Dear Lord, I pray your blessings on our world as we face this pandemic. Even in the midst of the craziness of the coronavirus, we know that you are in control. Help us to trust you with every fear. We know that you are not sending us a spirit of fear. Empower us with your love. Help us remember WHO you are. When you are for us, who can be against us? In Jesus’ Name, Amen. (Teresa Letson, Preschool Director, CSA, First Baptist Church, Decatur, Alabama)
Matthew 8; Luke 8:22-25; Mark 4:35-41
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 (NIV)
“The Lord gives strength to his people, the Lord blesses his people with peace.” Psalm 29:11 (NIV)
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)
As a young girl in the 1980s, I would spend the summers with my grandparents who lived in Rogersville, Alabama. At the time we lived in the larger, neighboring city of Huntsville. Rogersville had one stop light and the most delightful ice cream shop that consisted of two walk-up windows where you could order a chocolate dipped vanilla cone, a “dip cone,” if you will. Just before you turned off the highway to get to the Piggly Wiggly, there was a gas station that would pump your gas for you and served you the best spicy potato wedges and fried chicken. I can still taste it almost 40 years later. In contrast, Huntsville had a parkway with overpasses and an abundance of traffic lights. There was a Sears and a JC Penney in the strip mall near our house. It was big time. You can imagine that Rogersville, with its beautiful sunsets over Wheeler Dam on the Tennessee River and its rolling fields of cotton, soybeans, and corn, was a much quieter place than Huntsville. Unless of course you define the contrast by how loud the cicadas chirp and in that case, Huntsville might have been the quieter place.
It was during those summers that I attended Vacation Bible School (VBS) at my Grandmother Mildred’s church. Back then, her church (the church she attended her whole life) was a simple red brick building with white trim and a bold white steeple. It was located across the street from the local high school with a football history so rich, you could still hear the Friday night crowd cheering on a Sunday morning, months after the season had ended.
My grandmother would drop me off at VBS in her brown wood grained station wagon. I usually sat in the “way back” because it was the model that had the pop up seats in the trunk that faced the wrong way. I’d jump out in my jelly shoes, charm bracelets jingling, and run excitedly into the church. To get to the classrooms, we walked up a dimly lit carpeted stairwell that creaked underneath your weight as you climbed the stairs.
It was the early 1980s so our lessons were taught using the latest technology in felt boards. Do you remember those? After we sang “I’m in the Lord’s Army” and “The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock,” the teacher would stand in front of a giant felt board and place felt characters and scenes on it. As she told the Bible story of the day, she would move the felt characters around or replace them with new characters as the story progressed. There was a colorful felt Jesus, a group of apostles, an ark, Zacchaeus in his sycamore tree.
One day in particular she laid the colorful felt Jesus down horizontally in a felt boat with the grouping of felt apostles. She rocked the boat back and forth on the felt board as she told the story of Jesus calming the storm at sea. When Jesus awoke in the story, she stood him up vertically in the boat. I believe there may have even been a felt storm cloud and a bright bolt of felt lightning.
In Matthew 8, we find that as Jesus had come down from the mountain, he attracted a large crowd that followed him. He had a busy day performing many miracles, he met a Roman Centurion, and he journeyed to Peter’s house. He then asked his disciples to take him across the Sea of Galilea. Jesus was sleeping in the boat when they were overtaken by a strong storm. The disciples woke him, fearing for their lives. Jesus stood up, rebuked the storm, saying “Peace. Be still.” (Mark 4:39) and suddenly the weather and the waves were calm.
I’ve always loved this story and my first recollection of hearing it is honestly at VBS at Mildred’s church when I was about my daughter’s age (four), but I’ve always had many questions. Rogersville is a river town located on the northern banks of the Tennessee River on the east side of TVA’s Wheeler Dam. The dam creates a lake (on which Rogersville sits), appropriately named Wheeler Lake. The lake stretches more than 60 miles across north Alabama, and at its widest point, is maybe four to five miles across. Its average depth is 15 feet but in some places it’s almost 60 feet deep. Fishermen love Wheeler Lake and on any given weekend, you can find a bass or other sport fishing tournament going on at the lake. Many people still fish there to feed their families. There are several comparisons you can draw to the Sea of Galilea. The Sea of Galilea is approximately 13 miles long, 7 miles wide, and 150 feet deep. It’s a shorter, wider, deeper version of Wheeler Lake. And just like the lake, the Sea of Galilea was beloved to fisherman, which is how they fed their families and made their living.
I never understood how the disciples didn’t know there was a storm coming and why they got in that boat during a storm so severe that they feared they would drown. As a kid, growing up boating on Wheeler Lake, before cell phones and the internet, in the time of rotary dialing and corded everything (including remote controls), when you had to read the newspaper to know the weather for the day, even I knew that dark skies, a change in wind, and choppier than usual waters, all meant a storm was brewing and we couldn’t go out on the boat. So why in the world did the disciples put Jesus on a boat in the middle of a First Alert Weather Day?
The answer is they didn’t. The Sea of Galilea is more than 600 feet below sea level. It is surrounded by mountains and as storms develop they can cross over the mountains onto the Sea without any warning. During these storms, wave heights can reach more than 20 feet. The disciples likely had no clue that a storm was brewing and they were certainly caught by surprise.
Historians believe that the boat they were traveling in was just big enough to hold the 12 disciples and Jesus, and that it was powered by both oars and sails. During a storm, the sails would have to be quickly lowered so that the men on board could regain control of the vessel. The Bible tells us that Jesus was asleep through all of this. I can only imagine that he slept through the 12 disciples working furiously to lower the sails and steer the boat, while waves crashed all around them, even IN the boat, and while violent winds whipped them from all sides, with thunder rolling, and lightning putting on a show that would put the fireworks at Disney World on the Fourth of July to shame.
