Once upon a time, a group of friends were travelling from one town to another. They were like loyal groupies for a rock star, but instead of driving a roadie van they decided to take a boat. These groupies were on the boat talking about last night’s show, and looking forward to tonight’s; new town, new show. It was going to be epic.
But there was a small problem. That gentle breeze behind their boat had turned into a gale, and all of a sudden it was filling with water and losing buoyancy fast. The boat was sinking. They weren’t going to make it to the next show.
They were going to drown.
So they freaked out. At Jesus.
Because he happened to be on the boat with them.
The only thing was that Jesus’ head was cushioned comfortably on a soggy pillow, sleeping ten times deeper than my children ever have.
The groupie friends frantically woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
But Jesus didn’t save them, at least not right away. First, he scolded them for having only tiny faith. To me, that seems unfair.
These friends knew this sea well. They either lived on it or beside it, either catching the fish or buying them, witnessing the fishing tales or hearing them dramatized over a few drinks. They knew the stories. They knew the dangers. They knew the life. They knew the drill.
Their fear response was real. It was learned from a life by the sea. They all knew there were no exceptions to a boat this swamped in a storm so severe. Lived experience told every single one of them there was no escaping this.
Their nervous system had been trained from lifelong collective wisdom to panic in a situation like this.
They were scared, anxious, overwhelmed, and about to suffer greatly; isn’t that a great time to ask Jesus for help?
It wasn’t that they asked for help, it was how they asked for help that revealed their lack of faith.
This group of misfits were the disciples that Jesus had invited to follow him. They rightly called Jesus ‘Lord’ and begged him to save them.
They knew his goodness and power enough to cry to him for help, rather than one of the pantheons of local gods.
So far, so good.
It seems that where they err is after the initial ask. They finish their prayer with predicting the outcome; they are asking for help, but still claiming they are going to drown. In telling Jesus how their situation was going to end, they are negating his divinity and authority. They don’t see room for God to change the outcome.
You can’t believe in God’s authority over nature at the same time telling Him that it’s going to take your life. And it’s for this ending that Jesus weighs out their faith as unsubstantial.
What, then, was Jesus expecting in their cry for help? What else could they have said in their scared, anxious, overwhelmed desperation?
Let’s look to King David – the shepherd boy, giant slayer, glaring mistake-maker that God himself claimed to be a man after his heart.
King David knew what it felt like to drown. Anxiety and overwhelm do that.
He often poetically phrased his suffering as flood waters engulfing him, being worn out from calling for help. His eyes were failing looking for his God.
Jesus was right in the boat with the disciples, but I think they felt similar to David. I think we all do. We let the overwhelming external circumstances override God’s promise of proximity. We feel alone. We perceive God as sleeping on our pain. Not waking up to hear our need.
Even though he’s right there in the bottom of the boat getting drenched along with us.
What prayer would Jesus have counted as faith?
What should our prayer be in suffering?
While the disciples said, ‘We are going to drown,’ David said, ‘do not let me sink.’
And then David goes on to say, “I will glorify God with thanksgiving. You who seek God, may your hearts live! The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people. Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them, for God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah.”
Same suffering. Next breath.
David never doubts God’s goodness, he never questions God’s love.
David calls for justice – not just for him but for his suffering nation.
David continually makes the willful choice to praise God. Because he knows He is good and remains unshakably assured of His love.
And he is certain of the outcome of his present pain: justice, comfort and a rich rebuilding of all that was lost – not just for him but for his entire nation.
Despite his circumstances. Beyond all reason.
And that is what Jesus must count as faith. This must have been what he was expecting from his disciples. Not doubting His character, seeing beyond our own pain to the pain of others, and singing of His goodness even if it feels like He’s sleeping.
In a killer virus.
In economic strain.
In racial tension.
In natural disasters.
In famine and plague.
In a world gone wild.
Yes, ask God to save you. To save you, your friends, and your nation. But then continue on in your prayer as if he already has.
Because He will. Because He is Good.
Compassionate. Authoritative. Unchangeable.
Because He is God.
Lord, hear our prayer.
Scriptures referenced: Matthew 8, Mark 4, Psalm 69