When things build up in your life, do you feel like pulling the covers over your head and sleeping it off? Or are you one to throw off the covers and pace in the middle of the night?
Recently when asked on social media how they handle stress, several people responded. Some exercise, others sing, others even admitted they reach for the chocolate candy bar. Not surprisingly, out of almost thirty responses, only two answered, “I pray.” Everyone else tried to handle things on their own.
Jesus’ disciples reacted in a similar way. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 8, they followed Jesus into a boat and headed out on the Sea of Galilee, which was known for its sudden and violent storms. Waves began to rise and the boat started to rock. The disciples started to stress. But not Jesus.
”Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping” (Matthew 8:24).
I don’t think our Lord was trying to relieve stress by snoozing. I believe the point of the story is that he was not stressed, not in the least. He was at perfect peace, the way a baby contently sleeps on her daddy’s shoulder through all sorts of noise and chaos going on around. Jesus had the “no care in the world” sort of rest. Pure peace. Pure trust that he is safe.
In contrast, Jesus’ disciples were in panic mode. Recall that many of them were seasoned fishermen who had been in these rough waters many times. But that didn’t matter. Their first instinct was to become anxious even though they had traveled with and been in close proximity to their Lord for two or more years.
They did do something correctly. They called on Jesus when the waves began to slosh over their stern. But what happened before that when the tempest began to brew? Were they at first hesitant to disturb him, thinking he needed his rest after a long day of preaching and healing? Did they first try to do things themselves, thinking that, of course, they could, only to discover they were literally over their heads with trouble? Maybe these responses all happened. Scripture doesn’t tell us. But eventually they woke Jesus and told him they were afraid of drowning. He calmed the storm, thus calming them.
I can relate to these men, can’t you? There have been times I was sure I could handle the pressure on my own. Other times I felt odd about disturbing Jesus with my problems when so many others had such comparably bigger ones. And though I’d like to think I walk with him daily, when it comes to stress building in my life, I have often not turned to him first, but instead have waited until the pressure feels like an over-inflated balloon about to pop. In other words, turning to God became my last resort. But I did eventually cry out for Abba Father to help me, just as the disciples did. The element of trust was present, just temporarily masked by my anxiousness.
In his contemporary Christian song,, Scott Krippayne sings that Jesus has the ability to calm the storm, as he did for his disciples, but that he may just calm his child in the middle of the storm. I have experienced the latter more often than the first. How about you?
I once heard that the exhortation not to be anxious (phrased in a variety of ways), is mentioned 365 times in the Bible, one for each day.
If true, perhaps it is an indication that our Lord knows we humans have a tendency to dive into stress mode instead of seeking his peace. So, I try not to stress out over my tendency to get stressed. It just stems from my humanity. Instead, I tell myself, and God, I’ll do better next time. Little by little I am beginning to choose peace first.
Finding peace in the midst of the storm isn’t easy. But each time I decide to consciously turn off the panic button and instead turn to Jesus, I experience peacefulness coating me like thick maple syrup dripping over a stack of pancakes, seeping inside and sweetening them as it flows. When I choose not to let panic win, then I discover I am more in tune to God’s whispers of love and assurance. He bolsters me, and his strength wraps my weakness like a sport bandage around a frail muscle. As Paul states, "That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 2:10).
You’d think I’d choose peace over panic each and every time. I wish I did. I am getting there though; the peace is coming quicker and easier. Perhaps one day I will be more like Jesus and be able to sleep soundly through the storms of stress!
Here is a prayer for you (and me) to pursue the peace of Christ today:
Thank you Lord that you are patient with us who are slow to learn how to seek your peace and instead are quick to stress. Thank you for the times you calm the storms in our lives, or choose instead to calm us so we can rest in your love, no matter what chaotic waves are lapping at our lives. Thank you that we can turn to you and trust in your care. Amen.