August 7, 2005

FAITH FOR DUMMIES

“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Mark 4:40

Picture yourself out on the sea in a boat that’s about to sink. Only a few hours ago you were thinking about plans for next week. You hardly gave a thought to danger. The boat seemed perfectly safe. But now it doesn’t seem safe at all. The land is far behind, waves are flooding into the boat, and it’s in danger of sinking soon. The sea is going to swallow you up, and there doesn’t seem to be a thing anyone can do about it. You can’t stop the water from filling the boat. You can’t stop the boat from sinking. You can’t swim to land. There are no ships nearby to rescue you. What can you do but panic and perish?

Meanwhile, as you and your companions rush about in a frenzy, one person on board is sleeping. Sleeping! There he lies with his head on a pillow, napping, untroubled by the danger. Worse yet, this man is supposed to be the leader of those on board. What kind of leader snores through a crisis without listening to the cries of his companions? Water is rushing into the boat, people are shrieking all around him, but he just goes on snoozing. How can he sleep at such a time? Doesn’t he know what’s happening? Doesn’t he care? He should do something! And even if he can’t do much, he should at least be awake and aware that the boat is sinking. Somebody had better wake him up.

So you and your friends do just that. One bellows, “Sir, we’re going to drown.” Another whines, “Don’t you care if we drown?” Still another shrieks, “Save us! We’re drowning!” The man opens his eyes, sits up, and looks around. He doesn’t seem at all upset that the boat is filling with water.

But he seems to be upset with you. “Why the big panic?” he asks. “Don’t you have any faith? Don’t you trust me yet?” Then, before anyone can reply, he turns and speaks a few words. Suddenly everything changes. The winds which were howling a moment ago are suddenly quiet. The waves which were tossing the boat and threatening to swamp it are still. The sky is calm. The sea is smooth as glass. The boat is safe. The man turns back to you and asks, “Where is your faith?”

You and your companions are stunned. Now you’re more afraid than ever, but it’s a different kind of fear. This man can be downright scary. Something about him makes you tremble. “What kind of man is this?” you whisper to each other. “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Who is this? This is Jesus. Of the many astonishing events in Jesus’ life, his stilling of a storm is one of the most amazing and fascinating. If you’re curious about Jesus and trying to figure out who he really is, this story reveals much about Jesus’ true identity. And if you’re wondering how to deal with terrible problems and threats to your safety, this story offers guidance in the challenge of living by faith in Jesus during stormy situations. To put it another way, this true story reveals faith for dummies.

A Book for Beginners

Maybe you know of the popular books “for dummies,” such as Windows XP for Dummies, Personal Finance for Dummies, Calculus for Dummies, and so forth. These books “for dummies” try to explain things in plain language for beginners, for ordinary people who aren’t experts. I sometimes think the Bible could be subtitled, Faith for Dummies.

In Proverbs 8:5 the Bible extends an invitation to dummies: “You who are foolish, gain understanding.” Psalm 19:7 says that God’s words “are trustworthy, making wise the simple. Psalm 119:130 says that God’s truth “gives understanding to the simple.” The Bible is a book to help confused people understand, to teach ignorant people the truth, to help immature people grow up, to make doubters believe, to make dummies wise.

The Bible is not just for scholars or mature believers. The Bible is a book for beginners who are seeking to know Jesus for the first time. The Bible is for people with more questions than answers, more fear than faith. God’s Word speaks to dummies who don’t know it all and don’t have it all together.

The gospel accounts of Jesus’ life are especially helpful. The first four books of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—offer fast-paced stories of Jesus in action that are exciting enough to get the attention of beginners and little children. They record Jesus’ teaching, was sprinkled with many striking statements and colorful, down-to-earth stories.

As the gospels tell about Jesus, they do something else that’s helpful for dummies like us: they describe Jesus’ first followers: questions they asked, mistakes they made, dumb things they did. Those disciples were getting to know Jesus and learning to have faith, so their questions and blunders were often similar to those of people today who are just getting to know Jesus and need to grow in their faith. We can learn from their experience and grow in faith as they did.

