There are many Christians who believe that once you turn you life over to Jesus things will go your way in matter of health, wealth, family and good fortune. There are many reasons they believe this. It is preached as the gospel message by prosperity preachers. Christians in the western world are living in the most prosperous time in the history of the world (despite the recent economic downturn). We are relatively safe from many of the catastrophic events of the world, such as famine, epidemics, drought and war. Many of the storms of life are kept at bay.
This makes the message of the prosperity preachers seem as though it might just be true. If we turn our lives over to Jesus, and invest in their ministry, God will take care of us. There will be no storms in our lives. Our health, our wealth and our personal lives will be blessed. There are several problems with the message of prosperity preachers. Most importantly, their message is not the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
If the message cannot be preached to every man, woman and child in the world, then it is not the gospel. Can you preach this message to those Africans whose loved ones have been murdered, their homes burned and their pastors killed, simply because they are Christians? Can you preach this message of no storms in our lives to those who are starving to death because of famine? Can it be preached to those who are arrested, imprisoned and killed in Pakistan, Afghanistan or other predominantly Islamic nations? The obvious answer is no!
As shown in our text today, the disciples of Jesus are not immune to the literal storms of life. As shown by scripture and church history, they are not immune to the figurative storms of life. The Apostle Paul was imprisoned, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, bitten by a poisonous snake, run out of several towns and eventually martyred. I am not a meteorologist, but that sounds rather stormy to me. Where were St. Paul’s blessings of health, wealth and good fortune?
Christian history is full of stories of suffering and martyrdom. Thousands of Christians throughout the world are being persecuted and are living among the poorest of the poor. I have worked in recovery efforts following natural disasters, and I can tell you that Christian homes were destroyed along with those of non-Christians. In a hurricane or tornado, churches are destroyed just the same as adult book shops.
As Christians we experience the exact same storms in life as non-Christians. We experience the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Hamlet, Act III) just like anyone else. However, there is a difference in how Christians weather those storms of life. The difference is the answer to the question, “Who is in the boat with you?”
I may lose my job and be diagnosed with a terminal illness but I will ultimately be fine, because Jesus is in the boat with me. I may end up homeless and penniless but I will be fine, because Jesus is in the boat with me. When Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me” they were not gilded, jewel encrusted and golden like they are today.
Experiencing the storms of life, both literally and figuratively, are not signs that you are not blessed. In fact, if you are blessed and walking close to Jesus in your life, you are bound to experience more storms than others. St. Peter, St. Paul and the other apostles did not pass through life unscathed by storms; nor shall we. But during the storms, take heart for you are never in the boat alone.
The engraving is by the German artist Anton Dietrich (1833-1904). I have always liked this print and have seen it hanging in many Sunday school classrooms. In a totally irreverent way, I have often referred to it as “Hang Ten Jesus.” If you block all of the other characters with your hand, Jesus looks like he is riding the perfect wave on a surfboard.