Bad problems are the best place for God’s big power

Pastor Jeff Struecker

Last week, Troy reminded us about how awesome our God is. -that Jesus was able to do a miracle out of thin air. He made bread and fish appear to tens of thousands of people on a mountainside. And they decided, “We like this guy because he feeds our stomach, and here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to grab him and force him to become our leader so that we get a chance to eat anytime we want.”

At the end of last week, Troy reminded us that Jesus decided, “I’m not going to be that kind of rescuer. I came to rescue you from something much bigger than hunger. I came to rescue you from yourself and from your sin.” So Jesus tells his disciples, “Hey guys, get in a boat. Let’s leave the crowd. We need to go across the lake.”

That’s where last week’s story leaves off, and this week’s story picks up in that boat. I’m going to show you what happens to those disciples who were in that boat, but I want you to picture yourself for just a second. When was that last time that you were just simply struggling, trying to keep up? Maybe you’re a busy mom, and you were walking out of the grocery store are with three armfuls of food, but you only have two arms, and you’re wrestling, trying to get it all there when it spills across the parking lot.

Maybe you’re in a college class right now, and you’re doing this group assignment. There are people that aren’t putting in their share of the work, and you’re wrestling and you’re struggling. You’re thinking to yourself, Really? Are you going to bother to join in? -because you’re getting a grade on this.

Maybe for you, it’s at work. You’ve been working on this project, and every day it feels like you’re falling farther and farther behind and not able to catch up. And people around you are watching you fail and not even bothering to step in.

Maybe it’s a marriage. Maybe it’s finances. I don’t know what it is, but I want to remind you of something. Sometimes God lets it get to that point before he steps in. In fact, here’s really what I want you to understand about how God works: Sometimes he steps in right away, but sometimes he waits until the last moment. And I need you to know that big problems in your life, the kind that, I’m in over my head; there’s no way that I can figure this out on my own, those big problems in life, sometimes God allows those big problems to happen because big problems are the moment where God can show up with big power in a big way. And maybe that’s what’s going on in your life right now.

Bad problems are the best place for God’s big power.

Do you know that your fears are kind of a mirror to your heart? What you fear is really, really important to you. Now, I’m not talking about the kind of stuff that they make Halloween movies about. I’m not talking about spiders and snakes. I’m talking about the really deep fears that a lot of people deal with, we hang onto, and they haunt us for weeks or months. 

I’m talking about the fear that maybe we’re never going to be able to have a baby. I’m talking about the fear that maybe I’m going to lose my job and I’m not going to be able to pay the bills. They don’t make movies out of these kind of fears. But these are the kind of fears that stick with you and hang with you over and over again.

If we’re honest, those fears wouldn’t be a big deal to us if those things weren’t really important. So when we struggle with those things, we’re wondering, “God, where are you? God, do you care?” Before this sermon is done today, I want to help you figure out how you can hand some of those fears over to God, how you can just simply get them out of your heart, because you’ve given them over to God. 

In fact, before we’re done, I’m going to give you some simple steps on how you can just simply get that stuff out of your heart and hand it over to the only one who can deal with some of those problem in life.

We’re going to hear the story of Jesus on the water with his disciples on the Sea of Galilee. And there are a couple of things that you’re going to notice from John chapter six today. One of the things that I really hope you see before this passage is done is that it is always darkest before the S-O-N rises. 

It’s darkest just before the Son rises.

Maybe you are going through some real darkness right now in your world. Maybe you’re going through some real darkness in life. Maybe you are in one of those storms where, “I’m rowing as hard as I can, but I’m not making any progress. In fact, it feels like I’m on the river, and I’m rowing against the current, and every moment I’m getting farther and further behind; I’m not making any progress.” That’s where Jesus’ disciples are when we pick up this story in John chapter 6, starting in verse 16. Here’s what the Bible describes:

John 6: 16-18 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. Darkness had already set in, but Jesus had not yet come to them. A high wind arose, and the sea began to churn.

This is the Sea of Galilee, not far from where Jesus just fed the 5,000. We don’t need John to tell us that it’s dark, but I need you to know something about the Bible in the book of John here. John often uses the word night or darkness to describe not just the absence of light. Really what he’s talking about is spiritual evil or spiritual darkness. When he says that darkness set in on that sea, he’s not just talking about the sun going down. He’s talking about how these guys in this boat are struggling physically, and they’re struggling spiritually. Right on the heels of a great miracle of Jesus, now they’re struggling physically, as well as spiritually.

These guys are wrestling against the weather right now. I want you to picture in your mind what this would’ve looked like, because this is a tiny little fishing boat, basically just big enough to hold all 12, all 13 of these guys. And they’re now being tossed back and forth on the Sea of Galilee. You need to know that they’re about halfway across the sea when they get caught in the middle of this storm, which means there’s no easy exit. And these guys are starting to get scared.

