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Peace, be still

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Mark 4:31-35

A friend sent me these actual newspaper headlines: “Include your children when baking cookies”; “Iraqi head seeks arms”; “Miners refuse to work after death”; If strike isn’t settled quickly, it may last a while”; “Typhoon rips through cemetery; hundreds dead”; “Kids make nutritious snacks”; and most insightful of all, “War dims hope for peace.” It usually does.

We need peace in our hectic lives.

Wendy’s now averages 150.3 seconds between the time you place your order and you receive your food. McDonald’s is 16.7 seconds behind. But McDonalds will soon offer scanners which work with toll road devices; they will enable drivers to pick up food without paying, and add the charge to our monthly toll road bill.

A new pill is being tested which appears to nullify the effects of sleep deprivation, so we can work more and sleep less. Its inventors expect to make millions.

There is good news for our hectic world. Tuesday’s news reported this fact: scientists have determined that our earth is spinning more slowly with each passing day. In merely 200 million years, a day will have 25 hours in it; in 400 million years, we’ll have 26 hours in a day. Just think what you’ll be able to do with the added time.

In the meanwhile, we need peace for our hectic and troubled hearts.

And of course we need peace in our war-torn world. The conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East fill the front pages of our daily papers, and our hearts. Threats of further terrorism are repeated every week. Our first-ever Secretary for Homeland Defense is busy. We need peace.

And so, of all Isaiah’s promises about the baby in Bethlehem, perhaps the one most welcome to us today is that he will be the “Prince of Peace.” Literally, the “Prince who brings Peace” wherever he goes. Let’s watch Jesus prove Isaiah right, and learn how to find his peace where we need it most.

Hear him speak peace

The episode begins safely enough: “That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side'” (v. 35). Note that Jesus has a will for the evening, as well as the daytime, for every hour of our lives. And note that these men are in that will when they sail across the Sea, into the storm they don’t know is coming.

The Sea of Galilee sits 682 feet below sea level, like a bowl at the bottom of the rugged hills and craggy mountains which surround it on all sides. So when weather fronts blow through the area, their gusts are magnified by these mountains like a wind tunnel, and storm down from their heights onto the unsuspecting sea below without warning.

This is just the crisis here: “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped” (v. 37). Mark’s word is Greek for a terrible storm or even a hurricane. Matthew’s account uses the Greek word for an earthquake—it was that terrifying on these waves.

The waves are literally “attacking” the ship. These seasoned, veteran sailors know a dangerous storm when they’re in one—and they’re in one now.

And Jesus is asleep through it all. The incarnate Lord was fully human. The Bible says that he was tired at Jacob’s well (John 4:6) and thirsty on the cross (John 19:28). He was tired here.

So as he slept, they rowed. They fought the winds, braved the seas. Four of them were professional fishermen and sailors, and all knew boats and the Sea of Galilee. But finally, when all hope was lost, they cried out to Jesus for help.

He arose immediately. He “rebuked the wind” which was causing this storm. Then he shouted to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” In the King James, “Peace, be still.” In the Greek, “Shut up! Put a muzzle on and keep it on!”

Instantly, obediently, “the wind died down and it was completely calm” (v. 39). Like a disobedient puppy cowering before his master. The disciples said, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (v. 41). They said it in amazement. As would we.

Out of all this event can say to our storm-tossed souls and world, I suggest this one principle: we should go to Jesus first. Not last. Not after we’ve rowed our hardest and tried our best and fought as long as we can. If we want peace, we must go to him first. Let’s discuss that principle for a moment.

Admit you need Jesus

Why didn’t they call on Jesus first? Why don’t we?

Think about your own experience with storms—at home, at school, at work, across your day. What is your first response? Do you pray first, or last? Do you decide what to do, then ask God to bless your decision if you turn to him at all? Do you fix the problem as best you can, before calling on God if you can’t?

That’s my nature—performance driven, a little perfectionistic, do whatever it takes, never give up. I understand these disciples perfectly. I’ve rowed my boat against storms just as much as did they. Haven’t you?

Why don’t we turn to Jesus when the storm first attacks? Some of us don’t think we need to. We think our boat is big enough, the storm small enough, our abilities good enough, our training and experience all that’s needed. Like these veteran sailors, we’ve been through storms on our lake before, and we know how to handle our boats. We like rowing. We don’t need help. We want to do this ourselves. We think we can.

But no boat, no ability, no money, no possession, no resource is enough to live at peace without God. That’s just how he made the world, and us.

Some of us have given up on peace. We accept storms as a way of life. We’ve been through so many downpours, so many hurricanes that we’ve given up on peace in our hearts or homes. We’re accustomed to a life filled with stress and strife, hectic hurry and perennial pressure.

