My Dear Shepherds,
Her email said,
The haunting question that threatens to rip our faith apart still comes and goes: Has God turned his back on us? Is he through with us? If so, what does one do? Where are his promises (provision—we can’t pay our bills or gas for the car or for clothes or find another job—in any field, so far)? I alternate being mad at him which scares me to death and feeling guilty for being angry. We both feel very lonely in this.
That’s an echo of another story:
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:37-38)
One of the themes in Mark’s Gospel is discipleship failure. This is his first example. Every disciple has been in that boat. Every one of us has questioned Christ’s care. We, as pastors, not only relate to this story ourselves but we are called to be interventionists when our people fear they are drowning.
The Holy Spirit regularly dispatches us to a counseling session, a panicky phone call, a hospital visit, or whispered worry in the church foyer. We are sent so that their faith doesn’t fail.
Years ago, a friend sent me a cassette of a sermon by Daryl Witmer, a pastor in Maine who’d been partially paralyzed by Guillain-Barre Syndrome. On his first Sunday back after weeks of suffering and silence he preached on this text from his wheelchair. He likened Jesus sleeping in the boat to the silence of God in his own crisis.
He quoted C. S. Lewis from A Grief Observed, “But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” Witmer’s sermon guided us through the storm to the conclusion, “Then they crossed over ….”
Sometimes the Holy Spirit allows pastors to slip into people’s situations through an unlocked side door. As we sit with them, even our silent presence whispers of the Lord’s attention. If we’re patient, just the right Scripture comes to mind. When we pray in love and faith, they’re reassured that, in fact, Jesus does care.
The sudden financial collapse in the autumn of 2008 devastated some of my people. (Others who had few resources weren’t even aware of the catastrophe.) I earnestly prayed about what to say the next Sunday.
When the prelude ended, instead of the usual cheery greetings and song, I acknowledged what had happened and how frightened some of the people were. Then I slowly quoted Psalm 91, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty ….” I sang a little chorus, “He careth for you, he careth for you … never forget, never lose sight for he careth for you ….” Then I prayed for them with words prompted by the Spirit. And as the story says, “Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”
Christians’ stories don’t need to end in a faith-fail. We can help them so that when the Lord finally breaks his silence he will say, “I see your faith,” and he will rebuke the wind and the waves within them: “Quiet! Be still!” And whether or not the storm around them is calmed, they will lie down in peace and sleep for the LORD makes them dwell in safety.
Be ye glad!