There are Christians who say or imply that if only we do this or that we can fix the problems in our lives. But is this necessarily true? And if we face difficulties and hardships, is this necessarily because of some sin or failure in our life that needs to be rectified? In a recent sermon on John 6:16-24, Rev R Eikelboom addressed this issue saying that many Christians seem to think that if only they do what is right all their problems will disappear.
‘We have issues at work; so we pray and we half expect that God will fix them. Or if one of our children is difficult, we read a book on parenting, or we attend a parenting course; and we hope, we half-expect, that we will find the right formula and everything will fall into place! Or young people struggle to manage their money and get ahead; or they might have an accident at work or on the road; or a relationship does not work: in general, they feel that their life is going nowhere, and then they hope that there is a sin in their life—something that they can repent from—so that God will start to bless them and they can turn their lives around!’
The reality is, however, that faithful Christians, people who love and serve the Lord, and live close to Him, can still experience pain, disappointment and even failure. This is something that needs to be emphasized because so much so-called Christian literature teaches or implies the incorrect message that if only you follow the author’s direction explained in the book your problems will disappear. As examples, Rev Eikelboom points to some of his own books.
‘On the back cover of one book I read: “Here is your opportunity to have the fulfilling, exceptional life you’ve always wanted.” Sounds promising, doesn’t it? Another book written especially for women speaks about “power that is given to every woman that can bring about change, growth and fulfilment of potential in the significant man in your life.” Show me a wife who would not love to fix her husband in some way! Another book promises: “You can know the joy of unconditional love!” Another one asks: “Weary? Can’t get it right? Struggling to make life work? You can stop struggling to get it right and learn to live in freedom!”’
The theme common to all these books is that God’s blessings are available if we are genuine Christians and if we find the right formula. Follow the recommendations of the writers and you will be a happier person. But this is not necessarily true. In the ups and downs of life we are to remember always that our Lord Jesus Christ watches over us in the challenges and difficulties we face.
Rev Eikelboom demonstrates this with a reference to the account of the disciples battling a strong wind and rough sea in the dark of night. Suddenly they see Jesus approaching, walking on the sea. That word ‘walking’ suggests that Jesus is strolling, casually. Evidently, He has not forgotten them. But Jesus is not running to save them from the storm; He is content to let the storm continue because He knows that a storm is good for them; it will help them to grow, mature and become what Jesus wants them to be!
And this is something that not only the disciples but all God’s children need to learn, says Rev Eikelboom. The Lord was going to the cross, and then to heaven to be seated at the right hand of God as Lord of all creation! The disciples needed to remember this because they would be persecuted, dragged before kings and emperors, thrown into prison, and even executed! The world will hate them! But Jesus remains in full control, always.
‘Jesus will watch over them; but He will not always be Mr. Fix-it, who takes away the humps and the bumps in their lives, and who makes everything run smoothly! Not at all! Instead the challenges will be difficult and they might go on for longer than the disciples expect; and cause more pain and worry than the disciples hope for! Jesus wants His disciples to understand that He is with them; and HE CAN solve all their problems simply by saying the word – but He does not always choose to remove every obstacle! Instead, in His love He sometimes chooses to give us difficulties and pain because He knows what is truly good for us!’
Sometimes Christian books – with their promises of peace, joy, fulfilment, hope and expectation – can do more harm than good because Christians follow the advice only to find that nothing in their life, or in the life of their relative or friend, changes. The depression or anxiety remains and that leads the reader to think there is something wrong with their faith; it seems as if God is not hearing their prayers!
‘We wonder: IF these books work so well for other Christians why am I so unfulfilled; and why do I struggle so much against sinful habits; and why am I so lacking in energy and enthusiasm for the Lord? And even more: if it is true that Jesus makes our lives so much better, then do those people who are poor in spirit and broken-hearted: do they really belong to our church; or should they first repent and have Jesus fix up their lives! Surely even to suggest that there is a simple life-changing remedy to every problem heaps guilt and pain on every Christian who is struggling! Because they can feel the accusation: since joy and peace and contentment are readily available for everybody who believes there must be something wrong with us, and with our faith!’
When the disciples are in the middle of the raging sea, fearful in battling the storm, the Lord Jesus Christ comes walking calmly on the water. He’s in no hurry for He watches over them even while they struggle and the storm continues to rage. In fact, John does not even mention that Jesus stills the storm! Nevertheless, He is with them and He cares for them and brings them to their destination. And therein lies the message: He is Lord over all the earth!