The story of the disciples panicking when their boat was caught in a storm and of Jesus stilling the storm offers an especially powerful dose of faith for dummies. This story answers some very basic questions about Jesus, and it helps strugglers with fear and doubt to gain peace and confidence.

Fully Divine, Fully Human

Let’s look first at what the story tells us about Jesus’ identity. It shows in a striking way that Jesus is both human and divine. Jesus the man lies asleep; Jesus the Lord tells the wind and the waves to go to sleep. It’s a marvel and a mystery how Jesus can be man and God at the same time, and how his divine nature and his human nature relate to each other. But though it’s a mystery, his humanity and his deity are both real.

As a man, Jesus is just as human as your or me. He has a body like yours or mine. During his time on earth, he got tired like you and I get tired. Jesus had been preaching and dealing with huge crowds all day, and by evening he was exhausted. He needed to get away and get some rest. So he told his disciples to go with him in a boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Then Jesus took a cushion, lay down in the stern of the boat, and went to sleep. If you’ve ever doubted whether Jesus is really human, just look at him lying there, weary, worn out, trying to get some rest. No doubt about it, Jesus is a man.

But he’s not just a man. What sort of man falls asleep from exhaustion but then wakes up and gives orders to wind and waves? Jesus is a man, all right, but he’s also God. The biblical Psalms make it clear that power over seas and storms belongs to the Lord God: “O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them” (Psalm 89:8‑9). “Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea—the Lord on high is mighty” (Psalm 93:4). If you’ve ever doubted whether Jesus is really God Almighty, just look at him giving orders to water and weather. No doubt about it, Jesus is God.

Jesus has two natures, a human nature and a divine nature. And though the two natures are joined in him, they are not mixed or blended into some third thing that is 50 percent human and 50 percent divine. No, Jesus is 100 percent human and 100 percent divine. His humanity and deity are unmixed. His divine nature didn’t keep his human nature from getting tired just like any other man, and his human nature didn’t keep his divine nature from giving orders to nature just like the God he is. Jesus’ humanity is completely human; his deity is totally divine.

So, then, Jesus is a man who knows our weakness and weariness firsthand, and at the same time he’s the eternal, all‑powerful King of Creation with power to rescue us from any storm. Jesus is not just a terrific teacher. Jesus is not just the greatest man the world has ever known. Jesus is God himself come to us as a man.

Dangerous Waters

Once Jesus’ identity is clear in our minds, we must move ahead and put our faith to work. Faith isn’t just something you have; it is something you use. Faith isn’t just the truths you believe when you’re sitting in church; faith is the Person you count on when a storm strikes and your boat is about to sink.

Let’s be realistic about something up front: It’s not always easy being in the same boat with Jesus. Jesus’ disciples found that out first hand. The Lord doesn’t always make life pleasant and problem‑free. Sometimes Jesus brings you into dangerous waters. Sometimes Jesus puts you directly in the path of a storm. It’s not just that storms happen to come upon you; Jesus is the one who puts you in the path of the storm in the first place. In the story we’ve been looking at, it was Jesus himself who suggested crossing the lake (Luke 8:22). He knew the storm was coming, but did he keep everyone on land safe and secure? No, he brought them right into the middle of danger.

It’s not always easy being in the same boat with Jesus. Not only does he bring you into storms, he may let the situation get worse and worse until it seems completely out of hand. And even then he doesn’t lift a finger. He lets everything around you become utterly hopeless. Why? Isn’t he aware of your troubles? Doesn’t he care? Can’t he do anything to help? That’s what the disciples were wondering, and still today there are times when many of us find ourselves asking the same questions.

For some reason we’re surprised when we face dreadful trials. We seem to think Jesus makes it his personal mission to keep us comfortable and happy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But we don’t understand Jesus very well if that’s what we think. Jesus befriends us and teaches us and nurtures faith in us, but then he decides it’s time for a trial, a test of our a faith. He uses the trial to prove our faith genuine and to improve it where it’s not yet what it should be.

The apostle Peter was one of the men in the boat with Jesus that stormy night, and Peter panicked along with the others. The trouble caught Peter by surprise, and his faith didn’t do very well in the test. Years later, however, Peter had learned a lot and was more realistic. He knew from experience that being in the same boat with Jesus can bring you into dangerous waters, and Peter wrote, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Peter explained that trials come to test and purify and strengthen our faith (1 Peter 1:6‑7). So instead of being caught off guard by the storms of life, we should expect such trials and exercise our faith.

