As famous lakes go, Galilee — only thirteen miles at its longest, seven and a half at its widest — is a small, moody one. The diminutive size makes it more vulnerable to the winds that howl out of the Golan Heights. They turn the lake into a blender, shifting suddenly, blowing first from one direction, then another. Winter months bring such storms every two weeks or so, churning the waters for two to three days at a time.1
When Peter and a few other disciples found themselves in the middle of Galilee one stormy night, they knew they were in trouble:
But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. — Matthew 14:24
What should have been a sixty-minute cruise became a nightlong battle. The boat lurched and lunged like a kite in a March wind. Sunlight was a distant memory. Rain fell from the night sky in buckets. Lightning sliced the blackness with a silver sword. Winds whipped the sails, leaving the disciples “in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves.” Apt description, perhaps, for your stage in life? Perhaps all we need to do is substitute a couple of nouns…
In the middle of a divorce, tossed about by guilt.
In the middle of debt, tossed about by creditors.
In the middle of a recession, tossed about by stimulus packages and bailouts.
The disciples fought the storm for nine cold, skin-drenching hours. And about 4:00 a.m. the unspeakable happened. They spotted someone coming on the water.
‘A ghost!’ they said, crying out in terror. — Matthew 14:26 MSG
They didn’t expect Jesus to come to them this way.
Neither do we. We expect Him to come in the form of peaceful hymns or Easter Sundays or quiet retreats. We expect to find Jesus in morning devotionals, church suppers, and meditation. We never expect to see Him in a bear market, pink slip, lawsuit, foreclosure, or war.
We never expect to see Him in a storm.
But it is in storms that He does His finest work, for it is in storms that He has our keenest attention. Jesus replied to the disciples’ fear with an invitation worthy of inscription on every church cornerstone and residential archway.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ He said. ‘Take courage. I am here!’ — Matthew 14:7 NLT
Power inhabits those words. To awaken in an ICU and hear your husband say, “I am here.” To lose your retirement yet feel the support of your family in the words “We are here.” When a Little Leaguer spots Mom and Dad in the bleachers watching the game, “I am here” changes everything. Perhaps that’s why God repeats the “I am here” pledge so often.
The Lord is near (Philippians 4:5 NIV).
You are in Me, and I am in you (John 14:20 NIV).
I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20 NIV).
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand (John 10:28 NIV).
Nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38 NLT).
We cannot go where God is not. Look over your shoulder; that’s God following you. Look into the storm; that’s Christ coming toward you.
Much to Peter’s credit, he took Jesus at His word.
‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus”. — Matthew 14:28–29
Peter never would have made this request on a calm sea. Had Christ strolled across a lake that was as smooth as mica, Peter would have applauded, but I doubt he would have stepped out of the boat.
Storms prompt us to take unprecedented journeys.
For a few historic steps and heart-stilling moments, Peter did the impossible. He defied every law of gravity and nature; “he walked on the water to go to Jesus.”
My editors wouldn’t have tolerated such brevity. They would have flooded the margin with red ink: “Elaborate! How quickly did Peter exit the boat?
What were the other disciples doing?
What was the expression on his face?
Did he step on any fish?”
Matthew had no time for such questions. He moves us quickly to the major message of the event: where to stare in a storm.
But when [Peter] saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ — Matthew 14:30
A wall of water eclipsed his view. A wind gust snapped the mast with a crack and a slap. A flash of lightning illuminated the lake and the watery Appalachians it had become. Peter shifted his attention away from Jesus and toward the squall, and when he did, he sank like a brick in a pond. Give the storm waters more attention than the Storm Walker and get ready to do the same.
Whether or not storms come, we cannot choose. But where we stare during a storm, that we can.
I found a direct example of this truth while sitting in my cardiologist’s office. My heart rate was misbehaving, taking the pace of a NASCAR race and the rhythm of a Morse code message. So I went to a specialist. After reviewing my tests and asking me some questions, the doctor nodded knowingly and told me to wait for him in his office.
