Concise Lexicon of Christianity

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Unanswered Prayer

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, Let us go over to the other side. Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 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? He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, Quiet! Be still! Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? They were terrified and asked each other, Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!
—Mark 4:35-41, NIV

We find Jesus and the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee in a small boat.

Suddenly, a fierce gale arose. To this day, the Sea of Galilee is prone to sudden small fierce storms, and on that occasion it tossed the boat around badly. Jesus, however, was asleep on the cushion in the stern of the boat. The disciples woke Jesus frantically, Rabbi, they cried frantically, Don’t you even care that our boat is sinking?

Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and told the sea to be still, and it was so. Then He rebuked His disciples for their lack of faith. However, I don’t think that the scolding had much effect; they were too busy being terrified that He had such power over wind and wave.

To someone like me, who was rescued from drowning in wind and wave, the imagery is very powerful without even descending to a symbolic level. I can recall being physically tossed about by powerful waves and buffeted by the cold wind; I know what it is like to be sinking in the sea for what seems to be the very last time, although in my case I didn’t have the benefit of a boat to slow my demise. I understand with absolute clarity how the disciples must have felt as disaster overtook them while their Master slept.

I lived out this Bible story in a very literal way.

Since then, I have had several occasions to live it out in a metaphorical way, and I am ashamed that I still haven’t learned my lesson despite all these years.

You know what I am talking about: there are times in your life when you know a great upheaval is coming. The wind rises ominously and the clouds don’t look right. People suddenly start doing and saying strange things, and you know something is afoot. Relatives fall prey to strange persuasions, your health might even fail. The news on television starts sounding Biblical, and there are rumors the like of which you haven’t heard before. Your life is tossed upon the waves like a small ship on an angry sea. Panic sets in as you decide that the end of something is near; if not your family, if not your finances, if not your career, then maybe the whole world!

Master, Master, you cry to God, Don’t you even care that I am perishing?

And you sit in your quiet room and stare at the ceiling, as if all your prayers never got past that point, and the silence from heaven is deafening. At most points in your life, if you heard an audible voice in answer to your prayer, you’d smile and look for the person who’s playing a joke on you. Or perhaps you’d search the web for a good psychiatrist who specializes in auditory hallucinations; but today in your distress there is a part of you that demands to hear what you’ve never heard, to see what you’ve never seen, because you are scared to your innermost being and you need comfort and rescue, and you need it now.

How impudent of God not to answer. Doesn’t He know what you’re going through?

Sometimes what is not in the Bible is more interesting than what is. Take this incident with the boat, for example.

We are not told that Jesus arose from His sleep in mighty power to point out the danger to the disciples in advance; no, He continued to sleep. They were not confident of their safety, but He was. The reason God seems to be asleep or silent is because He does not share your panic: He’s God! He knows the end of the story. The only reason you panic is because you don’t know how your life will turn out, and because you don’t have faith that the end will be okay.

We are not told that the wind and the waves acted improperly. In fact, by His sleeping, Jesus seems to have consented to the weather until the disciples were overcome by panic. So why was the storm permitted to arise in the first place? Well, for one thing, they never would have learned about Jesus’ power, nor would we have this incident in the New Testament, I couldn’t write this, and you couldn’t be edified about troubles in your life. Perhaps the troubles in your life have a long-term benefit that outweighs the short-term disadvantage. Maybe if you took a break from your panic you could find out what it is. Could it be that God needs to use a catastrophe to get you to switch to something better? Could it be that you were spiritually hard of hearing, and God must use pyrotechnics to guide you to a better way? Could it be that you need teaching, and this is the only way you’ll listen? Could it be that the Great Physician must break the bone to set it properly? Could it be that you sought pleasant things and avoided dealing with painful things so that they all piled up in one big mess?

We are not told that Jesus commanded the wind and the waves with masterful gestures or a great, loud voice. For all we know from the text, he just quietly told them to behave themselves. This makes sense, because people who truly have power don’t need to flaunt it. God may not answer our request with the same urgency and fireworks, but that does not mean that His answer doesn’t come. Don’t expect a battalion of angels to vindicate you! Don’t expect the heavens to open up and a deep voice to exonerate you! God’s rescue comes in a quiet way; in fact those of us who are hard to teach often look back on God’s rescues and decide that we were saved by something else instead: coincidence, kindness, or our own ability. Don’t make that mistake so God won’t have to repeat the lesson. I suppose the disciples could have shrugged the whole thing off a few weeks later as a coincidence, but they learned to have faith. Will you learn?

Is trouble brewing in your life? Does God seem to be asleep in the helm? Are you terrified about the prospects for the immediate future? Then by all means scream at God with all your lungs, make your complaint known, voice your panic, explain your fears, plead your case… and don’t be distraught when the ceiling echoes back only your own voice, and you sit there hollow and in tears.

Because in His own good time He will stand up quietly to rebuke your troubles and to rebuke your little faith. Then you will be terrified by His presence, and you will be comforted by His providence.