Sunday, January 19, 2020

Contrary Winds

"But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary."
Matthew 14:24
(KJV)

Contrary 
Greek word:  ἐναντίος
Meaning:  opposite, hostile, opposed, intensifying, set against,
"in the sphere against," adverse to, antagonistic in feeling or act, to do something against one

As I spoke with a very dear friend recently and was telling them how sorry I am that their life is so difficult right now, their response to me was, "It's all a part of my punishment."  This is truly how they feel.  God-forsaken.  Abandoned by His help.  Completely hopeless.  Severely punished by God and not being able to pinpoint or identify why.  The winds that are blowing into and through their life are completely "contrary," and it feels like everything is against them.  There is absolutely no good thing on the horizon, and they have nothing to look forward to. 

Having nothing to look forward to is never a good thing.  We all need at least a glimmer of hope to muster the strength to press on.  Looking at my friend's situation from my viewpoint, I don't believe for a second that God has forsaken them or that they are being punished.  I don't believe God punishes His children for doing right, and I happen to know the depths of my friend's obedience and all it has cost to follow Jesus with their whole, entire heart.  Just as Kevin and I would never in a million years punish Zach for being on his best behavior, our just and loving, faithful Heavenly Father would never in a million years punish one of His children for being as obedient as they could possibly be.  I see this, but it is hard to make my friend see that when they are inside the boat, far away from shore, in the midst of a pounding storm full of contrary winds that shows no sign of slowing down.

Perhaps you find yourself in such a place?  If you do, I want to offer you some lessons I recently learned from Matthew 14:22-33.  This passage of Scripture has profoundly encouraged me, and I hope it does the same for you.  I humbly suggest you to take out your Bible and read God's Word as you read the thoughts below.

1.  God always has a plan.
  Jesus directed His disciples to get into the boat and go to the other side of the lake.  Nothing escaped Him.  He knew the storm was coming.  He could have gotten into the boat with them, but He chose to send them into the storm and come to them later.

2.  Jesus made prayer His top priority and did whatever necessary to make it happen.
  Jesus needed time away from everything to be alone with His Father.  We don't know what time it was when He sent His disciples away from Him or what time He started praying, but we do know that when evening came, He was still there, alone with His Father.

3.  Jesus is interceding while we are struggling.
  As Jesus prayed, His disciples had made it a distance out into the water, and they were fighting a contrary wind. 

4.  No matter how much we doubt Him or His intentions and ways, our questions do not change God's faithfulness.
  Sometime between 3:00 am and 6:00 am, Jesus came on the scene of the disciple's terror.  I don't know what time they left Jesus and got in the boat, but let's make a timeline based on what we know.  It was before evening when Jesus and His disciples parted ways because the Bible tells us that evening fell as Jesus was on the mountain praying.  So, we can safely say that it was before evening when Jesus sent His disciples on ahead of Him.  We do know that the disciples had had enough time to make it to the middle of the water.  We don't know what time the storm began, but we know that Jesus did not reveal His presence until "the fourth watch of the night" which is between 3-6 am.  It sounds to me like they may have struggled for quite some time before Jesus made an appearance.  They must have felt God-forsaken.  If I had been on that boat, some of my questions and comments would have undoubtedly been, "Why did He send us into this?  He had to know this awful storm was coming.  He knows everything.  All that touches our lives passes first through His hand.  Why didn't He come with us?  Why did He send us into this alone?  Where is He?  Does He not see what we are going through?  We are going under, and He doesn't seem to care.  I can't believe He would abandon us like this.  Haven't we been faithful to walk by His side?  Haven't we done all He asked us to?  Look how hard we worked at the feeding of the 5,000!  Then, immediately after, He sends us into this?  We are going to drown, and there is no way we can keep fighting this storm.  This is too much.  I can't take anymore.  Lord, where are you?  Why aren't you helping us?"

5.  We can be so blinded by fear and our own preconceived notions of how God will work that we do not recognize Him when He does.
When the disciples did see Jesus walking into their storm, they didn't recognize Him.  They thought He was a ghost.  They were so focused on the violence of the pounding, they did not identify that His presence would change everything.  Of course, they had never seen anyone walking on water, and that must have been the most incredible part.  How could a man walk on top of something as unstable as water?  Only a ghost could do such a thing, right?  To see a ghost produced even more fear in their hearts.  They certainly did not take comfort in the thought of a ghost walking toward them on the water!  So, it looked like their situation was only going from bad to even worse when they saw Jesus.  They were so far into panic mode that they were completely missing the miracle happening right in front of them, and seeing Jesus walking on water only escalated their fears.  He wasn't coming to them in a manner they were expecting.  His ways are so far above our ways, and walking on water wasn't even on their radar of probability.  They had never heard of such a thing.  No one had.  It wasn't even possible for someone to walk on top of water, so the thought could not have even entered their minds that this was Jesus.  A "ghost" was all they could see.

