Jesus and his friends are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when suddenly a “furious squall” comes up. Waves break over the boat so that it’s almost swamped. Meanwhile, after a hectic day of ministry, Jesus is sound asleep on a cushion in the back of the boat. His apprentices shake him awake and say, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” Jesus asks them, “Why are you so afraid?” (Mark 4:35–41).
It seems obvious: the disciples are afraid because they’re in a terrible storm. But just because our circumstances are serious, do we have to let Panic captain the ship?
Consequences of panic
I think of another group of God’s people scared out of their wits. During the exodus from Egypt, Moses sends scouts on an exploratory mission to the Promised Land. After 40 days, the spies return with a cluster of grapes so large it has to be carried on a pole. They report a land “flowing with milk and honey” to the community. But they also say that the land is “fortified” and the huge inhabitants make them feel as miniscule as grasshoppers (Numbers 13:26–33).
Most of the Israelites only hear the part about “giants in the land.” Fear takes control and sweeps the Israelite camp. “Then all the people began weeping aloud, and they carried on all night. Their voices rose in a great chorus of complaint against Moses and Aaron. ‘We wish we had died in Egypt,’ they wailed, ‘or even here in the wilderness, rather than be taken into this country ahead of us’” (Numbers 14:1–3 LB).
The Israelites plan to elect a new leader to take them back to the land of slavery and oppression. At the moment, Egypt seems like a better option than trusting God in an unknown future. God turns this into a teachable moment.
Putting Panic in charge costs a generation the Promised Land and forces their children to waste 40 years in the desert, while they wait for the doubters to die off.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. A particular circumstance never has a guaranteed outcome when God is in charge.
Faith defies circumstances
Look at Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3). Heedless of the threat of being thrown into a furnace, they refuse to bow to the Babylonian king’s golden idol. Nebuchadnezzar works himself up into such a froth over their defiance that he orders the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and commands the strongest men in his army to tie up the three God-trusting Jews. Sounds like certain death to me.
Or not. In Daniel 3:27, we read, “The fire hadn’t touched them – not a hair of their heads was singed; their coats were unscorched, and they didn’t even smell of smoke!” (LB).
Have you ever been in an overwhelming situation that looked hopeless? Maybe it was a cancer diagnosis or the loss of a job. Maybe your spouse left you. Who did you put in charge: God or Panic?
I can remember trusting God in my own potentially dangerous situation. I was cycling in a long distance event during a heavy rainfall when the group approached a downhill stretch. Panic said, “Put on the brakes, you fool – you’re going to die!” But I knew attempting to stop would most likely result in spinning out and getting hurt.
So I started quietly singing “Be Thou My Vision,” which is how I usually put a bone in the hungry, roaring mouth of Panic. Keeping my head down and my spirit (mostly) calm, I cycled down the hill covered in a slick sheet of water, and safely – on my skinny road bike tires – up the other side.
Reasons to trust
When the disciples ask Jesus for help in the horrific storm, he gets up from his nap, commands the wind and the waves to be quiet, “and it was completely calm” (Mark 4:39). His friends are so amazed that they ask, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41).
I think of another story of high waves and wind in the Bible. In the middle of the night, Jesus is walking on the water (Matthew 14). He passes the disciples’ boat. The men are afraid, but Peter tests God’s faithfulness: “If it is really you, tell me to come over to you, walking on the water.”
Jesus replies, Come. And Peter does, until he looks down at the waves and gets scared. Even so, Jesus has his back. He grabs Peter before he drowns. When Peter and the Lord get into the boat, the wind stops.
Matthew tells us, “The others sat there, awestruck. ‘You really are the Son of God!’ they exclaimed” (Matthew 14:36 LB).
Jesus is the Son of God, and we belong to him. So let’s put God in charge and remind ourselves, moment by moment, that he is I AM – the source of all strength, peace, hope and practical assistance in a crisis or challenge. I don’t want to miss out on the Promised Land that God has for me, so I’ll tell Panic to be quiet. And do my best to trust the Lord in all circumstances.
— Sandra Reimer is a writer, editor, cyclist and coach who finds community at Glencairn MB Church in Kitchener, Ont.