WHAT TO DO IN A PANIC
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 6, 2014
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
— Matthew 8:23-27, ESV
People face problems and people panic. It is the natural human response. Sometimes it is minor, other times it is monumental, and for some it is a matter of life and death.
When you pass a police car driving ten miles over the speed limit, it causes minor panic and heart palpitations. When Simon Peter was confronted by hostile Judeans in the courtyard of the High Priest, he panicked and made a monumental denial of the Lord Jesus Christ. When facing a fire in the house or a bear in the woods, some people have understandably panicked and the result was major injury or loss of life.
It is a serious thing to come face to face with trouble. It is a sick feeling to be gripped by panic, doubt, fear. And no matter how little or how strong your faith in God, you will face trouble and you will feel panic. So, what do you do in a panic?
The first followers of Jesus Christ panicked one day on the Sea of Galilee. It is not a big sea as seas go, covering less than a hundred square miles. But, it is some six hundred feet below sea level, surround by jagged mountain cuts, and often hosts severe storms usually reserved for bigger bodies of water. In other words, the Sea of Galilee ain’t that big, but it is plenty big enough in which to drown.
In the events described by the eyewitness Matthew, this storm in this sea seemed fatal on this occasion. And with the exception of Jesus Himself, who was calmly asleep, all of the disciples panicked. I would have, too, and so would you.
Now admittedly, sometimes you only have a few seconds to make a decision in a panic. But providing for the many occasions when you will at least have a few minutes, ask yourself a couple of questions and then follow four steps when you are going through a panic:
Are you a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Christ’s disciples (probably the twelve) could have answered this question in the affirmative (except, of course, for Judas Iscariot). They were in that boat on the Sea of Galilee because Jesus had commanded them to leave one side and go to the other. They faced the storm and felt the panic because they were doing precisely what God commanded them to do. This is what real disciples should do, always be true to God and His word.
My advice to them would have been the same as Jesus’, don’t panic. Calm down. When you face a storm because you are simply trusting and obeying the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no need to panic. What is happening is ordained by a sovereign God and the outcome will be for His glory and your good. There is no need to fear adversity or trials or troubles when you are a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
However, if you are not a true follower of Jesus Christ, please panic, now. For if the storm you are facing is severe enough to take your life, you will lose your soul as well. Now is not the time to follow your own road, nor in some flimsy profession of faith. Repent and believe the gospel, now. Ask yourself the above question and answer in faith, now. Even a little real faith places your hand in the hand of the Man who calmed the sea.
Is Jesus in the boat with you?
Since the twelve could answer “yes” to this question, obviously, then I would obviously tell them, again, not to panic. When Jesus is in the boat, the car, the house, and above all, the heart, there is no need to panic.
But sometimes, we don’t take Him along, do we? Imagine if Matthew, Simon Peter, and the other fellows had taken off across the lake, in some form of disobedience to Jesus’ orders, without Jesus in the boat? The reason for panic would have been much greater.
I know God is omnipresent and I know when Jesus is Lord of your life, He is always with you. But I also know that even the most faithful followers of Jesus Christ can be unfaithful at times. There are times when we do not honor Him as we should in our boat, car, home, or church. These are the days when storms will surely come, and what will we do when we are not as close to Him as we should be?
Panic! And remember, repentance is not just for unbelievers, but believers often need to repent, too. We often find ourselves in need of repentance and revival, of regaining our close relationship with the Lord, of admitting we’ve tried to do it on our own, or indulge in disobedience for pleasure, or any number of things that leave Jesus out of the boat.
Why don't we all do this right now? Let us resolve immediately not to do things if Jesus is not with us, if it does not ring true to His word, if we do not have the peace that passes even the best human understanding. Make sure you have trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior. Make sure He is your priority, your first love, always in His rightful place in your heart. The storms will still come. Panic will still be felt. But you’ll have Him in the boat with you, always, and you can take the same four steps followed by those first disciples.
