it just because it will mean arrest and chains on my legs?'

How could Paul be so certain? Remember what he said to the sailors when they all feared for their life because the storm was so great against the ship?

Acts 27:22-24 And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, [none other than Jesus] Saying, Fear not, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God has given you all them that sail with you.

Paul could have confidence and trust because he had a direct promise of the Lord about his mission. Anything that appeared threatening to him, he could view in light of that word of the Lord. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Even our ability to really hear when God is speaking specifically to us from His word is a God-initiated gift.

Paul was not pretending the threat did not exist, but he understood that the mission he had been given could not be cut off no matter how threatening things looked. He trusted that God was able to keep him safe.

Paul's salvation experience did not make him an automatic ‘Super-Faith Man’. Look at all the things that happened to him during his ministry; these are what brought Paul to that level of trusting God at His Word. As he writes in his own words:

2 Cor 11:23-28 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.

What faith preachers today give that kind of confession? Doesn’t sound like much of a victory walk! But Paul was not ashamed of all these terrible trials that befell him. It was what he had to go through to develop the faith it would take for him to carry out the ultimate purposes of God without backing away from the dangers.

Jesus had the same options as Paul and His example was to answer, “Father, if You be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but Yours, be done.”

It was not a trouble-free life Paul lived in service to the Lord, but in his journey of faith Paul was learning that he could trust God's hand on him for good. In being a partaker of “the fellowship of the sufferings” of Jesus, Paul also learned to trust that nothing could snuff him out before he accomplished all that the LORD had spoken for him to accomplish.

I believe that when Paul made that last trip to Jerusalem, and all along the way prophets were telling him the awful things that awaited him and advising him not to go, I believe that journey was Paul's last great test of faith. Was Paul locked into God's purposes for his life, or would he retreat to a safer place? When he remained "bound by the Spirit" to go to Jerusalem despite the warnings, Paul locked into a level of faith most of us have not heard many testimonies about in our great faith gatherings.

It was not unlike the same thing that Jesus experienced. In one place Jesus said would not be going up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn 7:6, 8) telling His disciples: "for my time is not yet full come."

How did He know that? He knew He was to become the sacrificial Lamb during the Passover Feast. This Feast of Tabernacles was not the time for Him to be delivered over to any threat against Him in Jerusalem. Notice, He did not put Himself presumptuously into life-threatening situations before his time. But how did Jesus know?

Jesus understood that it was death that waited for Him in Jerusalem but it was according to God's timing and that involved the Passover, not Tabernacles. He didn't move in presumption and He did not move in fear. Until His time had fully come, He trusted God in the situations that came upon Him, and He skirted walking prematurely into situations before God's timing.

When His time was approaching, Jesus knew and began preparing His inner circle for it, telling them "My time is at hand." (Mt 26:10) Jesus was coming to fulfill His purpose which was to die for the sins of the world. Until that time arrived, He could sleep in the boat during a storm with peace because He knew that was not the way His 'time' would unfold or be fulfilled. He knew there was a storm, but He also knew that there was no way any storm was going to take His life and snatch Him from the sacrificial death He would willing give Himself to.

Same way the mob in Nazareth that tried to push Him off a cliff posed no terror for Him. The townspeople were so crazed in a mob mentality that they pushed Him all the way from the synagogue to the edge of the cliff outside of town and when they got there, He walked back through them as if He was just another person in the crowd and not the one they were all trying to kill!

Jesus could have peace because He knew God did not send Him into the world to die like that on the very first day His public ministry began. He lived for God's purpose and no purpose but God's could stop Him.

Jesus knew this the same way Daniel was able to "hear" what Jeremiah's prophecy meant, hearing by the word of God (Dan 9:2),

“I, Daniel, understood by the books(scripture) the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.”

Jesus understood through studying the scripture and asking questions of the teachers, what God’s plan was for Him, just as Daniel understood the prophetic destiny of Jerusalem. As we hear the word of God, God quickens the word to us. It was the same operation in Jesus' life as it is in ours.

Like Paul, if we are going to fulfill our highest purposes in God, we are going to go through the kinds of 'storms' that leave us feeling like we have a sentence of death on our lives. We may experience being beat up and left for dead - if not physically, then emotionally. But there is purpose to every season of suffering we go through and the purpose is exactly what Paul said it was: that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God.

The scripture says that even Jesus learned obedience to God through the things which He suffered. We are not greater than our Master.

We do not pretend that the storm is not beating against us, but our experiences of God's salvation in all the storms of our lives will bring us to a place our highest level of trust in Him. When bad things happen to us in life, we can come out on the other side spiritually strengthened with deeper knowledge that God loves us and has faithfully watched over us with loving care. These storms are meant to work in us "an eternal weight of glory" if we will but believe and trust God , clinging to His purposes for us.

Jesus said that He would give us peace in the midst of the storm, not that He would give us peace without any storms. There are storms in this world, but He said, "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

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