God works in mysterious ways,That little poem has seemed so true that it has often been mistaken for Scripture. It's not Scripture, but it certainly spotlights Mark 6:45-51.
His wonders to perform.
He plants his footsteps on the sea
And rides upon the storm.
The Sea of Galilee is below the level of the Mediterranean Sea and subtropical in climate. A very short distance away towers Mt. Hermon. The cold air falls on the Sea of Galilee and from the sea the warm moist air rises. When the two clash, you know what is going to happen. Those storms come suddenly and fiercely on the Sea of Galilee. In that sea are twelve men in a little boat. Four of them have lived all their lives in Galilee and have made their living off that sea. They know it well. They know it enough to respect it. They have seen what it can do.
At a church conference on Prince Edward Island in Canada they asked a layman from one of the island's churches to sing a solo. He'd lived all his life in the Maritimes. He'd made his living as a lobsterman. Often he had challenged the sea in his little fishing boat. It seemed marvelously appropriate that he sang, "Master, the Tempest is Raging."
All the night they toiled in the sea until in the fourth watch Jesus came to them. Now, this is an actual event that occurred at a very definite time and place in human history. Yet through all the ages Christians have seen this event as a kind of parable of human life. It's reflected in a once popular song, "Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall." If the rain falls, the winds must come and the storms. They are inevitable, are they not? The storms of life! There is no way that we can escape them. Sooner or later the ship of our life must weather a storm much like this storm.
There are some who think that if you are always a good person and always behave yourself, you will never have to go through stormy seas. But how did the disciples find themselves in this situation? Was it because of their disobedience? No, it was quite the opposite. It was because they obeyed the Lord. If they had disobeyed Him and stayed on the shore, they would have been safe. Nor were they out there on some foolish errand of their own. If that had been the case, we could have easily understood it. But they were there because Jesus commanded them to be there. He told them to get into the ship and go to the other side.
Those who obey the Lord and follow His will are going to sail through rough seas. Never suppose that if you are a good Christian you will always have sunny days and smooth sailing. The storms of life are inevitable. They come upon the good and the bad. As the rain falls on the just and the unjust, so the wind blows on the evil and good.
In His parable of the builder, Jesus never suggested that the person who built his house on the rock would not find storms attacking that house, but rather that the house would withstand the storm. That's the difference. In the book of Job, you find God accused of sparing the righteous from the storms of life. But you read further in the book and discover that that was just another of the devil's lies. It does a lot of good to be a Christian, but one thing it does not do is spare you life's storms.
What are the storms of life through which we pass? They may differ with each individual. There are storms of illness when we wonder if these bodies are going to last us as long as they ought. There are storms of disappointment. We have life all worked out and then someone comes along and kicks over our tower of blocks. Sometimes guilt is the storm of life through which we must sail. Sometimes it is sorrow. There are many different experiences in life which may fit this picture of a stormy sea and there are many different reactions to these storms.
It's interesting that the same wind capsizes some ships and drives others into a safe harbor. Have you ever wondered about that? After a tornado or a hurricane some people will go to church who haven't gone to church in years. But other people in that community will say, "If this is the way God is going to treat me, I'll have nothing more to do with Him." Why does tragedy drive some people from God and some people to God?
Cleaning up the debris on my lawn after a storm, I got the answer. I noticed that the wind blew only the dead limbs off the frees. That's the answer! The storm will blow away the dead limbs but not the ones that have a living connection to the tree. Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches." If you are connected to the vine, the wind may toss you about but it will not destroy you. If that connection to the vine is interrupted and you become a dead branch, sooner or later the winds of life will blow you away.
There is, however, one unvarying reaction to the storms of life. Fear! Like the disciples we are sometimes afraid. We are afraid more often than we are willing to admit, and more often than we ourselves recognize. Fear disguises itself in many different ways. But whether it is illness or sorrow or disappointment or discouragement or failure or guilt, sooner or later we find ourselves in the same boat with the disciples. We are afraid, then Jesus comes to us as He came to them. That's the beauty of this story - not the sudden storm, but the surprising appearance of the Savior.
The storms of life are well known and common to human experience. How are we to get through them? What help is there for us? We must turn our eyes to the Savior. Notice at what time He comes to them. It is not at once. They toil through the night, then He comes. He comes when their strength is gone. He comes when their hope is gone. In the fourth watch of the night, while it is yet dark, He comes. "Just when I need him, Jesus is near, Just when I falter, just when I fear." And the chorus says, "Just when I need him most."