‘So that later when they preach the Gospel and when they are persecuted, they will not be afraid, because Jesus can walk on water: He is Lord over all creation; He has all things under His control! In our text when the disciples are afraid the Lord says to them: it is I! Do not be afraid! And when Jesus says that, does the strong wind stop blowing, and does the rough sea become calm? John does not say! Because that is not important! What the disciples need is not for the storm to stop! What the disciples need is not for their problems to disappear! Instead John simply tells us: when the disciples realize that it is Jesus they are glad to take Him into the boat! Because as long as Jesus is with them everything will be okay! Just like in the Old Testament when the Israelites were in the desert there was the tabernacle the house of God; and just having the tabernacle there proved that God was with them so that there was nothing for them to worry about! In the same way in our text because the Lord is WITH His disciples, they have nothing to fear! They can trust Him to take care of everything!’
That is the truly awesome power of God that we can experience in our lives. Simply by speaking, Jesus assures His disciples that He is with them so that there is no need for them to be afraid! And Jesus likewise assures us by His Word. That doesn’t mean that our lives become easier and that our problems disappear.
‘Instead we might still pray and tell God exactly what we want! We might still pray about circumstances in our life and ask God to change them! We might still ask God to display His power by doing for us what we think we need; and by giving to us what we want! God does not promise to give us what we ask for! He does not promise healing for sick parents or sick children. And He does not promise to make us feel different about life in any way! But He does promise that when we take our Bible off the shelf and when we listen to His Word; then He will speak to our hearts and He will hold on to us; and one day after this life we will experience perfect and eternal peace!
And THIS is His power; that even when we feel sick, but we don’t understand why, and when doctors don’t know what to do, and even when there are strained feelings in our community; when we might feel that we are doing more than our share, because other people refuse to accept their responsibilities; even when people we love are making bad choices, and ruining their lives, and we cannot change them; even then God promises us a future of peace; perfect peace and eternal peace; and miraculously He works in our hearts by the power of His Spirit and we receive a taste of that peace! God gives us peace because He gives us power to trust Him!
We see the same awesome power of God at work when parents present their children for baptism, not knowing what the future holds, but trusting that God will keep His promises; and we see that same power when young people profess their faith; we see that same power when dozens, even hundreds of people come to church on Sunday morning, expecting to receive comfort and encouragement from the Word of God; and we see that same power when elders and deacons are faithful in visiting the congregation; when men and women and young people are faithful in their Bible study; when many people are committed to supporting the church and the school and so many other organizations with our time and our money!’
So often our focus is on the wrong things instead of on the higher things that really matter. When Jesus is back in Capernaum the next day everyone is speaking about the miracle Jesus did in feeding them on the other side of the lake and how He managed to get to this side of the lake without a boat. When they ask Him, He says: truly, truly, I say to you: you are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. NOT because you saw signs! Jesus wants to say: when I fed you, I was giving you more than a free lunch; indeed, I was giving you a sign; I was trying to teach you something!
‘What was the Lord trying to teach when He fed the five thousand? Jesus explains in verse 27: do not work for the food which perishes, but work instead for the food which endures to eternal life! That food which endures to eternal life: that is Jesus Himself! Jesus is bread! Jesus is food! And when we receive HIM by faith, then we are strengthened for our journey through this life; our journey on the road to eternal life! The people want to be healthy and they want to eat bread; they want a life that is comfortable here and now; but Jesus says: THAT IS NOT the reason why I came down from heaven! I did not come here to change this life; to improve your circumstances in this world; but I CAME HERE to feed you; to strengthen you; for your travel on the road to eternal life!
THIS is what religion is all about, and this is what we come to church for: NOT to fix our problems; NOT to make us better people; NOT to change what is in this world; BUT instead He brings us to church and here He gives us life-support; yes, He gives us life-support so that we can get through today and tomorrow one day at the time: He gives us life support for the journey to eternal life! And so what matters; what really matters … is not that we find a way to solve your problems or my problems; not that we find a way to make us happier or healthier or richer; but what matters is that we walk beside each other and hold on to each other and walk together on that road! That is the thing that matters!’
If we continue to focus on God’s promises our daily struggles will not disappear, nor will the problems be solved. We will not find total peace and fill the void in our lives. No. The storms will continue. There will still be pain, disappointment and frustration. We will continue to have our questions about why this or why that. But we have God’s promise that we belong to Him and to Jesus Christ His Son. Even when He does not quiet every storm, He is with us; and He watches over us; and through all the circumstances of our life He still leads us to our destination: eternal life!
‘And when we cannot find answers, He comes to us and He stills our fear and He gives us hope! Hope for a better future! And so we go on, one day at the time, and all that keeps us going is the hope that soon we will be with Him and then we will be perfectly satisfied.’