Doubt in the Madness of the Perfect Storm

19 (3) (735x413)by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom for MEdom Project

Do you feel guilty or faithless before God when you doubt, or wonder if he is listening when you pray?

A father brought his tormented son to Jesus and said, If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 

“If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:22-24

A perfect storm is an expression that describes an event where
a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically.
Courtesy of FreeDictionary.com

This subject is very personal to me right now. I am in the midst of the perfect storm. My family is facing challenges we would not have imagined before coming into them. There is injury and heartbreak. There is wonder about what God is doing. What is the big picture? No, really God… what is it? Why this? Why take us through this? Why us, God? Why me? We are in crisis. I am in crisis.
when troubles come your way
What I want to convey to you is that I am desperately needing to believe for me and my family today; but it is really difficult. Let’s look at some famous Scripture involving Jesus and how he dealt with storms in the lives of those he loved.
consider it an opportunity for great joy
One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and started out. As they sailed across, Jesus settled down for a nap. But soon a fierce storm came down on the lake. The boat was filling with water, and they were in real danger. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and the raging waves. . . . boatSuddenly the storm stopped and all was calm. Then he asked them, “Where is your faith?” The disciples were terrified and amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “When he gives a command, even the wind and waves obey him!”
Luke 8:22-25 (NLT)

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?” 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 4:35-41 (NLT)
rejoice in the Lord always
These are two versions of the same story told by disciples Luke and Mark. In Luke’s account of the story, he writes that “Jesus settled down for a nap.” The first three years and the last three years of the life of Jesus were in so many ways the perfect storm. Throughout much of that time there were people who had set out to kill him. Throughout his three-year ministry, Jesus would endure great battles and struggles that would define his role as ambassador of love and peace. Starting with the chosen twelve disciples, Jesus was understood by believers in his day to be leading his people out from under the thumb of the Roman Empire. It would be another 2000 years before Israel would be the nation that it is today. Jesus lived out the perfect storm as intended by God and it was about time he settled down for some rest and relaxation.
the Lord is near
Mark lets us know that Jesus was very tired so he found a place toward the back of the boat to settle down, laying his head on a cushion to unwind and get some much needed rest. Jesus, in the midst of his stressful task-driven ministry, took some time off now and then to settle down; perhaps to decompress some as he prepared to fulfill his calling. You might say that Jesus understood throughout his life and ministry that he would wind up suffering miserably as the martyr for mankind. It would be fair to suggest that being acutely aware of the adversity to come was emotionally troubling to Jesus… disturbing even. As much as he depended on the Father for sustenance physically, psychologically, and spiritually; as much as he was motivated by love and driven by a heart of compassion for the sick and impoverished; fully human, there were likely times when he was alone with his thoughts considering his impending torture and suffering on so many levels that I cannot begin to comprehend.

. . -sea-of-galilee (2)While crossing the Sea of Galilee, a large lake capable of damaging storms and shipwreck, the disciples confronted just that; a raging storm with waves crashing into their fishing boat, winds tossing it about like a toy. Jesus, I presume, was sound asleep, knocked out by stress and fatigue, getting some much needed rest. Both Luke and Mark, who were in the boat, wrote that the waves were coming over and water was filling the boat. How could Jesus sleep through that? Wasn’t he getting wet? Imagine what the disciples thought.

. . Storm-on-the-Sea-of-Galilee“Master, Master, we’re going to drown… don’t you care?!”
do not be anxious about anything
I have felt like those guys in recent days captured in the madness of the perfect storm. Where is Jesus? Where is he when I need him? Is he napping? Well, of course he is alive, awake, and alert but he must be spinning so many plates at one time throughout the business of this planet and the universe that some of the plates are bound to fall; and this plate (me) is about to shatter into pieces.
but from a grateful heart
I have been through periods when I have wrestled with my feelings of intense concern, doubt, and fear. I have had this knot in my gut. It isn’t there all of the time. Since God has strengthened me and comforted me, the knot-in-the-gut feeling has eased but the butterflies often remain. I have drawn on past experiences when I needed for God to calm the storm in my life and he did. But you know… there are storms, and then there are storms as the waves crash into me tossing me about. I feel drenched at times under the waves. I need for Jesus to stand up confidently in the madness of my storm and command the wind, the thunder, and the lightening to cease. That’s what I need. And who knows better than I do what I need?
pray about everything
The disciples, in the rage of their storm, must have been screaming at Jesus to get his attention. The winds and the waves howled angrily and looked to swallow them into the depths of their crisis. But since that didn’t seem enough to wake him, they shouted at him, “Do you even care that we’re drowning… overcome… about to be swallowed up?!”

Do you feel sometimes like you’re about to be swallowed up by devastation, depression, and despair?

Courtesy of Adrian Rogers from Life Worth Living:

When the disciples saw Him (Jesus) walking on the water,
what was their biggest problem?

