Why Jesus Sleeps

The most repeated question in all of scripture is “How long, oh Lord?” Think about that. It’s a question that indicates pain, stress, longing, distress, frustration, anxiety, wonder, impatience, and desire. I wonder if you and I sat down and made a list of our dominant thoughts–the ones that are most prominent at any given moment on any given day–would we say that they fall into of those categories? My guess? A minimum of 90% of the time it’s a yes. They sure do.

Whether you’re filled with angst or anxiety in this moment, you more than likely have a “How long, oh Lord?” situation happening in your life. It might be turbulent or it might just be tedious. Like a gnat buzzing in your ear in the summer time; it’s not going to do any damage but it sure is messing with your head. Or maybe you’d describe it as tumultuous; a veritable storm threatening to capsize the boat of your faith. If so, you’re in good company. Great company, actually.

For the next few minutes, I want us to climb aboard a boat along with the disciples. I’d say close your eyes to imagine but you need to keep reading. So just conjure up the imagery in your mind as you read these words. Feel the rough cut, grainy wood under your feet as you walk from the stern to the bow. Hear the flapping sound of the sails as the wind blows against them. Smell the sea air. You might even pick up a hint of fishy smell from a recent catch. Let your fingertips run along the top of a piled fishing net. Look around at the others who are on board with you. The skies are dark, the wind is violent, the boat is being tossed. You’re struggling to keep your footing. You hear the shouts of the disciples as they call out their best ideas as to how to survive this squall. You hear a voice of utter frustration, anger, and at the hilt of being stressed out as they verbalize their question: “How in the name of Him can he be sleeping through this?!?” Another one shouts, “Would somebody please wake up Jesus?!?”

How is it that Jesus was asleep when those he cared for most were facing death by storm? Does this indicate to us that Jesus is ambivalent to our difficulties? When we are stressed out and we look back to the stern of the boat and see him snoozing on a cushion, do our hearts then decide that He must not care for us at all? Why then would he let us strive, and fight, and worry, and face this storm alone? There’s more here than just Jesus asleep on a pillow in a boat in a storm. (You can read this sleepytime story in Mark 4:35-41.)

It would seem that the disciples (some of them seasoned fishermen) were doing all they could to keep the boat upright. I’m sure there were directional challenges in terms of the boat; making sure it stayed facing the headwind, for example. And making sure they were doing their best to keep the boat perpendicular to the crashing waves so as not to be vulnerable to taking on water or capsizing. In short, the disciples were humanly doing their part. Just like we do. When storms come, we humanly face it with our human capabilities, don’t we? We stress, we strive, we plan, we worry, we fret, we shift, we exert more of what we were exerting before, thinking that’ll be the answer. We double down on human tactics when we face trouble.

But that’s not Jesus’ response to storms. It wasn’t his response to that storm and it isn’t his response to your storm. Instead, Jesus sleeps. Not because he doesn’t care, but because He knows what we don’t know and sees what we can’t see.

Let’s hit pause on this storm and this boat. Let’s go back further into the past from that boat, several thousand years. Let’s go to that conversation between Moses and God. God had instructed Moses to be the one to lead God’s people, Israel out of captivity. Moses had zero confidence that he was up to that task. Moses asked God a simple question: “When I talk to Pharaoh, who should I say sent me?” God replied, “Tell him I AM sent you.” I AM. God calls Himself I AM. Why? Because He never was, He never will be, He always IS. God is always present tense. That’s what eternity does. In the absence of time, it’s always now. Never then, Never later. Always now.

Okay, back to the boat and the storm and the fretting disciples. Why was Jesus sleeping? Because Jesus is present tense. Everything He knows and everything He sees, He knows and sees right now. That means when the disciples saw the storm, Jesus was already in the calm. Jesus is already in the resolution to your situation. You see storm, He sees peace. We see trouble, He sees lessons learned. You see pain, He sees strength. And that’s why He could sleep.

So as a gift to the disciples in that storm, Jesus brought them into the reality He already saw. He stood up and addressed the wind and waves, quieting them immediately. May I suggest to you that the miracle of this story isn’t just the calming of the storm for them then, but the potential calming of the storm for anyone willing to trust the storm-calming, present-tense Jesus right now.

May you face today’s storms in the strong knowledge that Jesus is with you. He may appear to be asleep, but only because he’s dreaming of the moment when you join Him in the rest, in the peace, and in the present tense power of knowing that He is enough.