In fact, the Bible makes it really clear for us that they’re starting to get scared, if you were to read this story in a few other passages in the book of Mark or in Matthew. Have you ever been on an airplane when it starts to get some turbulence, and the people around you start to grab your hand? -a total stranger, and they’re grabbing a hold of your hand, because they’re freaking out right now? 

Most of us, when you’re in a situation like that, you look to the flight attendants. And as long as the flight attendants don’t look worried, then most of us are like, Maybe it’s not that big of a deal. But when the flight attendants start to get scared, everybody on the airplane starts to freak out.

Let me remind you, these are professional fishermen that are in a boat at sea, and they’re freaking out right now. -which means if you were there, you would be totally terrified, because you know what it takes to freak out professional fishermen. They’re on the middle of that sea, and they’re thinking, “Y’all, we’re going to die in this storm.” It is that bad when it gets really dark on that sea. 

And maybe you’ve been in one of those storms. Maybe you’re going through that kind of storm right now where you are struggling and working as hard as you can. You’re rowing with all of your might, but it’s not making any difference. The wind is getting worse. The waves are getting bigger, and it’s not changing. And you’re starting to ask, “God, do you know what I’m going through right now? Because it really feels like you don’t know. And if you know, do you even care? Because I’m struggling.”

Or, “God, I’m scared right now.” And that may be the very place where God is trying to lead you, so that you can get to this point where you realize, “Uh-oh, I’m in over my head. Uh-oh, if God doesn’t show up, I have no hope.” That may be exactly why he’s allowing some of those storms to come into your life. There are some times where it gets dark, and God just simply allows those difficult times to happen, because he wants you to start to look at him. 

But if we’re honest, sometimes God makes things in life happen to you because he needs to grab your attention. And he’s about to show up and he’s about to show off. But before he does that, “I need to get your attention and you’re not focused on me. So I’m going to send a storm, and it’s going to cause you to focus on me.”

Last weekend when I was gone, I had the privilege of speaking at a church in Oklahoma. I was preaching at a church on a Sunday night; they were doing a huge men’s event. It had been planned for more than a year. Tons of preparations and plans. And then, like Oklahoma in the United States, storms can pop up out of the middle of nowhere. I’m not making this stuff up. In the middle of the afternoon, Sunday afternoon, the weather channel starts to report, “Hey, there’s a good chance that we’re going to have very severe weather. In fact, we may even have a tornado tonight.” 

Many churches around started canceling their services, but this pastor and this church said, “We believe God really wants us to go through with this service.” So they put on a steak dinner, and 1,000 men showed up last Sunday night. Right in the middle of this program, this severe storm hit that church. At that moment, while I’m on stage and I’m telling them who Jesus is, the power went out. The lights went out. The sound went out. The room went completely dark. 

Now, you’ve got a bunch of guys in the room that immediately pull their phones out, and they start using the light on their phone just to put some light in the room. And it didn’t go out for a minute or two. It went out for a long period of time. And I started hearing from the Holy Spirit, “This is not just a physical storm; this is spiritual warfare.” So, I started getting loud enough for all 1,000 men in that room to hear my voice.

And I said, “If you are a Christian, I need you to pray right now for the soul of the guy sitting next to you, because it may be that there is a very real spiritual battle happening right now for his soul.” Don’t believe me? Go back and listen to that six-week sermon series that we did on angels and demons. And then I just explained the Gospel as clear as I knew how. 

Several minutes later, the lights came back on. Several minutes after that, the sound came back on. And when I offered the men in the room a chance to pray to receive Christ, to get serious about their relationship with Jesus or to become a Christian for the first time, listen to this number : 49 men in that room said, “I need Jesus.” And that was the moment where 49 men’s lives were transformed. 

But here’s what that moment reminded me. God reminded me. “Jeff, you don’t need screens. You don’t need sound. You don’t need lights. All you need is my Holy Spirit. And if my Holy Spirit shows up to this room, if my Holy Spirit shows up in this boat at sea, if he shows up in that room at that church, if he shows up in your house tonight, that’s all that you need to be able to handle the greatest storms in your life. 

Sometimes God allows it to get dark because he’s about to do something awesome in your life. But it’s going to have to get real dark before it actually gets better. Now look at what happens after it starts to get dark. These men, these professional fishermen realize, “Uh-oh, we’re in trouble, and we’d all better start rowing with all of our might, because if we don’t, we may not make it to the other side. We may die in this storm tonight.”

Don’t row against raging seas.

If you’ve seen the movies that show Jesus walking on the water, they typically miss this scene, or they get it completely wrong. See, here’s what happens next. When these brothers are scared and fighting against this storm with all of their physical might, John tells us in verse 19:

John 6:19 After they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea. He was coming near the boat, and they were afraid.

