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Take Courage

COVID-19 did a number on most of us. For well over a year, we found ourselves tossed to and fro on the stormy seas of the pandemic. Nothing seemed to be nailed down anymore. Most of us felt lost, disoriented, and adrift. Gale force winds forced us to hunker down for months on end. Schools, businesses, and our very lives were turned upside down. The length and severity of it all left us dazed, confused, and exhausted. Not unlike Jesus’ disciples battling the storm-tossed sea.

We read about this in Mark 6:45-51, “Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed.”

What would have been our reaction if we were in that situation? If we were to find ourselves on a storm-raged sea, miles from shore, in the middle of the night, rowing like madmen, while our boat seems destined to break apart? We are literally fighting for our lives: drenched, exhausted, and at our wits’ end – having no idea when this storm will pass. Then through the flashes of lightning, we see a ghost-like figure on the waves walking toward us. Is that the angel of death coming for us? Are we going down for good? No wonder the disciples cried out in terror. Anyone would, given those circumstances.

What insights can be drawn from this story that can help us weather the present storm we are in or the next storm that comes our way?

First, notice what Jesus was doing while the storm raged. He was on a mountainside praying. Instead of going across Lake Galilee by boat with His disciples, He went around the lake by land – taking time to be alone with His heavenly Father.

We can assume that high above it all, Jesus was interceding for His storm-tossed followers below. He was praying for His tiny struggling church out there in the middle of the storm. It’s great to know that this is exactly what Jesus is still doing today – praying for His followers as they battle the storms of life.

Seated high at the right hand of the Father, He is interceding on their behalf. “Father, give your people an extra measure of strength, hope, and fortitude as their world has been turned upside down. Help them. Comfort them. Sustain them.”

From this passage we also notice that Jesus was the one who sent His disciples out there in the first place. Verse 45 says that Jesus ‘made’ his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him.” The word “made” indicates forceful pressure. Having obeyed Jesus’ command, the disciples now found themselves in a life-threating storm.

The point is that obedience to God doesn’t necessarily bring ease and comfort. It may bring challenges and difficulties. Faithful obedience may make us uncomfortable – at least in the short term. But it is always the best choice in the long run.

Third, notice that while Jesus did come to rescue them, He did not come immediately. We read that, “Shortly before dawn, he went out to them.” In other words, Jesus allowed his disciples to battle the storm for the entire night. We don’t know why He waited until just before dawn to walk out and meet them. But we do know that God’s timing is always best. We all wished that God would intervene immediately and bring a quick end to the pandemic, like any other suffering we might be experiencing. Yet His ways are higher than our ways, and His timing is different than our timing. Meanwhile we are called to wait upon Him in faith and with hope.

So while the disciples are fighting for their lives, Jesus sees, knows, and is praying for them. Then at just the right time, He comes to them. He personally enters the storm-tossed sea to be with them in it. In fact, Jesus even enters their little sailing vessel. This is a picture of what Jesus is still doing today – personally entering into our struggles to be with us in them.

After all, He is Immanuel – God with us. He draws close to the distressed and downcast. As Matthew 12:20 tells us, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.” Friends, take comfort that Jesus knows what you are going through right now and He is nearer to you than you realize. He draws near either to calm the raging storm out there, or else to calm the raging storm within us. As the Psalmist says, “He is a very present help in times of trouble."

Finally, we see Jesus telling His followers to “Take courage!” Courage is the ability to face danger, fear, or pain without backing down. Notice that courage is something we must purposely take hold of. In other words, it is something we receive and appropriate. So where does courage come from? Jesus identifies the source when He says, “It is I.” In the face of great uncertainty, Jesus doesn’t tell His disciples to maintain a stiff upper lip or to find courage in themselves. Instead, He tells them to appropriate His power and strength for themselves. By faith, we are to take hold of Him who has all power and authority – even over whatever storm we are presently facing. We are to fill ourselves with His power – receiving a courage and boldness greater than our own.

This passage from Mark 6 has encouraged me, and I hope it has encouraged you. As you venture through the troubled waters of this world, may Jesus be your strength and stay.

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