I didn’t like being sent to the principal’s office as a kid. I don’t like being sent to the doctor’s office as a patient. But I went in, took a seat, and quickly noticed the doctor’s abundant harvest of diplomas. They were everywhere, from everywhere. One degree from the university. Another degree from a residency.
The more I looked at his accomplishments, the better I felt. I’m in good hands. About the time I leaned back in the chair to relax, his nurse entered and handed me a sheet of paper. “The doctor will be in shortly,” she explained. “In the meantime he wants you to acquaint yourself with this information. It summarizes your heart condition.”
I lowered my gaze from the diplomas to the summary of the disorder. As I read, contrary winds began to blow. Unwelcome words like atrial fibrillation, arrhythmia, embolic stroke, and blood clot caused me to sink into my own Sea of Galilee.
What happened to my peace? I was feeling much better a moment ago. So I changed strategies. I counteracted diagnosis with diplomas. In between paragraphs of bad news, I looked at the wall for reminders of good news. That’s what God wants us to do.
His call to courage is not a call to naïveté or ignorance. We aren’t to be oblivious to the overwhelming challenges that life brings. We’re to counterbalance them with long looks at God’s accomplishments.
We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. — Hebrews 2:1 NASB
Do whatever it takes to keep your gaze on Jesus.
This is what Peter learned to do. After a few moments of flailing in the water, he turned back to Christ and cried,
‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ He said, ‘why did you doubt?’ And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. — Matthew 14:30-32 NIV
Jesus could have stilled this storm hours earlier. But He didn’t. He wanted to teach the followers a lesson. Jesus could have calmed your storm long ago too. But He hasn’t. Does He also want to teach you a lesson? Could that lesson read something like this:
“Storms are not an option, but fear is”?
God has hung His diplomas in the universe. Rainbows, sunsets, horizons, and star-sequined skies. He has recorded His accomplishments in Scripture. We’re not talking six thousand hours of flight time. His résumé includes Red Sea openings. Lions’ mouths closings. Goliath topplings. Lazarus raisings. Storm stillings and strollings.
His lesson is clear. He’s the commander of every storm. Are you scared in yours? Then stare at Him.
God’s Word for You
Allow these passages from God’s Word to remind you that God will help you through your fears.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. — Joshua 1:9 NIV
The Lord doesn’t just take away our fear; He replaces it with strength and courage.
But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God. — Isaiah 43:1-3
The Lord has called you by name and you are His. Allow this truth to comfort your fears.
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. — John 14:27
These are the words of Christ. Receive his peace as a gift that has already been offered to you.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear. — 1 John 4:18
Your fear is not of God or from God. His love casts out fear.
Read the following prayer, silently or aloud. When you have finished praying, spend a moment in silence, listening for the voice of God.
God, thank You for reminding me of Your power today. Just as Jesus walked on water, so can You calm the storms around me. I often feel afraid when life gets stormy. I can’t see my way out. I feel vulnerable to what I cannot control. Help me fix my gaze on You today. Remind me of who You are and what You are capable of. Ease my fears and replace them with peace. Calm my anxious thoughts. Help me love those around me and be present with them, which is hard to do during a difficult time. Whenever I feel afraid, or my thoughts feel out of control, may I see the image of Christ walking on the water extending His hand to help me. May I trust Christ more than myself, more than others, more than what I tend to focus on during times like this. May my gaze always be fixed on Him. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
- Shelley Wachsmann, The Sea of Galilee Boat: An Extraordinary 2000 Year Old Discovery (New York: Plenum Press, 1995), 39, 121.
Excerpted with permission from God Will Help You by Max Lucado, copyright Max Lucado.
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Where do you typically fix your gaze during a stormy time in life? On God, on others, on a coping mechanism? Why do those things draw your gaze when Jesus is the One who can calm the storm? Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily