09 Dec 2018
Jesus had just taught His disciples through the five loaves and two fishes to trust in His all-sufficient grace. After such a powerful experience, their faith should have risen to the next level and they should be ready to move on. But they did not. Why? Because learning spiritual truth and growing in faith is a lesson they have to keep learning in many other areas of their life. So right after the feeding of the five thousand, they had to learn the lessons from the stormy sea of Galilee. They have to learn to trust in Jesus through the storms when they are following Jesus in obedience to His will. Come and find out more about what this means for you today!
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I would like to share with you the message from the gospel of John that we are going through in the Chinese service and last week, I shared with you on the feeding of the five thousand with the five loaves and two fishes. I would like to continue to the next passage because when they are seen in close connection, it gives us a fresh picture of how Jesus wants us to follow him how we can grow in the journey of faith. And so, to introduce the topic, I’d like to ask you to think about this question, which is: how do we learn? How do you think learning takes place? How do you think learning progresses for us in our lives? I think most people have this picture of learning. It is a progression; one step at a time. With each step, you rise to the next level and this is reinforced by our school education system because when you finish primary one, you go on to primary two, and then you keep climbing. When you finish your PSLE, a very major milestone in many children's life, and you pass, you get the grades you want and worked for, you move on to secondary school. And we think that that is how all learning takes place.
But how does learning actually take place in life? How do we grow in our faith? How do we advance in our spiritual journey? I'd like to suggest to you that perhaps it is not such a linear progression. Perhaps learning for us in our journey of faith takes place more in a circle. In other words, the comprehension of a particular truth is very quick and simple for most people. Mentally and intellectually, the theory is grasped. But the exercise and application of it take place over and over again in different areas of our life, when we are faced with different challenges, until we become mature and balanced with that truth. And that seems to be what Jesus was doing for his disciples to help them go forward in their journey of faith, to help them grasp spiritual truths, to help them expand their understanding of who he is and what he can do. Why do I say that? Because in the story of the five loaves and two fishes, in the lessons that he has taught them, one might have imagined after such a spectacular miracle, after such a powerful lesson of faith, they should have graduated from the school of faith. They should have moved on and they should be doing great things for God. And isn't that how we think? We think that if you had had a good message, went to Bible College, and perhaps if you had some good Bible classes, you attended some seminars and you finished it, you learned it well, you think you should move on and you should go forward. But instead of going forward, you seem to be going around in a circle. You don't seem to be growing. But you see, you only don't seem to be growing if you are thinking of a linear progression. But you are growing if you understand that the same truth applied to addressing the needs of the multitudes must also now be applied when they face with difficulties beyond their control. And so today, we are going to move on from this wonderful miracle and see that back to back, Jesus now teaches them a new lesson from the stormy sea of Galilee. So never think that learning takes place in just a moment. Learning takes place in moments after moments, lessons after lessons in our lives. And so right after the five loaves and two fishes, the disciples were sent off on a new adventure, on a new journey, whereby there are new truths that they need to grasp in a new area in their lives.
Trust Jesus Through The Storms
This is the key truth that I'd like to share with you as I invite you to turn with me to the gospel of John, looking at chapter six, verses 16 to 21. The key truth I hope that we can understand is simply this: we must learn to trust Jesus through the storms, when we are following him in obedience to His will. Now, storms in life are never pleasant. They are filled with hardship. They are filled with pain. They make you wonder; they make you question about life. That's why there are storms. But you see, the way we are wired if we are wrong, if we are disobedient, perhaps we are more predisposed to say, “yes, there is a lesson here I need to learn”. But when you are doing what is right, when you are obeying God, and yet the storms come, that's when you wonder, “Why? What is wrong? Should it not be good and blessed when I obey Him?”. The pressure, the tension in your heart; wondering whether you are doing the right thing or made the right choice in following Jesus is even harder in our hearts when the storm comes, as we follow him.
So, let's look at what the disciples were saying, doing and what Jesus was teaching them. In verse 16, the Bible tells us that when the evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat and started across the sea to Capernaum. This is unusual. Most people would think that you should ride on the momentum of this popularity wave when this miracle has been performed and use it to accomplish greater things for the kingdom, for the church, or for the followers of Jesus. But Jesus sensed the danger that these people who want to make him king are going on the wrong wave and it is not in the will of God. And he was concerned for his disciples that they will be swept along with the mob, with the crowd, in doing things that are contrary to his father's will. And so, the Bible tells us that instead of staying behind and enjoying all the admiring glances and all the praises, and you know, encouraging comments, he wanted to put his disciples on the boat and send them across the sea to Capernaum. In fact, the Scripture tells us, we are going to look at Matthew chapter 14, and also the Gospel of Mark chapter six to get a richer and fuller picture. The Scripture tells us in Matthew chapter 14, verse 22, that immediately, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat. The word here has a sense of compulsion. In other words, Jesus didn't sit down with disciples and ask them, “so what do you think, should we stay or should we go?”. He did not ask them for a vote, he didn't invite them to engage in this decision making. It was as if he hurried them onto the boat and pushed them out to sea and say, “Go, this is what I want you to do”. There is no doubt that setting off in the boat across the sea was the will of God for the disciples. There's no doubt that this is what Jesus wanted them to do. Now, when you are so sure, and certain that this is the will of God, here is the next question that believers asked as they go along on such a journey. The question is, “Is it smooth sailing, when we are obeying the will of God?”. Why is this a question? You come to church, you attend a service, and you go back hoping that you will have a blessing that because you have pleased God, God is pleased with you, and you will have a happy week. You don't? You come to church and you put your money in the offering bag; perhaps you're thinking, you know, I've been giving to the Lord, the Lord will bless and protect me financially, don't we? And in other words, we try to do things that we think God likes, that will please Him, that is in the center of His will, just so that we would be well. But yet the Bible tells us in john chapter six, verse 16 to 17, that when Jesus did that, it was dark and something ominous is happening here and Jesus had not yet come to them. There is that sense of being alone, of being left to themselves. In other words, when they were obeying the will of God, things don't seem to be going too well.
Today, it is not uncommon to hear that if you have the right amount of faith, all is well. If you're unhealthy, trust God, you will be healed. If you have the good faith, the right faith, say the right prayer, all will be resolved. You know, if you're having financial struggles, trust Jesus, have the right faith, be a good boy, give enough offering, and God will be pleased with you, and you will be prospered financially. That is an oversimplification of the journey of faith that seems to feed on our fears and desires rather than rather point us to what Jesus wants us to do. And so, the Scripture tells us that not only was it dark but Jesus seems to have left them to themselves. And the Scripture tells us that the strong wind was blowing. Now, the Sea of Galilee is about 200 meters below sea level. It's about 46 meters deep and it's surrounded by hills, which means that sudden, strong winds would come and stir the waters, creating storms when you least expect it. So the storm that the disciples were experiencing could be natural, due to natural causes, or the storm that they were expressing could be due to supernatural causes. In other words, when we experience difficulties in our life, sometimes there could be special reasons behind it and sometimes it could be just very natural.
But you see, you are trudging along, you are doing what you know is best, as God has commanded in His Word. But suddenly you are hit by difficulties, by darkness, by a sense of being left alone when you do not expect it. So, it doesn't matter whether you feel it is because of a special reason or natural reasons, you know, you're in the midst of a storm. And the Scripture tells us that the boat, by this time, was a “long way from land, beaten by the waves”. Now think with me friends, if you are in that boat, because you have been naughty, you will say, “well, that's the problem”. But if you're in that boat, because you are nice, then you'll be wondering, “what's wrong with me?”. You see, friends, if you have been a good boy, a good Christian person, you have been doing everything that the Bible asks you to do, and yet you are in this kind of a situation, wouldn't you wonder, “Why? What's wrong? What part of the Christian formula did I get mixed up? Why is it that God allowed this to happen to me?”. Because all of us up to a point, follow Jesus because we want his blessings and protection. But when the storm comes, we do not understand it. And that is why we need to learn to trust him through the storms. We must not oversimplify our faith. We need to realize that God has a greater purpose than making us just merely happy, healthy, or wealthy. God wants to make us holy. He wants us to know Him in a greater way.
Two Ways To Get Into A Storm
Disobey God’s Will
So, let me put it to you this way. There are two ways to get into a storm. Okay. There are two ways you could potentially get into a storm. The first way is you disobey God's will. Now we see an example of that in the Old Testament with this character we know by the name of Jonah. Now what is the story of Jonah? You see, Jonah was told by God to go and preach the word to the Ninevites so that they would repent. Jonah, when he heard God's command and understood His will, he packed up his things and he went the very opposite direction. You say, “Why? Why? Why? Why did he do that? Isn't he a servant of God? Why did he disobey?” Well, it's because Jonah hated the Ninevites. The Ninevites were the enemy of Israel. They have been bullying Israel, they have been pillaging, they've been taking captives, you know, his countrymen, and bringing them across to be slaves. He didn't want God's mercy to come upon these people. So rather than let them have a chance to repent and not be judged, he wants to run away and make sure they don't hear God's word. So that was how disobedient he was. He ran as hard, as fast as he could, as far as his feet found land. When there was no more land, he got into a ship and sailed in the opposite direction. And the Bible tells us that is when God sent a storm into his life. The storm was so big, was so strong, that it shook up all the sailors and even the ungodly ones were crying out as pagans to whoever is out there to save them. But you see, Jonah knew God. But Jonah was so stubborn, so determined to disobey, that he would rather die than go to Nineveh. So, what did he tell all these pagan sailors, these people who don't believe in the God that Jonah worshipped? He said, “This storm came because of me. Throw me into the sea, let me drown, let me die, and then the storm will cease”. And the sailors said, “No, we can't do that”. Could you imagine, even the pagan sailors were more kind-hearted. So, they tried but they could not prevail so eventually, they threw Jonah into the sea and Jonah thought, “all is well, I got my way”. No, he didn't get his way because as the picture shows, God sent a big fish. Since it was a very big fish, most thought it was a whale. I don't know what fish it was, but it must be big enough because it swallowed Jonah into its belly. When Jonah got into the belly, he wasn't having sashimi. When Jonah got into the belly, it was probably so horrible. It was so smelly, so stinky that it was the worst experience he ever had. It finally shook him up and he repented in the belly of the big fish. So, can you get into a storm and disobey the will of God? Yes, if you are truly a child of God. The Bible tells us that whom He loves, He chastens. So yes, this is what happened to Jonah. And when Jonah finally repented, the Bible tells us that the big fish opened its mouth, spewed him out and he landed right on the shores of Nineveh, where he should have been. So, if you disobeyed the will of God, you get into a storm, and the storm ends because you repented, you get back to where you should have been. That is one way to get into a storm.
Obey God’s Will
Now, here's another way you get into a storm in your life: by obeying the will of God. You say, “wow, this is amazing. I thought that when I obey God, all is well because God is good, God is great. He takes care of me. He solves all my problems. All I need to do is pray. You know, don't forget to say amen! All is well.”. But you know what? That's not true in the Old Testament. The Bible tells us that there is a man by the name of Moses who met God at a burning bush, and God made his view clear that he is to go into Egypt and bring Israel out of Egypt into the promised land. Moses didn't want to obey because he was scared. He felt that he couldn't do it. But eventually, he chose to obey God. And what happened? When he finally brought the nation of Israel out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, into the journey towards the promised land, the Scriptures records for us that there was a storm of murmuring and protests among the people, and it lasted for 40 years. Could you imagine? Moses could have thought, “You know what, I should not have obeyed!” or maybe, “I should not have answered the call! But now that I have answered the call, I didn't have an easy life.”. You see, when you obey God, there will always be blessings and reward but it doesn't mean you will be trouble-free. We need to understand that! It is not trouble-free. Some of you may disagree with this example and say, “Well, Moses… I don't quite see the storm in all that”. Well, how about this other character? His name is Daniel. Daniel was a godly man from his youth. When he was in his elderly age, which means that he has saw the rise and fall of the Babylonian kingdom, now he is in the Medes and Persian empire, and he is still a respected statesman. But for nothing less than having a pure devotion to God, for wanting to obey and follow him, he prays three times a day with his windows open. And the other Satraps and Princes being envious of him, decided to use that against him and accused him of breaking a temporary law and then got him cast into the lion's den. Could you imagine at old age, when you're old, you know, you've worked so hard all your life to earn the resources, build the relationships, so that you can have an easier life when you're older, when you retire. And you translate that thought into the spiritual realm, thinking, “I'm going to read my Bible, pray, and I'm going to work hard to understand all these wonderful truths so that when I'm older, you know, I could dismiss this problems with an act of faith.”. And then it doesn't happen. You find that you have storms, even in your old age. You find that your family still have issues. Your grandchildren still call out to you to take care of them, etcetera. You find that it doesn’t end even though you have obeyed God all your life. How did Daniel get into a storm? Not because he was disobedient, but because he was obedient. Now of course, that is a story where there was blessing and there was protection. God eventually used that incident to reveal His reality and power and glory. But still, Daniel went through the storm of the lion's den.
And so, we come back to the disciples. This is a picture of what can happen in your life when you obey God and when you're following him. It's not because you are sinning. It's not because you're running away like Jonah. But it's because your boat is pointed in the direction Jesus wants you to go, and you obey, and you begin to move forward. As you move forward, you find that the seas became rough. So, some of you may be asking, “Well, if that is true, why obey? Why obey?”.
Well, if you don't obey, be careful of the big fish, right? Like Jonah. It may not be a real big fish, but you can understand that God is going to discipline those whom He loves and you don't want to be running around in circles doing what is wrong and eventually, when you decide to obey, you're still back to the starting point. That's one reason. You obey because it is right; it is where God wants you to be. You are a child of God. You are to obey.
Here's another reason why you obey even though the seas become rough. It is because there are lessons for you to learn, lessons that will help you grow in faith, lessons that will help you experience the presence and power of God that you could not experience outside of the storm. And in spite of all that, it is normal when things get rough and tough that we begin to wonder. What are some questions we may ask when we find ourselves in the storms because we obey Jesus, because we are following him? One question could be, “Does Jesus know about my troubles?”. Remember that the story describes for us that it was dark, and Jesus was not with them. In other words, there is the sense of not being cared for. There's a sense that God seemed to have withdrawn His presence. There is a sense of being alone. And when it was in the heat of the moment, when in your piety, in your devotion, you say, “Yes, I want to follow. Yes, I want to obey Jesus.” You may not be thinking about it but when the sky gets dark, when the going gets tough, you will begin to wonder, “Where is Jesus? Where is God? Does he know? Does he care?” Some of you may be struggling with an issue in your life for many years, and you've been crying out to God from your heart, and God has not answered. And you will be wondering, “Does Jesus know about my trouble?”. The Bible tells us that Jesus knew. The Bible tells us that he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. He knows every pain that you're experiencing, he knows every contrary wind you're facing even though he has not spoken nor delivered you yet, he saw and he knew. You need to remember when you're in the storms of life, because of your obedience to God, that God never abandons His children. His eyes are always on those who are doing His will. His eyes are always specially on those who are following Him and trying their best to do what is right. That is our God. The Scripture tells us too, that when they have rolled about three or four miles, and that is about four to five, maybe six kilometers, which would bring them into the middle of the Sea of Galilee. Now you see, why is that important? It is important at this setting because if they are close to shore, they would be thinking, “let's just roll back”. That is the logical thing to do. That makes a lot of sense. If I'm nearer to the other end, then I will just roll a bit harder and maybe just jump into the water and swim the rest of the few 100 meters and I'll be on the shore. But now they are right in the middle of the sea because of their obedience. They cannot go forward, they cannot go back, they cannot turn to their left, they cannot turn to their right. They are stuck. Why? Because they obeyed Jesus. They followed him. They went in the direction God wanted them to go. The Scripture tells us that not only does Jesus know their predicament, not only does he know their struggle, but it's about the fourth watch of the night that he came to them, walking on the sea in the Gospel of Mark. The fourth watch of the night is about 3am to 6am. It's the middle of the night. It is a dark hour of the night. You could say that it is the hour before dawn and it's like, almost all hope is lost. So, the picture is given to us that, you know, they were working, they were obeying, they were struggling, and they were not going anywhere. They were getting frustrated. They were getting very confused and lost about their situation. I don't know why Jesus didn't answer immediately. Maybe because he wanted them to come to the end of their resources and strength. Maybe it's because he knows that this is the hour that they could best learn the lesson. I do not know why. Neither do we know today why Jesus didn't answer your prayers immediately for that specific need you have been praying. But you need to realize that just because he has not answered, it does not mean he will not answer. He comes to us in the fourth watch of the night. He comes to us in his time and that is the right time. There is a man whose name is Brother Andrew. He was a man whom God raised during the time of the Cold War to smuggle Bibles into the communist countries, in order that they can have the Word of God, read them and be able to grow in faith. That was all his journey and that's why he wrote this book called ‘God’s smuggler’ filled with very heartwarming anecdotes about the stories of faith. And almost in every one of them, it seems like Jesus comes in the fourth watch of the night – not the time that Brother Andrew would love for him to come but always right on time. One of the stories he told in his life is when he was still studying in a Bible college and he needed a shilling. He was in Glasgow and he needed a shilling in order to pay for his visa to remain in the country so that he could continue his studies and training. But he had no money. And so, he began to pray and pray and pray until the day on which he has to submit his visa application. So, as he waited in his in his room, finally the doorbell rang, and a man appeared at the door and it wasn't a man who came to give. It was a man who came to ask him for money. It was a man who he has been reaching out to and who has been poor, and he's telling him the struggles he's having of his family, feeding the family and all the niece he had. And then he asked Andrew for one shilling. And Andrew was thinking to himself, “I need that one shilling. So why do I have to give it to you?” And when he was thinking that he saw at the front porch on the grass, a shiny coin, and he knew it was one shilling. Guess what? He could have kept quiet about it and then his problem is solved; send the man away and trust God with him. But no, he didn't do that. He decided that he's going to give that shilling to the poor man. So, he reached out and said, “You know what? God has provided this for you. Go, take it and use it to meet the needs of your family.”. But that leaves him still with nothing. And so, he continued to wait and pray and trust God. And soon enough, the mail came and in the mail was a letter that offered and gave him 30 shillings for his need. It was more than what he needs. And he wrote in his book that the Lord always provides in a kingly manner. You don't have to be looking for shillings in the grass for yourself. You can trust God to come at the right moment to supply all that you need. And that was only part of the little lessons he was learning. Because when he was finally starting on his ministry, he told the story of how one day, as usual, he was driving across the Romanian border to bring Bibles into Eastern Europe. And he thought this is a great morning because there were only six cars at the border, which should be over in a moment, and then he will be well on his way or all will be good. But unknown to him, the first car was searched by the guards for 40 minutes. The second car was the same and everything, like the first car, was laid on the floor to be checked. And then Andrew was thinking in his mind, “I'm not going to get through. I have so many Bibles stashed away in my boot and under the seat. They're going to find everything that I'm doing and I'm going to be in trouble.”. The third car, it was the same. When it came to the fourth car, because he was the fifth, the man in the fourth car was searched for over an hour. So, Andrew thought, “This is it. It's history. You know, God, if you don't rescue me, I am gone. So I might as well take the Bible and tell him what I'm doing.”. So that's what he did. He was ready to confess what he was doing. But when he edged up to the border and the guard was right beside him, he tried to get out but the guard put his knee against his door and didn't let him out. He asked him for his papers. He looked at his papers, checked them with a passport, scribbled a few things and put it back to him. Andrew couldn't believe his eyes. He couldn't believe his ears. He couldn't believe it. And so, he began to edge forward very slowly to see whether it is just him or whether it is God. And as he looked at the rearview mirror, he saw at the back and realized that the sixth car had to come out and lay out everything on the on the road for the guards to check again. In other words, God came to him at the very last moment where he needed help and made sure that he got through. Why? Because he was following and obeying Jesus. You see, my friends, when we follow and obey Jesus, we can’t tell him when to solve our problem. We can’t tell him how to solve our problems. We just have to trust that he knows, and he will come at the right time. This is what Brother Andrew said about his journey of faith. He said, “In the years of living this life of faith, I have never known God's care to fail.”. I hope and pray that we will all learn that this is also true in our lives.
And that is why we need to learn to trust Jesus through the storms. You see, this is a very unique and specific setting for us. How is it unique? Notice the two lines below, “when we are following Him in obedience to His will”. It is precisely because you are obedient, you are serving Him that you get into this storm. And when you feel like, “Why am I doing this?” and you want to bail and say, “I'm not doing this anymore, I'm not serving here anymore, I'm not going to follow anymore.”, that is right where you need to be. That is the lesson from the stormy seas of Galilee. The disciples were right where God wants them to be. And right there is where they need to learn that God's care never fails. You cannot learn it any other way. You can't just sit in a worship service and know this. You can’t go to a Bible class and understand it. You need to be brought right into the middle of the lake where you have no more options when you think, “Why am I doing this? Why am I doing here? Have I made the wrong decision?” and all these doubts seems to flow, that is when you need to trust Jesus. That is when you can’t bail out and say, “I'm not going to do this again”. I'm going to follow him through.
The Scripture tells us that when they have rowed about three to four miles in the Gospel of john, then they saw Jesus walking on the sea. Now I don't know about you, but I think that if you were in that boat with the disciples, and you knew that this is Jesus walking on the sea, you might get very, very excited. You may take out your handphone and start to take pictures to capture the moment, you know, or better still, maybe you will turn it around and take a selfie to make sure that you are in the picture as well. You know, because you want to be here for this historic moment: Jesus walking on the sea! You know, because it's like, amazing, incredible, fantastic, isn't it? But guess what? The disciples, if they had any cellphones with them, were not taking pictures, and they were definitely not taking selfies. Why? Look at the disciples’ responses. They thought it was a ghost. They were scared out of their wits. You know, they have been working so hard, that night was dark, the winds were blowing and maybe they got a bit superstitious, they thought maybe it was supernatural and maybe they thought they were out of God's will. And at this moment when Jesus was walking towards them, they could not figure it out at all. You see, we sometimes give ourselves more credit than we deserve. We think we know God. We think we know the Bible. We think we understand how it all works out so we will be cool and calm as a cucumber when difficulties come about. No, no, no! All of us can end up like that. Why? Because we all have our preconceived notions of how God should work. We already have worked out a plan of how He should solve my problem. And so, our prayer is, “God take this solution and apply it, and all would be well”. But you see, we weren't expecting Jesus to come in this way. And so, when he does, we thought that it is a ghost. We thought it is something horrible that is happening. And then the Scripture tells us that they were frightened. Why? Why were they frightened? Because they weren't expecting Jesus. They weren't expecting him to come to them in this way. They may have seen him perform miracles, turning water into wine. They may have seen him heal the lame. They may have seen him multiply the loaves and fishes, but they weren't expecting Jesus to come to them in the storms on the water. So, they were scared out of their wits. They were frightened simply because their faith still needs to grow.