The water.

Jesus, in essence, was saying, “What looks like is going to be over your head, is already under My feet.”

What are some problems that are drowning you in fear, in discouragement, in sadness today?

Give them to Jesus.

Remember what is over your head is under His feet.

2-51 (5)

I am glad we have the testimonies of those who followed Jesus the man through thick and thin. I am thankful that we have stories of those who were actually with him and knew him; had seen the healings, the miracles, the deliverances, and most of all, the resurrection (of Lazarus), and still felt doubt while in the relentless winds and waves of the storms in their lives. They may not have known the Spirit of God coursing through their beings, but they had God in their company in the person of Jesus Christ. And yet still, when up against it, even Christ’s closest companions felt doubt and uncertainty.
for you know that when your faith is tested
Let’s talk about that; the doubt and fear we encounter as people of faith. Jesus said to those closest to him who believed, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith? Where is your faith?” This is interesting to me; the contrast between what the disciples said to Jesus and what Jesus said to them. When the disciples cried out, “Don’t you (even) care?” it’s like asking, “Where are you when I need you?” The reply of Jesus could be paraphrased, “Where are you when you need me?” as if to imply, “What condition are you in while you’re looking for me?” I don’t think he is issuing judgment so much as he is concerned that fear and doubt does so much more to intensify our pain and struggle.
your endurance has a chance to grow
I suppose you might say that “Doubt in the Madness of the Perfect Storm” is the sequel to my most recent article, The Problem of Pain… A Study of the Father’s Discipline. In that article, I wrote the following about faith and doubt in response to Scripture from the book of James in the New Testament.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. James 1:5-8 (NLT)

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. James 1:5-8 (NIV)
the peace of God
I believe that James is writing that God does not find fault with my emotionally-driven fear and anxiety when I come seeking from Him everything from wisdom to a miracle. Because should I doubt God’s ability to engage, work, and move in my circumstances due to an intellectual conclusion of disbelief that God is God, and I turn to alternative remedies to manage fear and anxiety, then I am wavering in the gusty winds of divided loyalty. It is then I am double-minded and unstable in pursuit of resolution. It is then that I am lost like sheep without a shepherd. While James writes then that I ought not to expect to receive anything from the Lord it doesn’t mean that I won’t receive from Him. James is speaking about my state of mind. He is saying that I will have lowered my expectations of what God can and will do.
beyond comprehension
If I have concluded that I probably will not receive much of anything from God, why would I expect to receive much of anything from God? There really won’t be any relief from pain, fear, and worry should I altogether not believe in what God can do. It’s common sense at that point. I’m an emotional mess from the empty conclusions I have drawn intellectually about what God can and will do. Absent is the hopeful anticipation of God’s intervention that would have a calming effect on my nerves.
will guard your heart and mind
Thank God I believe intellectually and spiritually in what God can do. Too often, though, I question my faith because I doubt on an emotional level. I need to stop the practice of riding my feelings until I feel guilty that I doubt God. I feel guilty doubting God because of what I know and believe intellectually (in relationship with Christ) God can do; I struggle emotionally with what I believe God will do. Is he willing? Is there something wrong with me? I think that’s what it means to have faith in the midst of doubt because of the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). What I feel isn’t necessarily a reflection of what I know. What I doubt emotionally isn’t necessarily a reflection of what I know intellectually and believe spiritually in my soul.
in Christ Jesus
Things unseen… hmmm… You know what? God loves me so much that to confront my fear and worry, He gave me something I could see. It was a visible practical manifestation that God is at work in the process. While in the midst of a “mini-crisis” that wasn’t really a crisis at all but it felt like one at the time, my 90 plus-year-old mother-in-law told me she was praying that God is faithful. With my real crisis in mind I responded to her sarcastically , “We’ll see” (wondering what God is up to that this crisis is happening at all in the first place). When the “mini-crisis” was averted inexplicably, as I shared it with my wife, she said, “My mom prayed.” Instantly I broke down and wept as the Holy Spirit of God reminded me to trust him to be at work in the process. I shared my mini-crisis experience (in the midst of the actual crisis) with a dear counselor friend who told me, “God gave you something tangible that you can hang your hat on.”

