How to trust Jesus in the storms of life

3 mins read
Jesus calms the storm
Christ in the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A great storm is tamed. A great calm comes. It’s followed by great awe. That was the disciples’ experience in that boat. Creaturely fear was replaced by holy fear. And the difference was Jesus and faith.

Jesus had just been preaching but was then on his way into gentile territory. He had been preaching about hearing the word of God, about letting the word of God grow like a seed in the soil of your soul. He talked about faith, the power of faith as small as even a mustard seed. Faith is meant to grow, Jesus taught. Faith, he said, can grow so big that even others may find shelter in it (cf. Mk 4:30-32). If you let it. If you trust.

June 23 – Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jb 38:1, 8-11

Ps 107:23-24, 25-26, 28-29, 30-31

2 Cor 5:14-17

Mk 4:35-41

But the disciples are not there yet. Their faith is still weak when measured against their fear. When the “great” storm comes, they — experienced fishermen — are frightened out of their wits! Theirs is an altogether human fear, primeval and weak; it’s the sort of fear we feel when nature reminds us how small and weak we are. Which explains the desperation, the urgency, and even the rudeness of their prayer: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mk 4:39). It’s a prayer, however impolite, we perfectly understand.

But the miracle: “Quiet! Be still!” The great calm comes (cf. Mk 4:40). Jesus, by his word, governs not just the demons but the elements too. This is the word he is asking the disciples to take into their hearts, this almighty word. This is the word he’s asking his disciple to trust.

Storms of our lives

Which is the question this story poses to us: Do we trust Jesus in the storms of our lives? Yes, it is understandable that we are sometimes frightened, sometimes suddenly. Yes, our prayers may be a bit urgent and rude sometimes. But still, do we trust? Do we believe in the power of Jesus? Do we believe in the word of God? Do we believe God cares? Do we believe he can calm the storm? We may, undoubtedly, like the things Jesus says, we may love him and worship him, but do we trust him?

To be honest, these are not easy questions to answer. For some folks, you see, the storms are still raging. Whatever the storms, whatever they look like, still for many, there is no calm yet. Which is why this passage is also a challenge; it makes us ask questions about our own faith, about how much we really trust God. Do we really? I’ll be honest: some days I am completely ruled by fear. Some days it is not just that I think God is sleeping, I think God is just gone. The transition from great storms to great calm often is not as smooth as this story suggests.

Sometimes, the storms go on and on. We shouldn’t be sentimental about it. The faith Jesus says we must have is hard; the fear we have is real.

But that’s precisely the spiritual and more important point of this story. It’s a visceral point. Yes, the storms of life are great; but still, we have nowhere else to turn but to Jesus. And yes, that’s difficult at times; yes, Jesus seems to be asleep at times, not fearful like we are; which can be disturbing, like he doesn’t care what we’re going through. But it’s precisely in that moment, fearful and feeling just like that, that we should not give up but persevere in prayer. Faith, real faith, is not easy. Nor is real prayer. Didn’t Jesus point to that pushy widow (cf. Lk 18:1-8) and say we should pray like that? That, I think, is one of the lessons of this story, that we can go to Jesus with our angry, frightened prayers. He can take it. In fact, I suspect they are better than our calmer prayers. Because they’re probably more honest. Just keep praying.

Now great calm will come, and great awe too. That is revealed truth. But it just doesn’t happen without faith. Calm and holy fear do not come without trust. Which is why all I can say, as a fellow disciple in the boat with you, sometimes holding on for dear life too, is this: Just don’t stop praying! For only he can calm the waters, the one “whom even the wind and sea obey” (Mk 4:41). You better believe it.

Father Joshua J. Whitfield

Father Joshua J. Whitfield is pastor of St. Rita Catholic Community in Dallas and author of “The Crisis of Bad Preaching” (Ave Maria Press, $17.95) and other books.