Recognizing The Presence Of God In The Darkness Of The Night Is The Key That Brings Peace To Our Hearts
How did Jesus grow their faith? Jesus didn't give them a solution, a plan, or strategy. Jesus told them these simple words, “It is I; do not be afraid.” (John 6:20). You see, friends at the end of the day, your faith is a matter of having that relationship with Jesus that changes your life. It's not about putting these theological truths together in the right formulation so that you can articulate them well and all is good. That is good; that is good for a start. It is not about learning these Bible verses and doing our devotions faithfully so that God would bless it; that is good but that is not all there is to it. You see, at the end of the day, Jesus simply told them, “Don't be afraid”; he said, “It is I”. He is telling them and teaching them, that they need to realize that he is there with them. In other words, recognizing the presence of God in the darkness of the night is the key that brings peace to our hearts. Your mind, my mind will be running through 101 different solutions, trying to solve all the problems, trying to tell God ‘if you only do this, if you only do that, if you only apply this, all will be well’. But you know what? Maybe he will do that but that's not the first and foremost important thing. What we need to learn is to recognize the presence of God.
About 17 years ago, I was asked to go to China to teach the Bible. And so, I asked my wife who knows me well, “should I go?”. My wife took a good look at me and said, “better not”. She said, “Spare them. They won’t understand you, and you won’t understand them.”. Why? Because my Chinese, 17 years ago, was not very good. How bad? I won’t tell you, lest I embarrass myself. It is just not very good. In fact, when a brother heard me speak in a practice session the night before I went off, he sent me an email and he said, “Brother, I can tell you're going to China by faith”. And so, I took my wife's advice, and I decided I wouldn't be going. But yet as I prayed, and I thought about it on and off, I just felt that the Lord wanted me to point the boat in this direction towards China, and He just wanted me to go. And that thought grew and grew until it became almost like a compulsion. It seems that Jesus wasn't asking me for my thoughts or for my vote. He was telling me to go. I could not understand it. I still think, till this day, that God has a great sense of humor, sending a ‘kan-tang’ (which is Hokkien for ‘potato’) or banana, if you understand those terms, or an ‘OCBC’, to China. Okay and so I eventually surrendered. And I told the pastor and said, “I would go”. Now, when I agreed to go, I thought, having limited experience that, you know, in all likelihood, I don't think it's wrong. I think it's probably just going to be the case. I mean, asking me to go China and teach the Bible in Chinese that I will speak one lesson. One lesson. And if I can get through that, maybe I could have some exposure to the mission field in China and find out how the churches are doing there. That will be fun. But guess what, about two weeks before the trip, I found out that no, no one else is going. I'm the only one. And I'm like, okay, I'm the only one. Are you sure? You know, it's like I'm in the middle of the lake, three to five kilometers out, no turning back, no going forward. What am I going to do? And then I found out also, unlike church camp, these folks in China, they are hungry for the Bible. They do not have just one message in the morning and one message in the evening. They start at about 6 am and then they begin teaching at 8 am and they end about 6pm. So they want me to teach the whole day for five days. I do not have that many sermons then and I don't have the Chinese to carry through. So, what am I going to do? We gathered the sermons (thank God for brethren who helped) and then we got them translated from English to Chinese, and then I filled them out with han yu pin yin. You know what han yu pin yin is right? It is a romanized version of the Chinese words. And so, I filled that all out. So, I thought to myself, if I could not recognize the word, at least I will try to pronounce it and maybe somehow they will figure out what I'm trying to say. So with all that, I prepared myself because there was no getting out. And I flew to China, in the heart of winter and it was minus, I don't know, 10, 15, 20 degrees Celsius. You know, when I flew there, you know, thinking like a Singaporean, I thought, ‘Well, how cold can it get? It should be like Cameron Highlands la’. But when the plane door opened and the cold air came in, it was so cutting that my whole skin was reacting and I got to quickly bundle up myself to protect myself from the cutting chill. I was in a foreign land, in a foreign climate, with a bag of sermons in han yu pin yin. I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh, man’. But I thought I was doing it because I thought that it was what God wanted me to do. I was obeying Him; He told me to go so I went. And I met this elderly pastor who I met in Singapore for a few days, but all the rest of the faces were foreign. They brought me to the outskirts of the city, to what was formerly a farming area and there, they sat me in this thing they call a kang, which is an oven that on the other side, it is where they cook and as they cook, it warms up this side of the room and so it becomes a dining area in the winter and at night, you sleep on it. So that was the kang and it was very unfamiliar. So I had to climb up there, sit cross-legged eating Chinese food that didn't taste quite Chinese to me at the time. 17 years later, all these Chinese food are very common in Singapore, but then I wasn't familiar with them. But the funny thing is, when we were finishing the meal, the lady who was the hostess came over and she was so excited and said, “Hao le, Hao le, Hao le!”