During last Sunday’s New Year’s service I took some time to sit in front of Rembrandt’s painting, “Christ Asleep in the Boat”. Though I had looked at this painting many times prior to that evening, it was different this time. I think what made it different was the amount of time and focus I gave to the viewing, accompanied by the prayer that God would connect with me somehow during this time, that He would show me something or speak to me about something as I observed the painting.
What I noticed first was that though the whole ship was being tossed around by the crashing waves and wind, the left half of the ship was most stirred up in the turbulence. On the left side men were struggling hard, pulling ropes, trying to right the sails. This part of the ship was lit up, clearly visible to the observer. The right side of the ship was lower in the water and in the dark. Jesus was sleeping in this part of the boat and the only action here was that of men trying to wake Jesus up to help them.
This light and dark contrast seems to me to be symbolic of the way our lives often work. When troubles or stressful things arise, it is natural for us to focus on them and struggle with them. Our problems are what are clearly visible and tumultuous. These things can easily become the only things we see and we focus all our attention there, trying to overcome the problems we face by our own efforts.
But at the very same time, on the very same boat, Jesus is there, in all His wisdom and power, unrattled. There is nothing too big or troublesome that He can’t take care of. The issue is where we will look for our help and our salvation. Where will be put our focus and our trust: on our problems and our own abilities to solve them… or on the abilities of God?
We know the ending of this story of the wind and the waves from Scripture. Jesus wakes up and calms the winds and the waves and all is well, all the disciples are saved. What would our lives be like if we were quick to recognize that Jesus is with us when we experience troubles, and with that knowledge if we were to look to Him for help, healing, wisdom, provision, direction or whatever it is that we need? Would the actual troubles seem to diminish in comparison? I know troubles don’t usually magically and instantaneously go away when we pray, but rather sometimes take a long time to be dealt with. But I also know that when Jesus promises us a peace beyond all understanding when we pray to Him, we can count on Him to do something profound in us. It is both mysterious and wonderful. He has promised to walk with us through all of life, good and bad. He will give us what we need. It is not hard for Him.
Lord, help us be quick to see how close you are when the wind and waves are crashing against our boats!
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!”
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’