Life has been coming at us all so furiously, so quickly, and so heavily that most days I just want to call a cosmic “time out”. My wife and I were talking the other night and she was concerned that I just hadn’t been myself lately. I agreed with her and went through the laundry list of things that were pressing down upon me and my concerns financially, spiritually, and mentally. I caught myself in mid-thought and simply told her, “Honey, I honestly feel I am running to stand still.”
Each person I know could express a lengthy manuscript of all the things pressing in on them right this moment. As Americans, we could point to the onslaught of ISIS, the Ebola virus, an over-reaching government, the meltdown of our society evidenced by school shootings, moral decay, wars and rumors of war and failed social policies. The media in our western world keeps us worried 24 hours a day with a constant diet of negativity! As families, we could speak to the invasion of technology in the form of smart-phones, computers, social media, and distracted children. No longer is it fundamental to sit around the table every evening and eat and laugh and discuss our day; instead we have busy schedules that never line up. And if we happen to go to dinner or have time to sit down at the table, the smart-phone seems to be the guest of honor!
As Christians, we could point to the ever-increasing church events, fund-raising, revival meetings, prayer movements, and a frenetic attitude of “we must do something”! Maybe in your neck of the woods, this is not the case, but lately here in Knoxville, Tennessee, you can close your eyes and throw a dart at a calendar, hit any day of the week, and there would be at least two possible events where you would be needed or encouraged to participate! The most difficult issue to swallow however, is the plethora of prayer requests coming down the pipeline: a countless number of brothers and sisters plagued with cancer, broken families, deaths in the family, addiction, mental health issues, and diseases of all shapes and sizes. What is going on here?
The answer is simple: we are being attacked in ways we never planned for, we are squarely in the middle of an epic spiritual battle, and we are slow to recognize the nature of the attack. We are in an epic storm.
One of the greatest weapons the enemy uses is the artillery shell of distraction; a friend of mine has an acronym for BUSY (burdened under satan’s yoke). The glaringly obvious question is, “How are we going to shake this yoke off?!” It seems reasonable to offer up excuses like: I have a family to provide for, I have responsibilities, my friends and family need me, my church needs me to participate so I can be a “good” Christian, and the best one of all, God needs me to be busy doing the Father’s work!
I must take the time here to pause, take a breath, and ask myself and my readers: How’s that working out for you?
So if I am taking the time to offer up the problem, under the Spirit’s guidance, I want to remind us of the solution.
Let me start by giving an analogy. Forgive me for using a sport’s analogy, but it seems to fit quite nicely for what is to follow.
All great athletes, especially in team sports, have to adjust to the “speed of the game”. When you play in high school, you get used to the speed of the game and can function at your best when you know what you are supposed to do on any given play. But when and if you move on to collegiate sports, the speed of the game increases and most athletes have to get used to the new speed and that takes time. And even after adjusting to that speed, if you move on to professional sports, the speed is even greater. All athletes that succeed at any of these levels have to adjust to the speed of the game.
The best and most successful players are described as “cool under pressure” or they are described as “making good decisions”. Any observer of sports will easily recognize whether the player has the “it” factor or not. So I am asserting that we as Christians absolutely must find this focus where life slows down for us. Isn’t that ironic? The speed of the game is increasing in reality, but inwardly the game is slowing down. It is almost like the best players see everything in slow motion. How do we do this as Christians? The answer may surprise you.
Personally, the Christian life for me is best when I see things from a place of peace. In a peaceful place, the world is not daunting; when peace reigns in your heart, you are unshakeable; when the Spirit rules in your spirit, you can battle anything without being stressed. The key is finding this place of peace and knowing how to abide in it; for to not function in this manner is to function in the flesh, and the flesh fails us every single time.
Recorded in Matthew 14 is a curious and amazing account of events. We must look at this pragmatically and then spiritually. A great crowd of people had followed Jesus and His disciples and found them in a desolate part of the region; they came to see this man of God and to listen to what He had to say. When Jesus observed the throngs of destitute and desperate people, He had compassion for them. It overwhelmed Him. It broke His heart that right there, gathered at the foot of a hill, was a sampling of human desperation and pain. So Jesus “healed all the sick”, ministered to them, and then fed them in a miraculous way. This is the famous “feeding of the 5000”.
After this, Jesus needed some time alone with the Father; so He sent His disciples by boat to the other side of the sea and withdrew from the crowds. In my soul, I sense that He was tapped-out, needed a break, and was most assuredly exhausted from the course of events. So here is the picture: mighty works and wonders had been performed that day, Jesus needed some “alone time” with His Father, and He sent His disciples onward so He could be alone.
