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Trusting Jesus in the COVID-19 storm

We all know the feeling of the downward spiral of fear, anxiety and worry. We ‘start to sink’ when we forget God’s promises to us. We forget that he is in control of our lives.

“Christ Walking on the Waters” painting by Julius Sergius Von Klever, circa 1880. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

(RNS) — One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is about a storm.

Jesus had just finished feeding thousands of people near the Sea of Galilee by multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish. He told his disciples to go ahead of him to the town of Gennesaret in their boat while he dismissed the crowds. After everyone left, the Gospel of Matthew says, Jesus went up on a mountain to pray.

Jesus was still on the mountain as evening came. His disciples, on the other hand, were in trouble.

As the disciples made for their destination, a raging storm came upon the sea. Their boat “was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.” I can imagine how helpless and hopeless the disciples felt.

Suddenly, the disciples saw a figure coming toward them, walking on the waves. In their terror, they cried out, “It is a ghost!” (As if things weren’t bad enough already.)

But then they heard a familiar voice: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

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The Apostle Peter, impulsive man that he was, said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus simply replied: “Come.”

So Peter got out of the boat. He was walking on the water toward Jesus. But then he looked away.

The wind got his attention, all consuming. And he began to sink.

Panicked, he cried, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately, Jesus grabbed hold of Peter and said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Then they got back into the boat and the storm was gone.

In our storm, Jesus asks us the same question: “Why do you doubt?”

“Jesus Walking on the Sea of Galilee” painting by Paul Brill and Frederik van Valckenborch, circa 1590. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

This terrible COVID-19 pandemic is like a massive storm. We are afraid and worried about our futures.

Although we might feel forsaken, we are not. I am comforted by this beautiful story, as it reminds me that I can trust God in the storms of my life. Jesus watches us in our storms.

While Matthew tells us that Jesus “went up on a mountainside by himself to pray,” Mark’s Gospel gives us an added detail: “And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them.”

Jesus was watching his disciples not passively, but with great interest. I am sure he was praying for them as well. The disciples may have lost sight of Jesus, but he never lost sight of them.

If you feel you are all alone in this storm and that Jesus can’t see you, remember this: You don’t escape his attention. Indeed, Jesus comes to us in our storms.

Why did Jesus walk on the water to meet his disciples? Why not fly in?

I think it’s because he wanted to show his disciples that the storm was only a staircase for him to come to them — and that he had power over it.

This, however, only freaked the disciples out. They didn’t recognize Jesus because they were not looking for him. Had they been waiting by faith, they would have recognized him immediately.

How often is the Lord speaking, seeking to lead us, but we don’t see him because we don’t expect him?

You may know Jesus, but you will never know him deeply until he comes to you in the midst of the storms of life. It is better to be in a storm with Jesus than anywhere else without him.

It’s hard to remember sometimes that Jesus calls us to keep our eyes on him in the middle of our storms. Peter began to sink because he wasn’t looking at Jesus. That’s just like us.

We are looking to the Lord and then look back to our circumstances as we watch the latest news report or we hear the latest rumor about COVID-19 and our hearts sink.

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We all know the feeling of the downward spiral of fear, anxiety and worry. We “start to sink” when we forget God’s promises to us. We forget that he is in control of our lives. Sometimes, we forget God altogether.

Jesus will get us through this storm called coronavirus. But we have to keep our eyes on him or we, like Peter, will sink. Remember: Where fear reigns, faith is driven away. Where faith reigns, fear has no place.

When we are sinking, we need to call out to Jesus.

When Peter started sinking, he shouted, “‘Lord, save me!’”

Scripture reminds us that prayer calmed storms, healed the sick, raised the dead and even stopped time. And the Lord gives us this promise in the words of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. “Call to me, and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know,” he says.

If you are afraid, Jesus is waiting for you to call.

Like a storm, COVID-19 has a beginning, middle and end. Perhaps we are somewhere near the beginning or approaching the middle. But the storm will pass, and don’t forget, Jesus is with us in it.

(The Rev. Greg Laurie is the senior pastor of Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and the founder of the Harvest crusades. He is on Twitter at @GregLaurie. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)