Learning From Fellow Strugglers

Peter wrote these wise words decades after the storm on the lake. By that time he was a mighty apostle with rock-solid, mature faith. I’m grateful to read the truth and mature wisdom of the apostles recorded in their letters in the New Testament. But to be honest, I’m just as grateful to read of the many failures and blunders the apostles made earlier in their lives when they were traveling around with Jesus and making their first bungling attempts to live the life of faith.

It’s one proof of the total honesty and truthfulness of the Bible that it says so much about the disciples’ fumbles and failings. After all, by the time the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life were written down, the disciples had become men of great faith, courage, and wisdom. They were respected and revered leaders. Why dig up the dumb things they did in earlier years? Why not just tell of Jesus’ wonders, offer their inspired wisdom as mature apostles, and keep their earlier failings off the record? That’s what you or I might do.

But the apostles told the whole truth, even the parts they found embarrassing—and I’m glad they did. I need the mature apostles as mentors to learn from and role models to imitate; but I also need the bungling apostles as fellow strugglers who didn’t have it all together yet, who sometimes had to be scolded severely by Jesus, and yet found that Jesus never gave up on them. If Jesus didn’t give up on them, he won’t give up on me.

The Bible reveals faith for dummies. In the Bible, we see God in his majesty and Jesus in his power, wisdom and love, but we also see dummies like us, disciples who don’t get it right the first time (or the second or third time). We see dummies who may know Jesus is someone special but then panic in a pinch. We see people who have faith, perhaps, but whose faith is so small they can’t quite find it when they need it. A dummy like me can learn from the mistakes of the dummy disciples and be encouraged that Jesus sticks with me and saves me despite my mistakes.

Mistake #1: Unrealistic

What were the disciples’ mistakes? I’ve already mentioned one: they weren’t realistic. They let trouble catch them by surprise; they weren’t ready for it. They didn’t realize that it’s not always comfortable being in the same boat with Jesus. And they weren’t prepared to cope with troubles that were greater than anything they could handle on their own. Part of their problem was their own self-confidence. These men were experienced fisherman and sailors who made their living on the water. They knew how to handle a boat. They knew how to deal with storms and waves. But this storm was worse than anything they had ever face before, and the waves were too much for them to cope with. They simply couldn’t handle it.

The same thing can happen to us. We figure that as long as we’re with Jesus, things can’t get too awful. He won’t give us anything we can’t handle. There may be a few problems here or there, but we can handle them. We’ve done it before. We’ve been around the block a few times. We know what we’re doing. We’ve got things pretty well together. But then comes the test, a test so terrifying we can’t believe Jesus would put us through such a thing, a storm worse than anything we’ve encountered in our entire lives. And we can’t handle it.

Mistake #2: Panic

That brings us to mistake number two. We panic. We go to pieces. We figure there’s no way we can survive something so awful. Having failed to be realistic, we fall apart when reality turns out different than what we expected, and we forget the awesome power and compassion of Jesus.

That’s what the disciples did. Instead of trusting Jesus to handle what they couldn’t possibly handle, they panicked. As the storm raged, they doubted Jesus’ concern and shrieked: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38). They doubted Jesus’ power to save them and bellowed, “Master, master, we’re going to drown” (Luke 8:24). They should have know better. How could they forget so quickly the compassion and power of Jesus which they had seen demonstrated over and over? Before that stormy night, they had already seen Jesus drive out demons, heal a man of leprosy, enable a paralyzed man to walk again, and raise the dead son of a poor widow back to life. After seeing all that, how could they doubt Jesus’ compassion or his power to protect and rescue them? But they did—they panicked and doubted Jesus. And so do we.

Mistake #3: Forgetting Faith

With panic comes mistake number three: forgetting faith. Faith seems to be lost somewhere, like a set of keys we misplaced and can’t find back, or like a tool we set aside and then can’t find when we need it. Small things are easy to lose track of, and sometimes our faith can be so small that we lose track of it and it’s nowhere to be found. We behave almost like we have no faith at all.