6.  Jesus' voice always sounds the same and is the only proof we need.
 Jesus immediately calmed their fears in the only way that would have been effective and penetrated through their terror.  He spoke.  Oh, that voice!  It was something they could recognize!  He know how blinded by fear they were, and He knew that the only thing they could conceive walking on water was a ghost, so He did the only thing that would have convinced them that it was not a ghost—it was Him.  He let them hear His voice.  His voice was familiar to them.  They would only recognize or believe that it was Him by hearing Him speak, so He spoke.  "Be of good cheer.  It is I.  Be not afraid."  The only way they could identify Him was through His voice.
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me:  and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand."  John 10:27-28

7.  God works outside our boxes and beyond our limited expectations.
 Of all of the people on the boat, only one of His disciples answered.  It was Peter.  He still wasn't convinced that this was Jesus.  He knew Jesus' voice, yet this did not look like Jesus.  This was not an expected method of doing things.  It sounded like Jesus, but how could it really be Jesus?  If it really was Jesus, wouldn't He have come to them in another boat?  Walking on water was something that only a ghost could do, right?  None of this made human sense, and Peter couldn't wrap his mind around how this could possibly be Jesus.  So, he did what Kevin and I, with our background in banking, would have done.  He asked for proof of Jesus' identity.  Jesus knew how absurd walking on water would be for His disciples to comprehend.  He knew they had never seen anything like this before.  He knew that their minds worked only in the natural, the expected, the status quo.  They were not accustomed to thinking out of the box.  They weren't expecting anything beyond what they could explain and analyze.  Phenomenal was not in their realm of consideration.  Even though they had just witnessed one of the greatest miracles of all time and they must have still been wrestling with HOW Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and turned it into enough food to feed over 5,000 people, walking on water was not on their minds as something Jesus would be able to do.  So, hearing Jesus' voice and recognizing it fully, Peter asked for a sign that this really was Jesus.  "Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water."  Peter knew Jesus' voice but since Jesus did not appear in a way that Peter would expect Him to, He needed further proof and confirmation that this truly was Jesus. 

8.  God's answers to our prayers sometimes stretch us far past our comfort zone.
Jesus gave Peter what he asked for but it required great courage on Peter's part to comply with his own request.  "And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus." 

9.  It is never wise to take our eyes off Jesus.
 Peter was okay while He was listening to Jesus' voice, but when the full realization swept over him of how absurd it was that he was doing something so impossible to do, he began to sink.  He was afraid.  Fear took over.  He had heard Jesus say, "Come," right?  Had he really heard his voice?  Asking him to do something so off the wall as to walk on water?  This was not the norm.  This did not make sense.  This did not fit into anyone's box.  Peter spent much of his life on water.  He knew water.  Water was not something you could walk on.  None of this was making sense.  Surely he must have misunderstood Jesus' directive.  Why did he ever ask for this?  In that moment, Peter must have been completely overcome by so many facets of his situation.  His knee-jerk reaction to the overwhelm was to turn to Jesus for help.  His urgent plea for Jesus' help proves that He knew it was really Jesus.  "But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me."  When he saw the wind - when he took his eyes off Jesus and started looking at the wind - that's when he started sinking. 

10.  God never loses control—ever.  He is always, always in command of every storm and situation.
  "And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"  Don't you just love that word in this verse, "immediately?"  I do.  I love how Jesus didn't stand there and scold or take delight in seeing Peter squirm and struggle in such a state of panic.  Jesus understood Peter better than Peter understood Peter, and there was no harsh rebuke.  Just a gentle admonition to bring Peter's lack of faith to his attention.  Jesus had it all under control all along.  His timing was impeccable, even though it felt like way too long to His disciples.  They were never going to perish in that storm.  He would never have allowed it.  The only way they would have ever been in any real danger was if Jesus had not been in control, and the reality was, He never lost control at all.  While they were struggling, He was not only praying, He was making His way to them.  "And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased."  As soon as Jesus was on board, everything became calm.  The wind died down.  The storm was over. 

I don't know what you may be facing today, but I want to remind you that you will get through this.  God is able to bring you through anything, no matter how violent the storm.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.  
"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."  Hebrews 12:2 (KJV)  

Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father, and He is praying for you!  
"It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us."  
Romans 8:34 (KJV)
Though it may appear that He has forgotten you, that could not be farther from the truth.  Stay the course, and keep your trust in Him.  He will never leave your side.

"The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."
Deuteronomy 31:8 (NIV)

This song!  Oh, how it is encouraging my family and me right now.  The words are profound and I have loved it since Zach first introduced it to me.  I hope you will find comfort in it, too, as you listen.


Remind Me You're Here - Jason Gray

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Graphics by Zach Smith

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