Confession time: I’ve only recently begun liking roller coasters. Ever since being a kid, I could never get into the hallmark of the American amusement park. I mean, what’s not to love? Rickety rail cars that seem like they were put together by a middle school shop class on a ride that shakes violently when in use and is probably inspected for safety once in a decade sounds like a great use of time…
In case you can’t read my sarcasm, I can’t stand those machines. The ironic thing is that I have done other things that are far more dangerous. One activity that comes to mind is when my work takes me out to US warships like our aircraft carriers. To get to an aircraft carrier you either have to walk aboard while in port or land on the flight deck. Landing on the flight deck involves approaching a tiny black dot in the middle of the ocean and “catching” a wire on the ship that will slow you down and stop the aircraft. I love doing that. Ironically, that’s way more dangerous than riding a roller coaster. So why am I afraid of one and not afraid of the other? Part of the difference is a feeling of control. On the aircraft flying out to the warship, I know there is a highly trained operator controlling every movement of that vehicle. On the roller coaster, you are at the mercy of the rails and the noisy wheels holding you to the track. Even though I don’t personally control either one, it feels like there is more control over the aircraft than the roller coaster.
The Disciples’ Roller Coaster Moment
In Mark we read a ‘roller coaster’ story that the disciples had to weather…
As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.
Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” (Mark 5:35-38)
The disciples were scared to death. They were flying down an out-of-control roller coaster and knew they would certainly die. Let’s keep in mind that the boats the disciples were in were much different from the aircraft carrier I just described. It is more likely that the boat used by the disciples would have been a fishing boat the size of a small bread truck. A boat this small would rock back and forth with the normal currents in a lake and probably be close to capsizing in a heavy storm. Knowing that they were in a near-death situation, they panicked and called for Jesus. Note that they didn’t just call for Jesus; they accused Jesus of not taking the situation seriously!
When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves,“Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!” (Mark 5:39-41)
Jesus’ response is strong and reassuring. He stands up to the storm and commands the wind to stop. After performing this miracle, he turns to rebuke the disciples for not having faith.
Fear is Natural, but Faith is Strength
Interesting hypothetical question: did Jesus rebuke the disciples because they were afraid?
Let’s keep in mind that Jesus, himself, showed signs of fear during his lifetime. When praying in Gethsemane, Jesus was so distraught that he asked God to take the burden of crucifixion away from him if there was any way creation could be saved using other means and even stressed himself to the point of sweating blood! If this wasn’t fear, it was something extremely close to it.
So, if Jesus wasn’t yelling at the disciples because they were afraid, why rebuke people who were reasonably fearing for their lives? Consider how the disciples woke Jesus acting as if Jesus didn’t care that they were all going to die. If the disciples truly had faith that Jesus was who he had shown himself to be, wouldn’t they know that Jesus would not die before his appointed time? What it came down to is the disciples not having the physical person of Jesus to say “don’t be afraid” and as a result, they quickly forgot in whom to put their trust.
The sad truth is that sometimes we find ourselves hitting rock-bottom because of decisions we have made or decisions others have made that affect us. During those rock-bottom moments, it’s important to remember two things:
- When we hit rock bottom, Jesus is the rock at the bottom that keeps us from falling lower.
- When we are sitting at rock bottom, Jesus is the hope that brings us up.
It’s important to note that Jesus saving us from rock-bottom doesn’t necessarily mean we will escape the worldly consequences of our actions or the actions of others. In the early church, many Christians were arrested and sacrificed in the Roman arenas for game or sport. I am sure that those Christians also believed in Christ and understood that Jesus is the rock at the bottom of rock-bottom that will bring them out. Sometimes Jesus brings us out of our holes by physically restoring us to our former health and status. Other times he has other plans that we must have faith will serve God’s glory and be best for us now and for eternity. Those early Christians may have been martyred, but their testimony has lived on for centuries and encourages millions, possibly billions, of Christians throughout the ages.
There Is A Functional Reason Why We Should Endure
I’m always a big fan of pointing out that God created everything we know and do which means that our moral and spiritual lessons are often accompanied by a practical lesson. In this case, we start asking ourselves why having faith in Jesus, even when we are on life’s roller coasters, helps us physically. Let’s look to Romans…
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3-5)
What Paul writes in his letter to the Roman church is that endurance through life’s little roller coasters builds character and strength. Through that strength we are emboldened to live even more passionately for Christ and share his Good News. When we are willing to rely on the rock of Christ, we are forced to realize that if God can help us through our toughest situations, he can help anyone and that is something worth sharing with the world.