. I thought, ‘wow, what was the exciting thing now?’ And they brought out this plate of sweet potatoes. And the elderly pastor with this hostess was savoring it like gold. And I was thinking to myself, ‘how am I going to connect with this excitement?’ It's not even durian, you know. What was I supposed to do? I'm so culturally out of water, you know? I'm like, “Yeah, well, it is nice…”. What am I supposed to do? I thought maybe after this ordeal, I should be sent to my room to take a nap. I thought a nap is great. A nap is beautiful. A nap is reasonable. But guess what? The elderly pastor looked at me and said, “Had your meal?”; I said, “Ya.”. I waited for the next word and he said, “They're all waiting for you now. Come, come, come, come! Go and teach them. They want to hear you.”. And I thought to myself, “You mean, I don't even get a break?”. You know? What's going on? I can't even remember what I said to them; or rather, I can't remember what I tried to read to them. Now, these men and women who have braved through the years of communism, persecution, suffered for the Lord, they taught, they lead, they represent churches of thousands, and like, who am I? I don't recognize any of these phrases and guess what? I'm even insulting their language because I can't speak it well myself! So, why are they listening to me? I remember when it was finally over, they showed me to my room and I didn't even take off my coat. I just crashed onto my bed and I slept; I knocked out completely. But you know, I remember now very clearly, even after all these years, that in the middle of the night, I suddenly woke up. And it seems at that time that my subconscious connected with my consciousness. And this wave of terror came all over me. And my heart was gripped in fear in the middle of the night when I was thinking of this foreign place, in this foreign land, foreign climate. There was nobody I knew and I'm here all alone. And I'm thinking to myself, “What am I doing here? I made a mistake. What am I doing here?” And I had no answer. Those days, there was no WhatsApp and there was no internet. I couldn't connect with anybody. I couldn't cry to anybody for help. Long-distance calls were too expensive. I got down on my knees and I began to pray and cry out to God because of the terror of the reality that struck home to me, and I prayed and prayed and prayed. And it seems to me that the Lord came to me and said, “it is I; do not be afraid”. When I sensed His presence, it comforted my heart and it brought peace to my soul. I went back to bed and thank God, the next day, the people were still there. I do not know why. I'm sure they don't like their Chinese read to them in a broken way, but they will still there. And the Lord, on that morning of the second day, met with us with such grace and power, that all of us in the midst of my broken Chinese, we wept together, we laughed together, we worshipped together, because it was the will of God for me and for them. And that was the trip that brought me to the next stop in my journey to serving him – it opened up to me the world of ministering to Chinese-speaking people. You see, my friends, sometimes when you follow Jesus, you are all excited about doing what's right. You're all excited about doing what is spiritual, and what is in obedience to God's will that you didn't really connect with all the details. But when the storm finally hits, when the fear grips your heart, you wonder why! When reality breaks, you wonder, “Did I make the right decision?”. That is when we need to recognize the presence of God. If you are truly obeying the Lord, if you are truly following Him, it is His presence that will bring you peace.
The Scripture tells us, “Then they were glad to take him into the boat”. You see, your fears and your struggles will turn into joy if you're obeying Him because the storms do not last forever. He doesn't send you in to a storm just to break you up and make you miserable. He sends you in so that you learn the lessons He wants you to learn, and so that He could bring you to the next point in your journey of faith. That's why He sent you into a storm, so that you learn to trust and follow Him through it all.
The Scripture tells us in Matthew, that those in the boat worshipped Him and they cried out, “Truly you are the Son of God”. You know, we all love happy endings, and this seems like a happy ending, doesn't it? It seems like they have graduated finally; after five loaves and two fishes, and after the stormy sea of Galilee, they have finally grown in their faith. That is the picture we would like to see. But remember, we are comparing Scripture with Scripture and we are getting a richer and fuller picture. Look at what the Gospel of Mark tells us. In Mark chapter six, verses 51 to 52, the Bible tells us that when “he got into the boat with them, the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded.” Why? “For they did not understand about the loaves”. In other words, they didn't learn from the five loaves and two fishes. They haven't learned it yet, “but their hearts were hardened”. There is this strange mixture of joy and worship coupled with hardened hearts.
