Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stillness: Peace

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4.39)

Leaving the Crowd Behind

It’s an unusually arduous day for Jesus. His sits for hours beside the Sea of Galilee explaining profound concepts to common folk. As always, He brings elusive ideas within reach by telling stories. Over the course of several hours, he talks about farmers, growing crops, lamplight, mustard seeds, and many similar parables (Mark 4.33) Day fades into twilight and two matters press Him. First, He needs time alone with the disciples to explain His teaching fully, without the metaphorical layers. Second, He needs to rest. But the crowd isn’t budging, and if He tries to end the discussion by walking away, they’ll no doubt follow Him. Jesus suggests He and the disciples sail across the lake. Verse 36 reads, “Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat.” Yet apparently that’s not enough to shake the crowd, because Mark adds, “There were also other boats with him.”

We like the image of an indefatigable, celebrity Jesus, surrounded by admirers, always poised, always generous with His time and attention, always sensitive to the needs of those around Him. When we look closely at the Gospels, however, we discover these pictures are less than accurate. (Basically, they’re well-intentioned Sunday-school p.r.) The Gospels present Jesus as an astutely self-possessed teacher Who balances public demands with personal responsibility. He never indulges the crowd at the expense of time for Himself and His disciples. He knows His physical limits. In this case, teaching into the night would likely produce diminished returns. Jesus is tired. He’s got a few hours of private instruction ahead of Him while what He’s just taught remains fresh in the disciples’ minds. It’s time to move on. Mark’s inclusion of the phrase “just as He was” smacks of urgency. The disciples don’t pause to hold sidebar conversations or pick up supplies for the trip. They don’t wait for Jesus to change clothes. They hustle Him onto the boat and push off, leaving the crowd behind.

When the Crowd Won’t Leave

Jesus boards the vessel, finds a pillow, curls up, and goes to sleep. On a physical level, He’s probably unaware the crowd ignores His need for privacy and forms a flotilla. On the other hand, His divine nature seems alert to this. A furious squall erupts and—as Mark makes no further mention of them—it evidently causes the other boats to head back to shore. But, ever so subtly, Mark hints when the disciples, many of them seasoned sailors, get caught unawares by the storm, they suspect Jesus has something to do with it. In verse 38, they wake Jesus up and ask Him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”—not, “Wake up and save us, Jesus!” but, “Don’t You care?” They don't realize the storm proves He does care.

That’s the fascinating wrinkle in this story. When the crowd won’t leave Jesus and the disciples in peace, divine providence raises a storm. Most people presume the tempest is a meteorological anomaly, a freak of nature. Yet it’s more apt, I think, to assume it’s a legitimate act of God, a definitive move on His part to stir up untimely chaos in order to create time for stillness. While the storm rocks the boat and fills it with water, Jesus sleeps. After the disciples awaken Him, He stands up, rebukes the wind, and tells the waves, “Be still!” It is not far-fetched to believe the power He exhibits to quiet the storm also reveals His power to cause it. The sudden peace Jesus brings to the situation stuns the disciples. In verse 41, Mark says this is a side of Him they’ve never seen: “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”

Master of the Sea

There’s something else wound into their terror, though. Once Jesus rebukes the storm, He issues them a stinging rebuke also. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” He asks. (v40) First, they should know not to fear anything since Jesus is with them. In John 16.33, He says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” The disciples should have no doubt their peace and safety is assured. Second, their alarm belies lack of confidence in Christ’s authority over all circumstances. They’ve no reason to fear the storm. They’ve certainly no reason to fear His power. As all of what’s transpired congeals in their minds, surely their mindless fear frightens them most of all.

Putting all of this together, what do we get? Times come to leave the crowd behind and attend to more urgent matters. We are human. We grow weary. We need rest. We need privacy to listen to what more Christ has to teach us. We need stillnesspeace. Yet the more closely we follow Jesus, the more like Him we become, and the more others want to be near us. Leaving the crowd to find stillness becomes a problem when the crowd won’t leave. So it is when our need for peace reaches critical levels, unexpected storms often enter our lives to free us of people asking more than we can give. But we’re far from alone. The Master of the Sea rests nearby. Our safety is secure. Whether we cry for help or He arises on His own, He will speak peace to our storm. The rest and time we seek with Him will come. Stillness will happen.

Please comment: How do we know our need for peace has reached a critical point?

Unexpected storms often enter our lives to create stillness we need.

(Tomorrow: Still-Ness: Persistence)


Anonymous said...

"The Master of the Sea rests nearby." - How beautiful is that!? In my minds eye, I saw a big, bold SELAH after that line. Sometimes your words grab me...

As for the question you pose: Every once in a while, I am so busy and doing more, more, more and more and it starts to dawn on me that I'm attempting to fill holes to no avail. Then I have to check myself and figure out what I'm missing that causing these holes I'm trying to fill with "shiny" stuff so that I can fill them with what's really missing. (Made more sense in my head than out.)

Tim said...

Jake, as I've said here, at your place, and other sites, these shiny things keep the crowd with us. They rob our peace. We get all wrapped up in the little stuff in everyone's life that we lose sight we need to rest and reflect. Sometimes the very things we need to get away from create the storm!

Thanks for this. You're so right--the more, more, more syndrome always ends up leaving us with less!

Blessings my friend,

Annette said...

This is one of my favorite stories from The New Testament. The thought occurred to me as I read it through your descriptions that just as Christ was with the disciples at that moment, he is with us during our storms. He asked them about their faith...as a message to us, I think. Do we truly believe that he is with us always? Because if we do, we have nothing to be afraid of. It questions our faith...appropriately.

To answer your question (kind of), I tend to believe that God allows things happen naturally to us versus making them happen. But your thoughts on this strike me...I find that when the storm comes, and pulling back from "the world" is necessary, that's when I find the most peace, joy, love, support, friendship, etc. Or is it that I appreciate it more...thus making the storm a necessary tool? Not sure.

But I am sure that this was a beautifully written devotional, and I'm always grateful to come here and be fed. Thank you for the time you take to bring this to everyone who comes here.

Love you much!

Tim said...

Annette, first: "He asked them about their faith... as a message to us." That's so splendidly put. While the disciples (and the Gospel writers) may not have conceived what happened during Jesus's life as something we'd look to all these centuries later, He no doubt knew the historical/timeless implication of everything He said and did. He is sending us a message there. He is telling us not to fear, to know He's with us always.

But second, as I looked at this story yet one more time and the business about the "other boats" stood out, the storm seemed to take on a new dimension. Like you, I don't believe God sends storms into our lives for our harm. But, as you point out, when they come--whether He sanctions them, or merely allows them--they are sent to steer us toward good we may otherwise miss or take for granted.

Could Jesus have stood on the deck of His boat and said, "Everyone else go home, I need time with My disciples?" Of course. But the storm enables the crowd depart to its own volition and allows His disciples to learn from Him, both in the storm and after it, without either feeling "preferred" (never a good thing in a ministry committed to equality) or guilty.

God works in mysterious ways to perform His wonders for and in us. So, while my take here rests on a great deal of supposition, it also presses us to understand why storms come--whether God-sent or naturally unavoidable--and teaches us to seek the good that will inevitably arise from them.

Bless you, my dear sister and friend, for your sensitivity to God's Word--and always for your kindness. You are a treasure to me.

Big love and joy,