That evening, while crossing the sea, a great storm arose on the Sea of Galilee. The disciples were “freaking out” and feared for their lives. I’m sure they were thinking and speaking openly about the fact that if Jesus were there with them, they would be better off! What a mess. How could Jesus let this happen to us? Where is He and why did He send us off alone? How could we come this far just to perish in the sea?!
Just as the storm was raging, just as the threat of death was at its apex, just as all hope was lost, here comes Jesus walking on the stormy sea! Peter thought it was a ghost. Most of you know what happened next: this is where Peter gets out of the boat and attempts to walk on the water with Jesus.
What I want us to focus on is a question. There are many lessons in this inspiring passage, but I want to focus like a laser on one simple question and one simple solution.
Don’t you think our God knew when He sent His disciples out to sea that a storm was coming? Of course He did! Why would our God knowingly send His beloved into danger?
ANSWER: God’s power is best demonstrated in the midst of trials!
There are no accounts of Jesus walking on the sea on a calm and balmy day, there are no accounts of Jesus demonstrating His power after a good meal and fellowship, and there are no accounts of Jesus walking on a gently lapping surf.
Sometimes, nay, in almost every instance, our Lord sends us into the storm! Does that hurt your ears, does that ruin your theology, and does that break your heart? Our Lord knowingly sends us into the storms of life, but why? SO THAT HIS POWER CAN BE UNDENIABLE AND MAGNIFICENT.
In our world today, we can lament about all the distractions, all of the evil, all of the seemingly impossible situations. We are no better than the disciples tossed on an angry sea; we look around at the waves and the wind and the impending doom and fear for our very lives. We ask, “Where is God?” We wonder why He would let us get into this mess. We lament the fact that we think Him MIA. As we fear and bemoan and throw ourselves a “pity-party”, the Lord is walking on the tempest-tossed sea headed our way. As life comes at us full-force with responsibilities, broken homes, a carnal society, bills to pay and mouths to feed, a world gone wild…Jesus calmly approaches waiting to see who will recognize Him and who is straining their eyes at the horizon to witness His approach.
So as I describe to my wife that I feel I am “running to stand still” and that I worry about my children and my country and my church, my Savior tells me in Matthew 6:
25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
So as I fear where we are going and what I should do about it, my Savior says in John 14:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
As I close this post, I want to encourage and exhort my readers to find that peace for the storm. The only way to have peace is to have a personal, intense, and deep relationship with your God. The only way to have that relationship is to spend time with Him! Just as Jesus withdrew often to have alone time with the Father, so must we withdraw and have some one-on-one time with the One that loves us beyond our imagination. If you feel lonely and insecure, let Him show you how much He cares for you and show you that He is with you every step of the way. If you feel unloved or taken for granted, spend some time with the One that loves you enough to die for you. If you feel overwhelmed, spend some time with the One that has already overcome!
You see, my friends, just going to church will not set you free; being in ministry will not liberate your soul; working and living a good life is not good enough. God wants you and you alone, He longs to spend time with YOU because He loves you more than can be expressed in words or sermons or songs, and He wants you to stop as often as you can to spend time with Him. Nothing, and I mean nothing, takes the place of time with our Lord. Let Him speak to you through His word, let Him speak to you through prayer and meditation, and let Him breathe life into you as you admire His handiwork in a breeze, in a songbird, in a waterfall, in a sunset, and in the most beautiful of creations…silence. Find time to quiet the world, find time every day to press the “pause” button, let your knees hit the floor before your feet every morning, and learn the melody of hearing Him in your silence that calms the stormy seas.
This place in His presence is where we are infused with peace. In this time with our Lord is found the strength to endure trials and tribulation. If we give time to Him, He will cause the “speed of the game” to slow down. And Jesus promises us that if we seek Him first, He will tackle life’s burdens for us! Amazing, but do we truly believe this? We should.
You see, we can’t help our families, we can’t heal a broken Church, we can’t love the unlovely, and we can’t be effective agents of change until we learn that all outward changes start and end with inward change. We can’t do it…but He can and will.
The lyric from U2’s song “Running to Stand Still” says:
And so she woke up
Woke up from where she was lying still
Said, “I gotta do something About where we’re going
Step on a steam train
Step out of the driving rain, maybe
Run from the darkness in the night…
Sweet the sin
Bitter the taste in my mouth
I see seven towers
But I only see one way out…
You gotta cry without weeping
Talk without speaking
Scream without raising your voice…
You know I took the poison
From the poison stream
Then I floated out of here…
She runs through the streets
With her eyes painted red
Under black belly of cloud in the rain
In through a doorway she brings me
White gold and pearls stolen from the sea
She is raging, she is raging
And the storm blows up in her eyes
She will suffer the needle chill
She’s running to stand still.
So I preach to myself, so I exhort my readers, and so I offer up a repentant and broken heart to my God and echo God’s plea recorded in Psalm 46:
Be still and know that I am God…