Growing in Faith Occurs in a Circle
So why do we think that growing in faith is a linear progression? That may take place in primary school, secondary school, and University for your education. But that is not the picture of our growth in faith. Why? Because it's not a matter of the mind. It's a matter of the heart. And our hearts are sometimes hardened and slow to learn. And so, we may understand the story of the five loaves and two fishes, and we may be warmed by the encouragement of the stormy seas of Galilee, but still, that may not mean that we have learned it. And so, God comes to us over and over again with the same truth in different areas of our lives in order to help us grow in faith. So, don't be too hard on yourself; don't think like “I've been a Christian for 20 years and why am I still like that?”. Well, you know, someone may have been a Christian for 40 years and still be like that too. So, what are you doing to do? Well, you just have to be humble and say, “You know what, Lord? Continue to teach me. I may have experienced you in that area when I saw my children grow up. But now that I am facing retirement, it is a fresh storm as I obey you. I need to learn to trust you again.”, “You know, I may have understood what you were trying to teach me when I was young and in my teenage years, but now I'm going into my adulthood and going into work and all that, and there are so many things I do not understand, Lord. Continue to teach me again.”. It is a circle because your life embraces many different areas. And in each area, you have to learn to trust him. As you obey Him, there will be storms but don't let those storms drive you back. Trust Him through the storms. Why? Because when you trust Him through the storm, the Bible tells us that “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going”. In other words, in spite of all their fears and miscomprehension, even though they had hardened hearts, they ended up at the next stop where God wanted them to go. That is our hope. We may not be perfect in our understanding and we may not be complete in our faith, but because we obey Him, He is going to bring us through the storms that may come as we trust Him. And we will end up at the next stop in our journey of faith and then from there, we go on with Jesus.
So, what are some lessons we can learn from the stormy sea of Galilee? May I summarize it for you in this way?
One, obeying the will of God can also bring you into a storm. Don't think that just because you obey, you do right, you are a good Christian, all you have is blessing. Accept the reality that God is more concerned about your holiness than your happiness, because the holiness that comes into your life is going to give you prolonged happiness with Him.
Now, number two, you can be sure that God is watching over you during the storm. When the going is hard and when you're discouraged. This is very tough, but you need to remember, Jesus never forgets his own.
Number three, God is present to help in the darkest hour of the storm. Don't try to convince God what to do to solve your problems. Just wait and trust and recognize His presence. Over and over again, His solution is to tell you, “It is I; do not be afraid”. Learn to recognize His presence because we can't solve every problem. And if we know God's solution, you may be so confused and frightened, you can't follow anymore. Just trust Him because He is present to help.
Number four, no storm can prevent you from fulfilling the will of God. It is not about us, not about how good we are, how bad we are. It's about God. And so, all He wants us as His children to do is to demonstrate in our lives, that we truly trust Him and He will see us through. He will bring us to the next stop not because of how good we are, but because of how great He is.
And that is why I hope, friends, we will learn to trust Jesus through the storms when we are following Him in obedience to His will. You see when we do understand this, and you are a good Christian, you're coming to church or reading your Bible, you're praying, you're serving in a ministry, and a problem breaks out, immediately, you will be tempted to draw back and say, “I might as well don't do this because when I'm not serving Him and I am not obeying Him, I also don't have this kind of trouble. Why should I do it? Who's paying me for it?” And all those unhappy thoughts come into your mind. And if you continue to draw back from following Jesus, then you brew for yourself a big pot of stew filled with skepticism, filled with bitterness, anger, frustration, murmurings, complains, and all the time you will feel so righteous in your indignation. Why? Because you thought that your obedience should bring immediate blessing. But if you were to step back and say, “No, no, no, no, no, I thank God for those blessings and protection that come. But there are times when I have to trust Him through the storm.”, you will just keep following him and you will experience His power and presence and learn the lessons that the disciples learned on the stormy sea of Galilee.
Let us pray. Our Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for your word. Lord, you know, so often we can in our mind to twist and turn ideas to fit our own liking. And so, one thing we don't like is the idea that if we obey and serve you, there will still be problems and trouble. That's not easy. But yet, we see that you did not spare the disciples from the storm because they obeyed you. And so, we realize that you may not deliver us out of every trouble just because we have been faithful. And we ask that in those moments when we are discouraged, when we feel like giving up, throwing in the towel or we are getting angry with life, with church, with God, with everything else, that we will stop, and we will let you teach us the lessons you taught the disciples on the stormy sea of Galilee. Help us as a people to grow and have a mature and balanced faith; and that we can trust you in every area of our lives even through the storms when we are following you in obedience to your will. For we ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
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