One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” -Luke 8:22-25
When I was reading Luke 8 a few weeks ago, the story of Jesus calming the storm hit me as strange. I had heard the story countless times, but in this instance it mystified me. Jesus is sleeping in a boat during a storm, and in their fear of drowning the disciples cry out to Him for help.
In response, He calms the storm and asks them, “Where is your faith?”
I suppose the reason this mystified me was because He was sleeping. It seemed a little unfair of Jesus to rebuke the disciples for a lack of faith if he was dozing off; they probably thought He wasn’t aware of their peril, so it makes sense that they woke him. Their act of waking Him didn’t necessarily mean that they doubted His ability to rescue them. To me, it seemed like they woke Him because they believed He could help. Maybe they didn’t expect him to do something as extreme as “[commanding] even the winds and the water,” like their amazement later shows, but maybe they thought he could still do something. Isn’t that faith?
If I were in such a situation, I wouldn’t think to sit idly by as the storm rages and Jesus seems oblivious to the threat. I’d probably try to wake Jesus and seek help, just as the disciples did. As I was reading, their course of action seemed more than reasonable.
So what can explain Jesus’ rebuke?
Perhaps the point is that faith is so much more than simply trusting that God could do something. Perhaps real, effectual faith goes beyond just believing that He is powerful to help. It involves trust that God is never unaware and that He is in control even when we don’t think He is– like when He’s sleeping in the middle of a squall. We need to set aside our evaluations of the danger of our circumstances and remember that God’s omniscience cannot be boxed into human limitations. The disciples’ problem was that they allowed their view of Jesus to become little more than an authoritative human leader, for whom sleeping was a sign of unawareness and rescue would look less miraculous. With this view of Jesus, faith was reduced to a cry of awakening during a storm– to the point where it wasn’t really faith at all.
But because He’s God, Jesus can be sleeping and yet fully aware of what’s happening. Because He’s God, He can be fully in control and command the seas. Jesus is indeed human, but He is also God, a God who is incomprehensible to the human mind.
It’s important to note that Jesus is the one who originally suggests they make the trip across the lake. It was His idea, and He fell asleep. When Jesus asks us to make the journey across the lake, we need to have faith that we will get to the other side, even if the circumstances seem dim. We must have a bold faith that trusts that He already sees and knows, that allows us to sit back and watch Him work, even if it seems like He’s “sleeping.” It seems simple, but how often do we actually live this way?
At that time when I was reflecting on this passage, I was also struggling to figure out summer plans. I was months behind in my search and had already passed up opportunities out of the conviction that he was calling me to do medical work overseas, to take a larger step towards discerning my call to missions. After weeks of reaching out to missionary doctors and applying to missions internships, I wasn’t making much progress. It was easy to think like the disciples. It was easy to point to the urgency of time and lack of open doors and to want to cry out and “wake Him up.”
But He already knew what was happening, and He was in control. I needed to have the faith that since he called me into the boat– into the pursuit of a missions-oriented summer– that he would get me to the other side of the lake. I needed to believe that He saw everything and was in full control, even if it felt like He wasn’t taking action on my behalf.
One of my favorite prayers is “The Voyage,” a prayer in a book called Valley of Vision (a collection of Puritan prayers). The prayer describes life as a voyage across a sometimes unpredictable sea; it is a beautiful complement to the passage in Luke 8. In the middle of the prayer, the author writes:
“I ask great things,
Expect great things,
Shall receive great things.”
These three lines became my plea as I emailed hospitals, OB/GYN’s, and missionary agencies. Choosing to believe in God’s sovereignty and control, I asked boldly for a clear open door, choosing to expect His abundant provision.
And He did. Just as Jesus cleared the storm and got the disciples to the other side of the lake, he brought an opportunity at a small missionary hospital in Ethiopia that was far better than I could have imagined. He provided with abundance, and in a way that was clearly out of His mercy and not out of my own efforts.
Albeit a small voyage in the scheme of life’s trials, my journey with figuring out summer plans was a reminder to allow my faith to grow beyond human sensibilities. Luke 8 was a reminder that God is greater, more omniscient, and more powerful than we can comprehend. It was a call to ask boldly out of this belief, and to watch Him work on my behalf.
What storms, big or small, are you traveling through? Does it feel like God is sleeping while you are scrambling to save the ship? Remember that your Jesus has power and knowledge that is unlimited, that transcends reason. He is able and willing to get you to the other side of the lake.