Isn't that the lesson here? Isn't that the very heart of this story? Just when I need Him most, He comes to me. In the dark of night, He comes. Notice also that He did not remove them from their situation. He came to share their situation.
Jesus had the power to reach down, pick up that little boat and set it on the mountain where it would be safe. He said that faith could remove mountains. Couldn't it remove boats, too? Or could not Jesus have reached down and rescued them one by one, as a modern-day helicopter extends its rope to pluck men from the sea?
Surely He could have done that, but He did not remove them from their situation. He came to them in their situation. The application of that to life is obvious, isn't it? We keep praying, "Lord, get me out of this," and instead of getting us out of it, He comes and joins us in the middle of it. He shares our situation.
If there is any important lesson to learn in the gospel, it is this: He shares our situation. He comes to share our fears. He comes to share our disappointments. He comes to share our pain. He may not take us out of that situation. But the fact that He is there with us makes a difference. If you've had the pleasure of His company, you know it makes a difference. We do not sail alone through life.
He came after their energies were spent. They rowed all night. They tried to get to shore by theirs own power and failed. Then He came and said, "Try my power." The winds were contrary. If you have ever tried to row into the wind, you know what a difficult and tiring thing it is. It is possible to make progress when the winds are contrary, but not by rowing. You hoist a sail. Even if the wind is blowing from the wrong direction you can get where you want to go.
But they did not hoist a sail and claim that divine power to reach their destination. They just kept rowing away by human muscle power and they got nowhere. Have we sometimes done that? Have we sometimes said to God, "I want to do it myself?" Have not our pride and ego caused us to try to accomplish the spiritual victories of life in our own human power and strength? And we have failed, over and over and over again. It's time to hoist the sail of the soul and catch the wind of the Spirit.
So many Scriptures fit beautifully into this theme. Jesus likened the Holy Spirit to the wind; the powerful wind that moves ships and turns windmills and generators. "That's what the Holy Spirit is like," Jesus said to Nicodemus. And as these toilers upon the sea could have harnessed the wind to their advantage so you and I can allow the Holy Spirit to empower our lives. We don't have to do it ourselves. Indeed we cannot do it ourselves. The wind of the Spirit can do it through us.
So the apostle Paul said, "It is no longer I that live, it is Christ that lives in me." Paul could not live life successfully. Christ in Paul could live successfully. "I can do all things," he said, "through Christ which strengtheneth me." W hat he meant was "Christ can do all things through me."
Notice, too, that He came on the sea. Did He not have more than one alternative? Couldn't He have come in some other fashion? The very thing that threatened them supported Him. He came upon the very thing they feared. Mark that lesson down in life. How many times has Christ come to men through illness? How many times has Christ walked on the waves of disappointment to come into our lives? How many times have the storms of guilt swept over us and then Jesus has come to us? There is a purpose in tragedy. Now, I do not believe that Jesus sent this storm on the Sea of Galilee. It came by natural, physical, meteorological reasons that are clearly understandable to any weatherman. But once the storm had come, Jesus made it the road over which He traveled.
Never has it been the case that our Lord has made you sick. Never has it been the case that He has defeated you or frustrated you or disappointed you. But when those things happen, He comes upon them. He makes them the highway over which He travels. "He rides upon the storm."
I gave a little quiz to a group of very good Bible students. I listed a number of quotations that are supposed to come from the Bible. One of them was that very verse, "God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps on the sea and rides upon the storm." A decided majority checked that that was in the Bible. One stayed and argued with me for twenty minutes, assuring me that as soon as she got home she was going to look it up and call me and give me the reference. Why are people so absolutely sure that that's in the Bible? Experience has taught them that it's true! He rides upon the storm! The verse is not in the Bible, but the lesson is.
Notice also the difference between his reaction and theirs. How frightened they are. How calm he is. I wish I could go through life like that, don't you? - serene, poised, calm, and without fear. I'd like to live like that, wouldn't you? You can! He can give you that serenity, that calmness. He'll come into your life as He came onto the ship. He'll say, "Peace, be still." You'll know a peace you can't describe.
Again and again across the years, men and women have
heard the words of Jesus as they were spoken on that stormy night so long
ago, "Be of good cheer, it is I, be not afraid."