The Here and Now of God’s Presence

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
(Mark 4:40)

A siren-like alarm was sounding in a nearby room of our home. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, and then it occurred to me that it might be the NOAA weather radio which had not activated for some time. The alarm stopped and was followed by the message that there would be a severe thunderstorm warning for the county in which we live, to be in effect for the following hour. The alert continued to caution of heavy downpours and lightning including wind gusts up to 60 mph with quarter size hail, capable of causing damage to trees, vehicles, roofing and siding. I remember thinking to myself that I was glad I was at home with a basement to go to if necessary.  Imagine being outside in this kind of storm with nowhere to take cover! But I knew by the bulletin that there would be an approximate beginning and ending time, giving assurance that this storm would soon pass.

When the disciples went out on a lake with Jesus, they no doubt had a very different feeling. “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped” (Mark 4:37). Scripture tells us that Jesus was sleeping. So, “The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ Jesus responded, ‘Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!’ Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:25-26). Although the text doesn’t say which apostles were with Christ on the boat, it’s probable that seasoned fishermen were aboard who would have been quite familiar with the ways of the sea. Yet, they were frightened, and apparently thought He would be able to do something. Even when Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples gave every indication that they still weren’t yet convinced He was God in the flesh.  For they asked each other, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him” (Luke 8:25).

Based on the 1997 nonfiction book by the same name, the film Perfect Storm tells the story of the ‘Andrea Gail’ – a commercial fishing vessel with six crew members that was lost at sea after being caught in the storm of the century. Boasting waves over one hundred feet high, the converging combination of clashing weather systems was so rare that meteorologists deemed the October, 1991 marvel “the perfect storm.” This terminology, which has since been devised for common usage, has come to refer to a very unpleasant situation in which several bad things happen at once. This certainly was the case with the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic which prompted government officials to issue stay-at-home orders for millions of Americans.  Following months of business and manufacturing closures, an unbelievably high level of unemployment witnessed results that had not been seen since 1934. Just as restrictions were starting to lift, an incident of police brutality caused the death of an African-American male followed by protests sparked deadly looting and riots throughout the nation. One perfect storm, indeed!

The imagery behind the story of Jesus calming the storm should bring great encouragement and hope for anyone facing any storm in life. But first, one must inventory who they have in the boat with them. Frequently we will find names like Despair, Hopelessness, Worry, Uncertainty, Depression, Stressfulness, Discontent, Exhaustion, and Disillusionment to be among those who take these troublesome journeys with us.  We know of God and may, like the disciples, have a relationship with His Son Jesus. But just like those followers who were caught with Him in the storm, we cannot rely on the emotions of doubt. We must come to trust not only in the power but also in the presence of the One who can bring true peace to the unsettled circumstances around us. If Jesus was able to save the apostles from the storm, He is also able to rescue us from the storms of everyday life. For He is with us and will never leave us (Hebrews 13:5). If He can still the storms of the sea with one word, He can calm the storms of life as well. It is when we understand the ‘here and now of God’s presence’ that it will truly be a perfect storm.

REFLECTION: What are the emotional factors that keep you from fully trusting God when you are facing various trials?  Are you able to see Him as not only the God of power but also the God of presence? If you do not constantly sense His presence, what do you need to change in your life for this to happen?

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