Asleep In The Boat

Sometimes you can watch a storm forming out on the horizon, dark clouds gathering, ominously approaching as the atmosphere shifts and you can begin to feel the inevitability of the storm’s presence – but more than likely, you still have time to make your way to shelter. Down here in Florida, you can be traveling on the highway and see off in the distance an isolated cell of down pour surrounded by clear skies – it’s a curious thing to see such a torrential event so hemmed in. But if you ever happen to be on the water, a few miles off shore, when a storm swiftly moves in and begins to toss your boat around like a rag doll — then you know what it truly means to be caught in a storm.

Whether it is the looming darkness of a storm that stalks you, or the cacophony of trying to hold on for dear life in the midst of deluge – the idea of storm makes for an evocative metaphor. So your experience might feel like an isolated cell you see menacing a loved one’s life, feeling as if all you can do is helplessly watch. Or it’s the dread you feel about something unavoidably coming your way that will most certainly flip your world on its head, and all you can do is hang on tight until it passes. The idea of storm always stirs something deep within us.

But like the Longfellow poem observes “Into each life some rain must fall, some days must be dark and dreary”. It is common to man, to know the travail of storms . . . which is why Mark 4:37-40 has always been such a troublesome passage for me. The disciples find themselves on open water in the middle of a storm, tossing their boat about and filling it to the point of sinking – they undoubtedly had good reason to fear for their lives . . . and there’s Jesus, asleep in the boat.

christ-asleep-in-his-boat-jules-joseph-meynierThey must have been astounded that he could sleep so deeply with so much chaos about – yet he does not awaken until his disciples awaken him. And here’s where I imagine the disciples, incredulously asking Jesus “Are you just going to let us die here”. Here’s why I find this question so perplexing – they are simultaneously convinced that Jesus can do something about it (or why ask him this question), but they are also afraid he either can’t (he isn’t the Christ), or he won’t (because a God who creates storms in the first place is an unpredictable God).

Jesus speaks “Peace, be still” to the storm before addressing the disciples lack of faith. So at this point the disciples are feeling relieved and likely a little confused about being admonished about their lack of faith – after all, they did wake him up expectantly . . . and was likely still confused as to how he could sleep with so much chaos afoot. And that’s what makes this passage so troublesome for me – why is Jesus asleep in the first place? But even more troublesome, when awakened, why does he view his having been awakened as a lack of faith on their part? Are we not to turn to him in troubled times?

But what if Jesus being asleep in the boat is the whole point of this story? How would that change our understanding of it? What if the true measure of faith is found in our willingness to rest in Him while in the midst of the storm – instead of trying to avoid the storm? Faith can only overcome fear when we finally realize that faith transcends circumstance – instead of insisting that circumstances must change. Jesus may have been asleep in the boat – but he never left the boat . . . he was always with them. We must learn to remember that his presence is always more than enough to see us through anything we face . . . and we should also remember, that God never really sleeps.


The Lord is our shelter . . . 

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5 thoughts on “Asleep In The Boat

  1. Hi, I love this story too, but as to why Jesus was asleep, maybe it was a not so subtle way to illustrate that He would not always be with them physically. Maybe He was priming the spiritual pump getting them prepared to use the power of His name and Holy Spirit. He did something similar when the “guys” had returned from going out “two by two” in Mark chapter 6. After they had been thwarted in trying to find a quiet place to rest, they ended up with a huge crowd of people who were needing to be fed. The disciples wanted to send them away, but Jesus’ first response is “you give them something”. He may have been a tad frustrated and disappointed if He had not really known as God only can. Here they had forgotten all that they had been able to do under His power and authority. We really do have short memories. Thanks Greg!
    Joel

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    • When Jesus is awakened, he calms the storm and then points out the disciples lack of faith — which begs the question: if they don’t awaken him would that have been understood as an act of faith? If so why? My contention is that their lack of faith was demonstrated in their assumption that the only way to survive the storm was to have Jesus *remove* it . . . had they trusted that his presence with them in the boat was enough to *endure* the storm — then they would have been acting in faith.

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      • Yes, I believe you are right, since the biblical definition of faith is, “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things NOT seen.” I used to think that miracles were great acts of great faith, until I factored in God’s definition of faith. In Hebrew’s list of great faith, the two miracle workers of the OT, Elijah and Elisha, were missing. Only those who believed God’s promise, never actually seeing it happen, that’s faith. I wonder if miracles are given as a sign at times, and at other times, to bolster the one weak in faith. Just something to consider.

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