Now, when you see this in the movies, most of the time, the movies make fun of this like it didn’t really happen. But when they show you this in the movies, they typically show this nice calm sea with the moon shining and everything looks beautiful. That’s not what we’re reading right now. The waves are churning. The wind is blowing, and these professional fishermen are scared to death. They’re halfway across a sea that is about 20 kilometers wide and 12 kilometers long. And these guys are struggling right in the middle of it. 

And in the middle of it, if you read this story from Mark, Jesus just shows up and it looks like he’s going to kind walk right by them. I think these guys are like, “Really? Are you seriously going to walk by right now while we’re struggling these waves and against this wind?”

Jesus came near the boat, and these brothers were afraid. They needed to know “Jesus, do you know what’s going on right now? Jesus, if you know, do you care?” Maybe this is where you are right now, because you’re wrestling with all of your physical might against some struggles and against some difficulties. And you’re wondering, “Jesus, do you know what’s going on in my world right now? And if you do know, it really feels like you don’t care.” 

That’s what it felt like for those guys when Mark tells us Jesus is about to walk right by the boat. These guys are wrestling with this storm. They’re struggling with all of their might, and they can’t make it out of this storm alive.

I want you to understand if you’re wrestling with anxiety today, if you’re struggling with fear, those may be the moments where God is starting to prepare your heart to help you hand things over that you wouldn’t hand over any other way. Maybe he needs you to get really scared for a moment before he steps in and shows you just how big of a God he is. -because he knows, “If I don’t let you get to this moment where you come to the end of yourself, you’re just going to keep rowing your boat as hard as you can, and you’re trying to make it through life on your own. And you were never built by God to go through life on your own.”

You were created by God to be in relationships, two very important relationships. The most important is that vertical relationship between you and Jesus, but he also created you so that you would be in some horizontal relationships with Jesus’ people. 

That’s why every Sunday, we talk about you coming to faith in Christ for the first time. It’s because we want you to nail that vertical relationship down. But it’s also why we’re nuts about life groups around here, because we really believe sometimes the storms of life are so strong, you need another brother or sister in the boat who’s going to row with you, because you weren’t created to handle some of these storms on your own. You’re supposed to lean on other people. If you’re not in a life group, what’s wrong with you? Are you crazy? Why would you go through these storms on your own?

I want you to see what happens next. Jesus shows up, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to the disciples who just watched him make bread and fish appear out of thin air that he also can suspend the laws of nature and can walk directly across the water. This is the moment where Peter sees him from the boat and says, “Hey Jesus, if you can do that, can I do that too? Command me. Let me walk across the water.” 

God’s solutions will surprise you.  

Let me tell you how this thing ends. God does something in this moment that blows these guys’ minds. In fact, when you’re in these hurricane storms, everything else around you starts to become insignificant, because all you can focus on is the pain and the problems that you’re going through right now. I don’t think these guys even remembered why we’re in the boat in the first place. All they could think about is, “We’re going to die in this storm.” And that’s when Jesus shows up, and he doesn’t do one miracle today; he does two. Check this out. Verse 20 and 21:

John 6:20-21 But he said to them, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him on board, and at once the boat was at the shore where they were heading. 

He was using his first name. See, way back in the Old Testament when God met with Moses in a burning bush, back in the book of Exodus, Moses didn’t know the God of Israel, and God was about to send Moses back to his people and to tell his people that he was going to deliver them from slavery in Egypt. And Moses said, “I don’t even know who you are, God. And if I go back and they ask me, how am I supposed to describe you? God, I don’t even know your name.”

And God tells Moses his first name. God says, “Moses, my name is I Am. I was, and I always will be. You go back and tell the people of Israel that the great I Am has heard their cries and is about to step in and intervene in their problems.”

When Jesus walks by on the water, he tells them, “Don’t be afraid. I am the one who you have heard about on the burning bush in the book of Exodus, the God of Heaven and Earth, the one who created the seas, and so certainly has the ability to walk across it like on dry land. I am now intervening in your circumstances.”

Some of you need to know God is about to step in and intervene in your circumstances also. He says, “Really, don’t be afraid. I am.” And they were willing to take him into the boat. The Bible tells us in other passages, they were so afraid, they thought he was a ghost. They were so afraid that they were freaking out, and they thought they were going to die. -not because of the storm anymore. “Now we’re freaking out by the thing that we see or the person that we see walking on the water.” 

They take him in the boat, and look what Bible says next.-the second miracle in one passage. The boat’s not in the middle of the sea anymore. Now the boat’s on the other side of the shore, where they were originally heading in the first place. You see, what God just did for them is not just demonstrate the power of his Son, Jesus, and his ability to walk on water. But he took the real reason that they were wrestling against the storm in the first place and took it away and brought them right to the other side. 

Sometimes when God intervenes in your life, he will do it in such a way that you didn’t expect it; you didn’t think that it was about to happen that way. Sometimes he’s going to surprise you in the ways that he intervenes. Sometimes it’s going to be awesome, and sometimes, if we’re honest, it’ll be a little bit terrifying when God steps in and intervenes.