All the while, the Prince of Peace waits to give peace to our hearts and souls, to calm our storms, to bring tranquility to our lives. If we will ask.

And some of us have given up on God. He’s been asleep in our boat before. We prayed without answers, or so we think. We grieved without hope, suffered without help, rowed on our own. Or so it seems to us. So let him sleep. All the while, he’s waiting for us to turn to him first. Before we go under. Before it’s too late.

What’s your storm named today? Where is your ship battered? How can Jesus bring you peace?

Call on Jesus

First, invite him to captain your boat.

The Prince of Peace will rule only the heart which chooses to crown him. This captain will pilot only the boat which welcomes him.

So ask him into your boat. Ask Jesus to forgive your sins and failures, and invite him to live in your life. If you have, turn that life over to him. Make him your master, your boss, your Captain.

Your soul and life cannot be at peace without the Prince of Peace. That’s simply a fact. There’s a God-shaped emptiness in every human being, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him. Invite Jesus into your boat, and make him your Captain.

Now, begin each day’s voyage with Jesus at the helm.

Every day in this fallen world will bring you a storm. Frustrations, failures, and stress. You are in a daily spiritual battle against Satan himself and his forces of evil. You will be tested and tempted by the winds and waves of the soul. Guaranteed.

So go to Jesus first, every day. Turn the day’s sailing over to him. Make him your captain. Row where he says, when he says. Let him be Lord of your boat, and your day, and your life, first thing every day.

The poet learned this profound truth:

I met God in the morning, when my day was at its best,And his presence came like sunrise, like a glory to my breast.All day long his presence lingered—all day long he stayed with me,And we sailed in perfect calmness o’er sometimes troubled sea.Other ships were torn and battered—other ships were sore distressed,But the winds that seemed to drive them brought to us a peace and rest.So I think I’ve learned the secret, learned from many a troubled way:You must seek God in the morning if you want him through the day.

Give him your boat at the first of the day, and the Prince of Peace will bring you peace. Then call to him at the first sign of a storm.You usually hear a storm before you see it. Or you feel the winds change, or the temperature drop, or the air thicken. At the first sign of rain clouds, call on Jesus.

Did you know that you cannot resist in your strength any temptation Satan chooses to bring against you? You may hold out for a while on your own, but eventually your ship will go under.

You see, the devil is smarter than we are. He knows the temptations we can withstand, and will not waste his time with them. I’m not tempted with substance abuse or financial sin, because the enemy knows I wouldn’t do that. But he knows what I will do—what whispers I will listen to, what ambitions I will consider, what storms I will try to navigate on my own. And those are the only kind he employs.

Peter Marshall’s statement couldn’t be more right: “We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning and too fond of sinning really to enjoy Christianity.” Without the Prince of Peace, we have no peace. So call him the moment you feel the storm begin. Admit your need, and seek his power. And it will be yours.

Last, settle for nothing less than this peace. Jesus paid the supreme price to bring it to you. He left his Father’s side in unspeakable splendor to be born into a cow stall. He exchanged the adoration of angelic millions for that of sweating shepherds. He left God’s perfect heaven for the universe’s seat of evil, the only sinful and fallen planet in all the universe. All to be your Prince of Peace.

Settle for nothing less. Storms are inevitable, but peace is available for every storm. Calm for every crisis. If your heart is not at peace today, go to Jesus. Make him your Captain, give him your boat today, ask his help with your storms. And he will speak peace to your seas, and to your soul.

Conclusion

Today’s Bible study centers on the Wise Men, and wise they were. Wise enough to go when they saw the star—to make any sacrifice, pay any price, face any danger, if only they might make the King of the Jews their King as well, the captain of their souls. Are you that wise today? Would you turn to him now? Or would you rather row your own boat until you sink?

You can trust his divine, miraculous peace. If he calmed Galilee, he’ll calm Dallas. If he rescued sailors then, he’ll rescue sailors today. I found this week a remarkable hymn which proclaims this fact. Written sixteen centuries ago by a man named Prudentius, it brings hope to storm-tossed souls still today:

His power and miracles proclaim him God.I see the wild winds suddenly grow calmWhen Christ commands; I see the storm-tossed seaGrow smooth, with tranquil surface bright,At Christ’s behest; I see the waves grow firmAs the raging flood sustains his treading feet.He walks dry-shod upon the flowing tideAnd bears upon the flood with footsteps sure.He chides the winds and bids the tempest cease.Who would command the stormy gales …Except the Lord and maker of the winds? …Who on the sea could walk, who with firm stepUpon the flood could without sinking treadThat path with … feet unwet,Except the author of the deep?

Your boat will find peace from him, or not at all. The next step is yours.