A pastor I know prominently displays in his home a photograph depicting an impressive lightning bolt during a storm. He said it reminds him where the true power in the world lies – with God – not with humans. It is God who holds the power of the storm, wind, lightning, and rain. It is a power that dwarfs any known human power.
We can’t blame ourselves, however, if we often forget who holds the greatest power in our universe. As we survey our world, we see many opulent displays of human power – nuclear weapons, terrorist bombs, loaded guns, and armored vehicles. These are certainly powerful enough to bring destruction to our world and perhaps annihilate our world all together. Yet, not one of them is as powerful as the God we serve.
Humans have distorted the meaning of power, believing it to be power over others through use of force. We believe we are powerful when we dominate others. We believe we are powerful when others are cowering at our feet, or at least acquiescing to our wishes. God’s definition of power is very different. It is power with – a cooperative power that does no harm to anyone, but brings peace to all who experience it. God’s power does not dominate, but invites us into community – to be part of God’s kingdom.
We, like the disciples, are hampered by fear that keeps us from fully taking part in that kingdom. Our fear keeps us from fully appreciating the cooperative power that God calls us to embody in the world. We often feel like the disciples, afraid of the storms of life. We look around and we feel like Jesus must be asleep at the wheel as problems of life buffet us from all sides – war, famine, genocide, personal financial ruin, broken relationships, and shattered dreams. Who can blame us for feeling afraid that our lives will be snuffed out at any moment?
We are like the disciples who, panic-stricken, accused Jesus of not caring about their fate. “Jesus, wake up!” they scream as the waters roil and the winds blow. They take the storm as a personal attack upon themselves. We, too, are sometimes convinced that everything that comes upon us is somehow the world’s personal attack on us. In those times, we’re certain that our Savior is slumbering while we suffer. Why else have we not experienced instant deliverance from our troubles? We scream, “Jesus, wake up! Don’t you care that we’re perishing? Don’t you care what is happening to us?”
My mother told me this story from when I was about five years old. As she was leaving my bedroom I begged her not to leave me alone.
“You’re not alone,” she assured me, “God is here with you.”
“I know,” I replied, “but I want something I can touch.”
We always want the concrete God that we can touch, that we can reach out and hold on to when we’re afraid of life’s turmoil. We want real, tangible assurance that God is wide awake and working on our behalf.
What if we have it all backward? What if it isn’t Jesus asleep in the boat, but us? When Jesus awakes and finds the disciples fearful and complaining, he scolds them for their fear. Why should they be afraid? They’re the professional fishermen in the boat. It’s not like they weren’t aware of the sudden storms that could rock Lake Galilee. They’ve been in this situation before without Jesus and emerged unscathed. Why are they so fearful now? Why didn’t they rely on their own skills to navigate the storm? Why weren’t they wide awake and alert to the troubles that could descend upon them without warning? How could they have true faith in God when they didn’t even have faith in themselves?
Thomas Merton tells us that “to keep ourselves spiritually alive we must constantly renew our faith. We are like pilots of fogbound steamers, peering into the gloom in front of us, listening to the sounds of other ships, and we can only reach our harbor if we keep alert. The spiritual life is, then first of all a matter of keeping awake. We must not lose our sensitivity to spiritual inspirations” (Thoughts in Solitude, New York: The Noonday Press, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1958, p. 47).
When things are going well in life it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security, believing nothing bad can befall us again. We have fallen asleep at the wheel and we awake in a panic when the storms of life begin to blow. We wonder where God is and if we have been abandoned to the waves that threaten to capsize our boat. We accuse God of being asleep – leaving us to be swallowed up by our problems.
We forget that we have the greatest power in the world right at our fingertips. God, whose power flows in and through everything in this world, flows through us as well. God’s power is not the power of a dictator or a superhero, swooping in to rescue us and set everything right in the blink of an eye. Instead, God’s power is a cooperative power that requires us to be awake. This power requires us to have faith in ourselves, in our own ability to co-create with God in the world. Our faith doesn’t have to be huge – just the size of mustard seed will do – but our faith, combined with God’s overwhelming power, means that nothing in the world can upend our boats. That faith in ourselves, combined with God’s power, means we can move mountains – or find calm waters when our boats are rocked.
Author Philip Yancey reminds us that, “In creation God works through matter. In redemption he acts through personality – through ourselves. In the face of tragedy, I can respond either by blaming or turning against God or by turning toward him, trusting him to fashion good out of bad” (Reaching for the Invisible God, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000, p. 267).
How often we react like the disciples, accusing God of being asleep while we are tossed about, instead of trusting God to redeem our situations. We’re not promised a storm-free life, but we are promised the power to find calm in the middle of any storm. Through Christ, God has chosen to work with us and through us in the world. It is our duty to remain awake and claim the promise that God is ever present, bringing calm in the midst of turmoil.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.