Yet, they had to wake Jesus up. He was sleeping through all this action. He was that calm.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like COVID ripped through my family like a violent storm that has tossed us about like ragdolls in a raging sea, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We didn’t ask to contract Coronavirus. In fact, we did everything we knew to prevent it. And then some! It was a surprise sneak attack, much like that storm on the Sea of Galilea.
Your boat, your vessel – your body – it’s being ravaged by a storm, by this virus. Whether you are in the fight of your life, or you are battling your third week of symptoms, or you are worried sleeplessly over a child or a parent, or it hasn’t even attacked your home yet but you are living in paralyzing fear, you are in the storm. Remember yesterday I said that sometimes you have to ride in the rain? That’s still one hundred percent true. Sometimes you will have to ride in the rain. But nobody, and I mean nobody, signs up to ride through a category 5 hurricane.
Jesus was calm and powerful in the midst of the storm. He casually told the disciples, “Ye of little faith, why are you so afraid” (Matthew 8:26), then he rebuked the winds and the waves and the storm was quiet. He said “Peace. Be still,” (Mark 4:39) and the elements subsided. He saved their lives with his calming presence.
You are in the storm and you need the Great Physician. You need the calm of Jesus in your heart. Without it, you are still struggling to take down those battered and wind-tattered sails. Without it, you are still trying to regain control of your boat against the power of the storm. Without it, you are still living in fear. Without it, you are at the mercy of the storm. But you don’t have to be.
Wake Jesus up. He’s going to stand up and calm the storm. He will do that for you. He will do that for anyone and everyone that wakes him up. If you want the honest truth, you don’t even have to wake him up. He’s already awake and listening, and he WILL quiet the storm. You may have to deal with physical pain and struggle. You may still be in THAT storm. But that storm that’s in your mind, in your heart, in your soul, that storm can only be calmed by the Great Physician. Wake Jesus up. Let him rebuke the storm. Then feel His peace, and rest in the stillness of the calm that only He can provide.
Tips from a weary mama:
Remember when I wrote that I was terrible gift giver and video gamer? Go ahead and add prayer to the list of things I don’t do well, or at least I think I don’t do well. I’m really grateful to my village of support for offering up their prayers for this project. We’re Episcopalian and I am genuinely thankful we have the Book of Common Prayer because all the right words that I could never think of are written in that book. And there’s a prayer for everything. But I still pray my own prayers and I still talk to God. It just looks and sounds more like a conversation that I wouldn’t share with anyone else, and that’s likely what I’m doing if you ever pass me on the road and you think you see me talking to myself in the car (I am).
Feeling like you can’t pray the right prayer is apparently pretty common. It’s why people shy away from praying in public. Some people have a gift for this and it shows. They are happy to pray in public, and the rest of us are grateful for that. But you have a gift too. You are the only person who has ever walked this earth that can talk to God about YOUR heart. We know he already knows what’s in there, but you are the only person that can talk to him about it. No other human knows your heart. That prayer, that conversation with God, it’s unique. Only you can pray it. Only you can have that conversation. Nobody else. Your prayer doesn’t have to be perfect. It already is. Just find a moment and start a conversation. Even if it’s, “Dear God, I’m at a loss for words and I have no idea what to tell you…” Just sit for a moment and the thoughts, the words, the conversation, the prayer, it will all come. Then do it again. Repeat.
If you’re having trouble praying, try journaling it. Start with a list of all the things you are worried about. Then make a list of all the things you are grateful for. Then make a list of all the people you are thankful for. (Yes I realize I’m ending sentences with prepositions, just bear with me.) Now, using your lists, write your prayer.
Heavenly Father – We thank you that you are our Great Physician. You created us in our mother’s womb and you love us with an intimate love. I pray that each person reading this devotion senses your love in a real and mighty way. I pray that they sense how close you are to them at this exact moment. Comfort them in ways that only you can provide. Meet their needs through the power of your eternal riches. Bless their doctors and nurses. Give them divine wisdom as they continue to treat them. Bring them through this with a renewed energy and desire to make an impact on this world that you have created. Allow them to find their rest and their fulfillment in You. Thank You for promising to never leave or forsake us. I ask this in all the matchless name of Jesus Christ our Risen Savior and Lord. (Blake Kersey, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Decatur, Alabama)
I always loved going to church with my Grandmother Mildred. Maybe it was the small town, but everyone seemed to truly be invested in everyone else’s lives, mostly in a positive way. The preacher was southern, and the inflection in his voice from the pulpit was melodic. When I think of my wonderful childhood memories with Mildred at church, I think of the church in Decatur where our kids went for preschool. The authors of the opening and closing prayers are the Preschool Director and Lead Pastor, respectfully, at this church. I chose their prayers because the loving atmosphere they have provided for my children during their preschool years reminds me of the loving kindness I experienced at my grandmother’s church as a child. Their church is not my home church, and I one thousand percent feel this way about my home church too, but there’s something about the openness, warmth, and kindness we are shown as visitors a their church, just like at my grandmother’s church, that truly embodies the love of Christ. Plus Teresa and Blake know how to pray. They have the gift of prayer. I wanted Teresa to open this devotional and Blake to close it out with an exclamation point. As always they delivered. I’m grateful for them, their gifts, and their embodiment of Christ Jesus. Amen.