Trusting God in the midst of a storm is tough, and this season of life feels like gale force winds are threatening to sink everything we cherish. We’re dealing with job losses, health scares, social isolation, and a racial crisis, among other stressors. Can we all agree that we should hit rewind on the year 2020 and start over? As a pastor I’ve found myself asking, will our church make it through?
In Matthew’s Gospel (14:22-33) the disciples are caught on a boat during a storm without Jesus, and they are terrified. Even the appearance of their teacher and friend walking toward them on the water doesn’t assuage their fear: “If it is you,” says Peter, “let me come to you.” I understand where Peter is coming from. I’ve been there. Despite hearing Jesus say it is he and to not be afraid, Peter needs more. Storms can do that—the wind and the waves can make us doubt Jesus.
As I’ve considered this passage many times as a preacher, it seems fairly simple. To have great faith is to keep our eyes firmly on Jesus so that we won’t go under when the inevitable storms of life hit. But what if having faith in the storm is not at all about walking on water? What if having faith amid the storms of life is daring to believe, contrary to all that threatens our existence, that Christ is always walking toward us? Neither the sea-soaked Peter nor the boat-hugging disciples in Matthew’s Gospel are great examples of faith. In fact, they are often described as those who possess little faith. They waver between insight and confusion, hope and fear. If we are honest, so do we.
What if having faith amid the storms of life is daring to believe, contrary to all that threatens our existence, that Christ is always walking toward us?
Our world has been turned upside down, and there is no going back. The only way is through the storm. Fear is real and we may be tempted, just like Peter was, to ask for more than what God has already promised. Will we be okay? Will our churches survive the strain of a pandemic? When will we get back to normal? These are questions that must ultimately find their answer in the One who loves to be with us, and who by his Spirit is with us!
The Gospel of Matthew begins with the announcement that the child Mary has conceived and will carry will be named Emmanuel, God with us (1:23). The Gospel culminates with the promise and assurance that Jesus makes to his disciples that he would never leave them but that he would be with them until the end of the age (28:20). This is the assurance we have in this storm of life. Jesus is continually making his way to us. His promise to be with us may not seem like much to hold on to when we feel battered by all that we are going through. It is, however, all we truly need to live faithfully in the tossing sea. Just like the disciples facing the threatening wind and waves in their storm, our hope for survival is never contingent upon the strength of our faith. Our hope to make it through the storm has always rested in the promise and commitment of the One who walks over the chaos to be with those he loves.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3).