by Joseph Kostelnik
I'm told the Chinese characters for crisis and opportunity are the same. My friend, Pastor Joseph Prince of Singapore's 17,000 member New Creation Church, recently confirmed the truth of this statement to me (his wife, Wendy, is Chinese).
In other words, our perspective on our problems makes a great deal of difference in whether we emerge from a trial better or bitter. It's not so important what happens to us as much as what occurs in us. Scientists who study these situations tell us an entirely different set of positive chemical reactions occur in our bodies when we view a stressful circumstance as a problem to be solved rather than a predicament to be shunned. We find a thrilling illustration of this phenomenon in a familiar story from Matthew 14 regarding the storm at sea.
You remember the situation. After the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 the Lord constrained His disciples to get into the boat and sail to the other side of the lake in advance of His arrival. Note the use of that word, constrained. Really, now, wouldn't all of us rather remain at the side of the powerful, compassionate Savior if given a choice?
Sometimes though He thrusts us out into a place of service, usually something outside of our comfort zone. For example, just when I thought I was getting a handle on how to minister to a family member with health problems (my father died of heart disease, stroke and diabetes), my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and I became the primary caregiver for a number of years. Recently my wife of 31 years was diagnosed with breast cancer (thankfully a successful lumpectomy and a clear lymph node test offer an excellent healing prognosis). Couple this with ongoing financial challenges in the church and ministry and I'm sure you will agree my life is not much different from yours or the members of your family or congregation. Life in a fallen world presents challenges to us all.
In any case, the disciples obeyed and launched out while Jesus went up into the mountain to pray alone. Viewed correctly, this is actually a comforting thought: He is making intercession for us continually at the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:34). "But the boat was now in the midst of the sea, being continually tossed around by the waves for the wind was contrary."
Sometimes we mistakenly believe that encountering trials, temptations and tribulations is a sure and certain indication that we are out of the Lord's will. More often than not, these obstacles mean the opposite! If a trouble-free life and ministry indicate the Lord's hand of blessing, then the apostle Paul never did find God's perfect will for his life. As someone has said, when Paul entered a new field of ministry, he didn't ask what hotel he would be staying in but what jail!
What is your crisis? What is it that has you surrounded, confused, irritated, frustrated, aggravated, or hurting? Is the enemy taunting you with these words, "Where's your God, now?" If you have set out to obey the will of God for your life and are endeavoring to complete His assignment for your ministry, rest assured Jesus is well aware of your situation-He's interceding for you-the contrary winds of chaotic circumstances notwithstanding.
Suddenly, at about three or four in the morning, when the disciples were farther from their destination than when they first set out, they saw someone "walking around on the sea." We might mention two facts here. Some who doubt the miraculous in the scriptures say they were mistaken, that He was walking along the shore! However, the Greek preposition and case make it clear He was making actual contact with the sea (the Greek phrase, "reign upon the earth," [Rev. 5:10] uses the same construction). The second fact-the really comforting one for our purposes-is that the inspired text says Jesus was walking around on the "sea," not the waves. There is always perfect peace where He is.
Then, there were two voices: one was their shriek of fear thinking He was a ghost, the other was His voice: "Take courage." Of course, our response in such a situation would be, "Easy for You to say; I'm the one drowning in the sinking boat!"
The Master's greeting was followed by a comma, not a period. There was a reason for His encouragement. His second statement was, "it is I." The disciples knew exactly who He was identifying Himself with by that statement: the great I Am, covenant-keeping God of the Old Testament, Yahweh.
He has a name for every one of our needs. He is Yahweh-yireh, the Lord who looks ahead and provides (Gen. 22:13ff.); Yahweh-ropheka, the Lord our physician (Ex. 15:22); Yahweh-nissi, the Lord our banner of victory (Ex. 17:8ff.); Yahweh-shalom, the Lord our peace (Jud. 6:14); Yahweh-raah, the Lord our shepherd (Ps. 23:1); Yahweh-tsidkenu, the Lord our righteousness (Jer. 23:6); and Yahweh-shammah, the Lord ever-present (Ezek. 48:35). No wonder He told his troubled protégés to cheer up! And then He followed this revelation of His person with the familiar advice "do not be afraid."
I have read, studied and preached about this Bible portion for many years but only recently really understood Peter's question of his Lord. Having discovered just who Jesus was declaring Himself to be, I assumed Peter's request was a way of saying, "If You're really Yahweh, then not only do You do miracles, but You enable Your servants to do them also!" And there's a truth to this interpretation. But have you ever really asked yourself why a fisherman, already in a state of panic and confusion would risk even further injury by moving "from the frying pan to the fire?"
Recently, the Spirit of the Lord opened my eyes to the fact I mentioned previously. As Peter looked off from the boat unto Jesus, he clearly saw that the only place of safety was with Him. Use your imagination with me and visualize the darkness of the night, the wind and the waves crashing against the boat, the terrified disciples straining against the oars watching their craft move farther from their destination.
Now look off with Peter to the Lord Jesus "walking around on the sea" (not the waves), columns of water on either side of Him and a placid plank of tranquil liquid under His feet and stretching forth to the boat. Analyzing your options for survival, would you not, with Peter, say, "Lord, if it is You, bid me come to You on the water"?
In the midst of the contrary winds of life, when it appears that all is lost and even our best efforts are coming up short in terms of stopping the storm, it's best to leave the boat behind. By faith through spending time with Him, we must trade our problem for His presence (Ps. 16:11). As we turn to Him we discover "times of refreshing from the Face of the Lord" (Acts 3:19). Admittedly, this will require a step of unconditional surrender. But is there any other sane and spiritual solution?
It is in His presence, in the light of His word, that He speaks to our hearts. His still, small voice quietly whispers, "This is the way; walk ye in it." His Spirit acts as a divine umpire within, guiding us to the correct guidance for our particular problems (Col. 3:15). And when the storm has passed and we find ourselves safely on the other side, we shall find another opportunity for service in His name, just as the disciples did. Just now, turn from your trouble to His presence, believe that He is "I Am," with a Name for your need. Commit yourself anew to Him unconditionally and watch Him be a rewarder of you as you diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6).
Leave the boat behind.
Joseph Kostelnik is pastor of White Oak Chapel in Cincinnati, Ohio.