So I know that the Lord does not find fault when I feel doubt and confusion driving my fear. And I did receive from him because He loves me. My real crisis lives on painfully and while I may struggle from time to time emotionally, intellectually I am certain that God is able and willing. I am trusting in the process of his work in my life as I endure through the problem of pain.
so let it grow 
If I could discipline my mind through, prayer, meditation, and worship to trust in the miraculous and restorative power of my gracious compassionate Savior (rescuer, defender, protector, deliverer)… I don’t know… maybe I wouldn’t doubt so much… maybe not at all. The reality for me is that I have not surrendered to the extent that I fully trust in the process of the work of God. With surrender comes full obedience unto the calling and purpose of God in my daily routine. How does one get to a place of surrender? Answer: Through prayer, meditation, and worship.
for when your endurance is fully developed
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NKJV)

The “arguments” Apostle Paul is writing about is human reasoning that cannot accept or even conceptualize spiritual authority unless I am surrendering my thoughts and feelings into the care of spiritual God; to be captivated by spiritual truth. Doing so blows up the argument that God cannot or that God will not meet the need in my hour of peril. My human reasoning is a combination of intellect and emotion making up cognitive process. My intellect, which is more easily given to spiritual (Biblical) truth, wants very much to believe and trust God. My emotions react much more to what I fear since they tend to buy into—trust—the quantitative properties that I can see, hear, and touch. So ‘carnal’ and ‘flesh’ refers intellect rooted in quantitative experiences and emotions measuring the quality of my life experiences, calculating risk and reward. Since like most of you I tend to place more value on the impact of pain and loss than I do the impact of reward and gain—what I not want to experience over what I do want to experience—I tend to be motivated by, and I suppose overcome by, my reasonable fear over the wisdom of trusting God. When I am overcome by fear it becomes a stronghold in my flesh.

Fear is emotion driven by cognitive reasoning (the brain’s processing of experiences, thinking, and feelings) that is part of the human make up. Entertaining fear and doubt, rather than letting it go through surrender, is selfish. Being motivated and compelled by fear then is carnal, meaning impure. What and who is God? The Bible says that God is love. It also teaches and serves to reason that God is perfect.
you will be perfect and complete 
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18 (NKJV)
needing nothing
Here’s the thing. Even in the madness of what feels like the perfect storm seeking to devour all involved in it, I know intellectually that God is faithful and will work it out altogether for the good for us who love him. I believe that. The key is to trust in what I believe, not in what I am feeling in the depths of the madness. I am at present in the depths of the madness of the perfect storm. At times I am confident (confidence is a feeling) in what I know; and at other times I am feeling doubt. Thank God he does not find fault with what I am feeling. As I seek him through prayer, meditation, worship, and obedient living, he will grant me acceptance, courage, and wisdom without measure. That is my challenge.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1:2-4 (NLT)

Sometimes these kinds of teaching, especially that which you should have read in, “The Problem of Pain… a Study of the Father’s Discipline” are indeed difficult to comprehend. To consider life’s troubles to be opportunity to experience joy sounds at least a little bit crazy; yet when fully experienced, is amazing.

Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again? The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But some of you do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) Then he said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.” At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:60-69 (NLT)

What is your challenge, today? What is your perfect storm? Are you drowning beneath its waves?

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts (what you feel emotionally) and your minds (what you know intellectually) in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV)
I can do all things
Without going into the specifics of my crisis, I tried to write with enough vulnerability and candor here that you might be able to relate it to your challenges through that lens; allowing yourself as I have to be open to what God is wanting to work out in your life. Glean from this passage that as you worship and rejoice in your relationship with Christ by how you live, with an active prayer life, surrendering all, you will experience indescribable peace to empower you to live a whole lot less anxious than when you’re trying to manage problems and crises on your own.
through Christ Jesus
God is working in you and producing through the madness of your perfect storm something perfect in you. As you live in the truth of what you have read here you will enter into the best of what God wants and has for you.
who strengthens me
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)

So, what is the real challenge for you and for me as we apply these truths?

Trusting in what we know rather than trusting in what we feel.

We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28 (NLT)

Revision 1/11/2014:

I attended a sermon this evening by Keith Boucher, Pastor at Calvary Church, Naperville (outside of Chicago), IL. He spoke from John Chapter 20, when Mary doubted the presence of her Lord Jesus as she continued to grieve his death at his burial site. As she lamented the missing body of her friend and Savior, she wept in the presence of angels that may have presented themselves as ordinary men, perhaps perceived by Mary as tending to the tomb. The stone had been removed, so where had they put the body of Jesus? Then this from John Chapter 20:

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

The emphasis of the sermon, “In the Darkness of the Soul”, was the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ inhabiting our darkest times, even when it feels to dark to see Him. I wanted to raise my hand and speak of what it means to doubt in the madness of the perfect storm. The truth is that Mary knew intellectually the truth about Jesus. But she had not experienced His presence having been resurrected from the dead. In her pain, she wanted to experience His presence but did not know even to look for Him. Jesus, of course, did not find fault with Mary in the midst of her doubt and seized her doubt by calling out her name and asking her to seek Him. She did and she found Him.

Seek to find Jesus even in the darkest places. He is there. He will cast light into your darkness. He will be your peace in the madness. Have confidence in His presence as you boldly approach His throne in your time of need.

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
It was nailed trough his cross, and I bear it no more,
Bless the Lord, bless the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
A song in the night, oh my soul!