When we’re dumb enough to scream, “Don’t you care if we perish?” it’s only fair for Jesus to ask us what he asked his disciples: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). There’s absolutely no question about whether Jesus cares. The only question is whether we have faith or not.

The disciples did have faith. It was almost forgotten, it seemed to be missing in action, it seemed too small to find, but they did have faith. Jesus made it plain that they needed to find their faith back and increase it. He asked them, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25) And he asks you and me the same question, “Where is your faith?” You’ve come to know Jesus; he’s been faithful to you before; you’ve put your faith in him. Now where is that faith? Be realistic, stop panicking, and find your faith back! Get it and put it to work!

Then let the whole episode be a humbling lesson in how puny your faith still is. As Jesus said to his disciples, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26) When you find yourself in a desperate situation in your personal life, in your family, in your work, and you may think you’re going to perish, swallowed up forever in waves of trouble and sorrow. How can you think Jesus doesn’t care? How can you think he might not be able to bring you through it all and take you safely to the other side? “You of little faith, why are so you afraid?”

You may look at the state of the church or the condition of society and say, “This is awful. Things just keep getting worse and worse. The culture is sinking in greed and immorality, and the church is sinking in worldliness and error.” But Jesus says, “You of little faith, why are so you afraid? There have been wicked cultures before this, but I’ve always preserved the human race. As for my church, I’ve preserved it for 2,000 years and brought it through vicious persecutions, deceptions by false teachers, and countless blunders even by genuine believers. Just when the church has seemed dead, I’ve sent reformation and revival. Do you think I can’t do it again? Do you think I’m going to let my church sink and perish? 2,000 years ago I promised that the gates of hell would never destroy my church. Do you think I was lying? Do you think it’s beyond my power? ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?'”

Going to Jesus

Friend, you and I need to learn from the disciples’ blunders and from Jesus’ rebuke. Instead of being unrealistic and unprepared for storms, expect to face troubles and trials. Instead of panicking, keep your head. Instead of mislaying your faith, find your faith and put it to work and let it grow. Don’t let circumstances control you; let faith control you. Remind yourself who Jesus is. Remind yourself what he can do.

Whatever you do, go to Jesus. The disciples did many things wrong that stormy night, but whatever they did wrong, they did one thing right: they went to Jesus. Yes, they were in a panic; yes, they were full of doubts; but they went to him. Their faith was little, it was wimpy, it was panicky, it was mixed with fears and misgivings, but it was still faith.

One of their cries was, “Lord, saved us! We’re going to drown!” (Matthew 8:25) What a silly, self-contradictory cry! They called on Jesus to save them, and at the same time thought they were going to drown. That’s faith for dummies: part of you expects Jesus to save you, another part expects to perish. But even faith for dummies is still faith.

Jesus rebukes our panic, our doubt, our failure to bring our faith to bear on our stormy situation. He would be so much more pleased if we exercised faith in a confident, God-glorifying way. Jesus rebukes us for a tiny faith that’s made such a poor showing in the test—but he still receives us and rescues us. Even the most pathetic, panicky faith is valuable, because it goes to Jesus, and Jesus does not drive us away. The Savior keeps us from perishing, he calms our storm and brings us peace, and in the process, he takes our shaky little faith and makes it bigger. One moment the disciples were trembling before the storm; the next they were trembling before the commander of the storm, realizing afresh his immense power as God with us.

If you’re facing a storm in your life right now, trust in Jesus. Use this time of testing as an opportunity to put your faith to work and prove your confidence in Jesus and exalt his great name. It would honor and delight him to see you behave with a confident, calm, courageous faith in him.

But if you can’t do that, if your faith is weak and wavering, if trouble and heartbreak and demonic attacks seem too terrifying to handle, then simply go to Jesus in prayer and cry out for his help. Your faith may be puny and pitiful, but faith it is. You may still be a baby in spiritual maturity, a dummy in matters of faith, but even if you’re a dummy, going to Jesus is a very smart thing to do. Jesus the God-man will rescue you and help you to know him better and trust him more. The wind may be fierce, the waves may be tossing you about, but Jesus is an unsinkable Savior!

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.