Wake up Jesus!
Jesus was literally asleep in this episode. Though He is a manifestation of the one true and triune God, in His incarnational ministry He was as fully human as He is fully God, albeit perfect on both counts. Even a perfect person needs sleep. Even a perfect person can go right into a severe storm. But, a perfect person does not panic.
But I’m not perfect! And, neither are you. Even if you are a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ, and even if you take Jesus with you everywhere you go, there are still storms and there will still be those painful pangs of panic. When they come, wake up Jesus! Pray!
You know He’s already awake. You know He’s already watching. And you should know that He loves you and cares for you, more than you can possibly know. So wake yourself up to Christ’s presence in your life and ask Him to save you and deliver you from whatever troubles have caused the feelings of panic to arise.
These first disciples were drowning, in water, so they called on the name of the Lord. What are you drowning in? Commit your life to Jesus Christ. Pledge anew to keep Him in the boat with you at all times. Call on His name in serious, personal prayer. Then, watch Him work.
Watch Him Work!
Jesus worked a panic-relieving, storm-calming, miraculous and affirmative way in this story. He arose, mildly rebuked them for their lack of faith (how could they accomplish any of the things Jesus promised if they all drowned in the boat?), and with His omnipotent word, did something that only God can do. He calmed the storm and saved their lives.
It is easy at this point to become overzealous in our faith, in the manner of some faith traditions and most television ministries. God always answers prayer, but He is not bound to give to us exactly what we ask Him to give. So it is important to understand that God works and God answers prayer not with a view towards temporal relief, but with an eternal perspective. God is in it, and we are in the boat with God, for the long haul.
These disciples asked for their lives and received them. Soldiers have prayed in foxholes, and lived. We have prayed for cancer-stricken family and friends, and the dreaded disease went into remission. How great it is to have our panic assuaged and our prayers answered, just the way we want.
But what about when God works in a more mysterious, seemingly dark way? Don’t you think Simon Peter and Paul prayed to God, moments before they were executed in Rome? Don’t you think the early Christians were praying shortly before they were fed to the lions. Don’t you think our Lord has listened to many a missionary prayer, just before the mission was cut short by martyrdom? And, don’t you think that millions of Christians through the years have drowned, have died of cancer, and have suffered from all manner of injustice and abuse? Is the Lord asleep when these prayers are offered, refusing to wake up? There are times when death is a gift greater than earthly life.
Watch God work, for God is always at work. The disciples watched Him from slightly below sea level. Others get the chance to watch Him on level ground, still others from Heaven’s point of view. Never doubt God is at work, for His glory and our good, and you will never linger in panic. Then, whether you are on earth or in Heaven, praise the Lord and wonder at His unique and great power.
Wonder at His Unique Greatness and Power!
If the disciples’ question could be turned into a definitive statement, they would have said about Jesus, “There is no one like Him!” Amen.
When we think about this miracle and all of the miracles in the Bible, we should be amazed at the person and power of God. When we think about the miracle of salvation, the new birth, eternal life, we should be amazed at the sovereign grace and saving power of God. When we thing of the future fulfillment of prophecies and the personal return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we should live in awe and reverence at the transcendence and imminence of Almighty God.
There is no one like Him, the sovereign Father in the Heavens, the Son who was sacrificed on earth and now resurrected to His rightful place, the sending forth of the Holy Spirit, to regenerate and guide believers through this life into the next. There is no one like the one triune God, in person and in power. All of life should be an act of worship before Him. And when you have really come to know Him and love Him, when the panic has subsided and the worship begins, do what Matthew, who was in the boat, did — tell others about the Lord Jesus Christ!
Matthew told this story, and many others, about his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. What is the gospel according to you? Tell someone about the Prince of Peace who conquers panic and fear, who by grace through faith gives the gift of eternal life, life which will last long after all the storms of this life are over.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org