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Post Script from my response to a reader on 2/15/13:

Sometimes it is hard to know whether the storm has passed or if I am simply in the eye of the storm experiencing temporary calm. I believe that as I cried out to Jesus, “I’m drowning!” He stood up to the perfect storm in my life and declared, “Peace!” First, there was calm to my heart and assurance came to my mind that Christ was being Christ. Since then, the madness of the storm has calmed. There is still heavy rain and a stiff breeze but the worst of it seems to have passed.

Bottom line… God is indeed faithful. He has clued me in to the message He has had for me all along but I needed the volume turned way up to really hear it. I heard. Now I must respond in obedience to the message. God used the storm for my good; that His work will be glorified in the good that I will do for the kingdom having endured and persevered through the trial. What an opportunity for great joy having come through it.

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5 Responses to Doubt in the Madness of the Perfect Storm

  1. Matthew Ross says:

    We are called to lay down our own lives and follow God, but if we are constantly trying to “help” God out and make our own plans, are we really laying down our lives to follow him?

    We all struggle with completely trusting God in all areas of our lives. It’s part of our human nature. It’s easy to worry that God is not acting fast enough or that he is doing things the wrong way. We begin to second-guess whether God will do what he promised… Ask yourself if there’s an area of your life in which you are not fully trusting God. If so, take that to God in prayer and then make the effort every day to lay it at his feet. For Abraham, it took over 10 years, but God did not forget his promise to Abraham, and he will not forget his promise to you.

  2. Rick Selling says:

    Yep. Appreciate your transparency and vulnerability. I suspect that writing this had a significant degree of healing in itself. Your ability to turn outward toward the end of the writing shows that. Great stuff. I’ve been there and gone through much of this type of processing, reasoning, even analyzing the very same scriptures. Truly one of the most useful books I’ve ever read that help me along these lines and so many others is “Waking the Dead” by John Eldridge. His basic premise is that we don’t see life aright until we see it as “a world at (spiritual) war”. At one point he describes the battle he and his wife endured due to their son’s physical “hole in his heart” Really…He was born with it, but too dangerous to try corrective surgery. Besides, there was a possibility it might get better as he grew up. So they did an exam every year. At age 12–just prior to his annual exam—John’s wife called him and said, “I believe Lord told me He was going to heal him.” John prayed and felt he got the same message. This was unusual because John candidly admitted that both he and his wife had struggles with “faith” for physical healing. Long story short—his wife took the son in for physical and called John later that day in tears—their son was worse and now needed surgery. John, in his inimitable way, wrote that it was like being on a raft turned over while running the rapids. How could they ever trust that they had really heard from God again? They were absolutely devastated… John saw this as a spiritual attack of the highest order from a REAL enemy who wanted to pry them away from faith in their (our) God.

    Sooo… Yes—real trials; real tough circumstances; real head knowledge of character building, developing perseverance, faith being proved genuine—both to ourselves and to God… but ultimately an attack against our hearts… Why? The glory of God is a heart fully alive!! Your heart, dear Steven, is precious, your talents are real and needed in the body. Of course, you are experiencing a “perfect storm”. Hang in there. Don’t forget—“At the end of the storm is a golden sky AND the sweet silver song of a lark” Sing it! Maybe, it’s already time to make music in your heart to the Lord—even while the storm still rages…. Love you…

    • Thank you, Rick, for your comment… I have read “Waking the Dead” and appreciate the parallel. God has been awesome in proving His faithfulness. Sometimes it is hard to know whether the storm has passed or if I am simply in the eye of the storm experiencing temporary calm. I believe that as I cried out to Jesus, “I’m drowning!” He stood up to the perfect storm in my life and declared, “Peace!” First, there was calm to my heart and then assurance came to my mind that Christ was being Christ. Since then, the madness of the storm has calmed. There is still heavy rain and a stiff breeze but the worst of it seems to have passed.

      Bottom line… God is indeed faithful. He has clued me in to the message He has had for me all along but I needed the volume turned way up to really hear it. I heard. Now I must respond in obedience to the message. God used the storm for my good and to be glorified in the good that I will do for the kingdom having endured and persevered through the trial. What an opportunity for great joy having come through it.

      • Rick Selling says:

        Thank you. I receive instruction in how you are dealing with your storm. Glad it seems to be passing…Isn’t it great to finally understand that life is really a series of storms? One passes, another surely follows, just like on the weather map. Having proper expectations about life these days really helps to see that problems—and the need to face them and solve them—are what gives life its deepest meaning. A ship in safe harbor doesn’t capsize, but ships weren’t built to stay in harbor. Amen?

        • Jeri Wickersham says:

          Steven, That was awesome. I can also relate. Our perfect storm is in the area of our finances. We can’t seem to stay above water. We desperately need wisdom to know what to do to.

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