It was our 20th anniversary. Ed and I were about to take a romantic sunset sail around the beautiful Philippine island of Boracay, just four miles long and one mile wide. Two guys would sail the large double outrigger canoe, and we would sit back and enjoy the view. Or so we thought.
The boatmen told us to sit, one on each side, on the hard plastic netting. The netting was fitted across the boat and over the water between the bamboo poles balancing the boat on either side.
It was a lovely afternoon as we set out. But on the other side of the island, the wind was much stronger. We clung to the netting, bouncing up and down, as waves crashed over us time and again. We fought the wind so long it was dark when we got back. Ed and I were exhausted. We had missed the sunset. What a romantic trip.
For us, this was just a disappointment. But Filipinos regularly face much worse events. In the years we lived in the Philippines we often heard of people who lost their lives at sea, including missionaries. Every year we experienced the howling winds and torrential rains of typhoon season, when people lost their homes and sometimes their lives in the floodwaters. In the Philippines, there are earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and sometimes a tsunami — life-and-death situations that make it easy to wonder: Where is God in the difficult moments? Doesn’t He care when things aren’t going the way they’re supposed to?
Just picking avocados
Wherever we live, unexpected things happen. We may get a dream job, only to lose it in a pandemic. We may suffer from a sudden illness or physical injury — like a friend of mine at work. He was just picking avocados when the ladder gave way and he crashed to the ground, breaking his ribs and shoulder. We may find it harder than we imagined to overcome a bad habit. Maybe the friendships or marriage we envisioned never materialized, or collapsed.
Where is God? Doesn’t He want us to have a smooth sail in this life? Doesn’t He want us to relax and enjoy the view? When things go wrong and we are afraid, doesn’t He care?
There’s a story in the Bible about a difficult voyage. The disciples were traveling with Jesus, but that wasn’t making things any better.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)
When the typhoon-strength storm swept down from the hills around the Sea of Galilee, the disciples — some of whom were experienced fishermen — were filled with fear. They had seen Jesus teach, heal and deliver people from demons all over Galilee, but they didn’t seem to remember those things. They woke Jesus, addressing Him only as “Teacher,” and asked, “Don’t You care that we are perishing?”
Jesus didn’t answer, but rebuked the wind and spoke to the waves: “Be still!” The form of this word as Jesus used it means, “Be muzzled, and you will stay muzzled!” After the howling of the winds and crashing of the waves, there must have been an unearthly quiet. The clouds must have cleared too.
Then Jesus asked the disciples two searing questions: “Why are you so afraid?” “Afraid” here means “losing heart” or “cowardice.” And, “Do you still have no faith?”
The fear the disciples now felt was not the cowardly fear they had felt because of the storm, but terror or awe — they knew only God could still a storm. I would have been terrified if one of the boatmen in Boracay had stilled the stormy seas with a word that day!
It’s interesting to compare this story with another story of Jesus interacting with disciples, in this case, the sisters Mary and Martha. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha bustled around serving. Martha also asked Jesus a “Don’t You care?” question: “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” Jesus answered, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).
Jesus wanted Martha to rest and enjoy Him, as Mary was doing. He wanted the disciples on the boat to do the same thing. His questions were telling them, “Don’t be anxious; have faith! Enjoy Me, enjoy My power, enjoy My care!”
One fisherman’s lesson
One fisherman who was surely with Jesus that evening on the Sea of Galilee learned this lesson. Maybe he was the one who asked Jesus, “Don’t You care that we are perishing?” Later he wrote: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). Peter had learned, on land and sea: there is no anxiety, small or great, that Jesus wants us to carry. Because He cares, He wants to do all the carrying, and let us rest. We are to humble ourselves under His mighty hand. He is Lord!
As we look at the story of the unexpected (for the disciples) storm Jesus and the disciples experienced that day, there are lessons for us present-day disciples. When we come to Jesus humbly, in full surrender, we can know:
- Because God is with us when things look hopeless, we can have peace and joy in the midst of trials. We may feel the tension of unresolved situations, but He is still caring for us, moment by moment. He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He is still working (Romans 8:28). He can muzzle the sea when it’s time.
How is He caring for you in the exhausting, fearful, painful, or lonely situations of your life? What situation will you leave in His mighty hands today?
- Because God is with us when things look hopeless, we can rest in who He is. God has shown His care to me, and no doubt to you, in incredibly personal ways. His heart is tender toward us. He will be faithful, just as He has been in the past. We can rest in His love.
Which one of His attributes would help you in the storm you are facing? Let the knowledge of His character strengthen your heart for this storm. Which aspect of His character will you dwell on this week?
- Because God is with us when things look hopeless, we can move forward with faith and courage. Instead of continually going off course in cowardly fear or unbelief, we can bring hope and help to those around us. He wants to use us to bring His peace to our communities, our nations and our world.
How are you fitting into God’s great plan today? Ask Him if there is someone He wants you to help know Him as Savior and Lord, or a faith step He wants you to take to advance His kingdom.
Ed and I were unexpectedly tossed about in our boat by the winds and waves on that anniversary trip in the Philippines. And our boat in this life may be buffeted by strong winds and waves we don’t expect. But we can relax and enjoy the view, when our eyes are on Jesus. If we let Him, He will give us His peace to guard our hearts on our voyage through this life, and then He will take us safely home.
Yes, He cares.
Photo credit: MyBoracayGuide.com via Pinterest
If you haven’t discovered life in Christ, don’t hesitate to check it out. Life is too short to miss His love and perfect plan for you. Read About “The Nearness of God” or see everyperson.com for more information. You can also read my story of coming to faith in Christ: How My Song Began.