Finding rest in the midst of restlessness
THE scream of a disturbed child shatters the silence of the night. It is soon joined by a mother’s loving and reassuring lullaby. Fear and love then have a strange conversation and fear begins to listen to love.
The frightened child is soothed when he feels his mother’s closeness and hears her familiar voice in the dark. He soon relaxes enough to fall asleep. All is calm again. It is wonderful indeed to behold the calming power of a mother’s lullaby.
John Wesley was like a troubled child that day. He was 32 years old and travelling on a 225-ton ship to America. Being an Anglican clergyman, he was on his way to do missionary work. On the way, there was a fierce and terrifying storm. The ship was helplessly tossed about and it seemed as if it was going to lose its battle with the bullying storm. Wesley and his fellow passengers realised that death may be very near.
He was afraid and greatly troubled by the sounds of furious winds, the sight of monstrous waves and the thought of imminent death. He was further troubled that he was troubled.
This was made more obvious when he saw a group of Christians on the ship – German Moravian Christians – who kept on singing calmly while the raging storm did its deadliest best to strike fear in the hearts of the ship’s passengers. The faces of the Moravians were wonderful portraits of peace. Wesley realised that he did not have what they had — a childlike trust in God, the calming presence of God, and a peace that storms cannot erase. He longed for this peace.
Jesus and His disciples were also caught in a deadly storm one day (Mk. 4:35-41). It was dark and a furious storm surrounded them suddenly. The waves towered above the boat, threatening to swallow them. It looked as if the sea would mockingly transform itself into their watery grave. The disciples were afraid. What they could not understand was the sight of Jesus sleeping in a perfect storm. They woke Him and demanded, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mk. 4: 39). In their hearts, they probably asked, “Why is it that you are not afraid like us?”
Jesus did not reply but got up, rebuked the wind and told the raging sea to be quiet. The wind breathed its last breath and all was calm. Jesus then asked His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mk. 4:40).
Wesley found that faith on May 24, 1738. Back in England, a defeated missionary, he attended a prayer meeting that evening at Aldersgate Street in London. In his own words,
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
The Holy Spirit’s voice was heard in Wesley’s heart that night, telling him that his sins were forgiven, and that in Christ he was saved. Without having to try hard, he felt a God-given ability to trust in Christ. He finally found peace.
Wesley was a changed man after that. He became a travelling preacher for Christ, preaching the Gospel and establishing Methodist societies in many parts of Britain. In his long ministry he encountered many dangers and threats. Instead of a raging sea, he came across furious and noisy crowds threatening to drown him and his preaching with their rowdy violence. But this time, he was a different man. He encountered such storms in his life with a godly calm. He was nourished by the Spirit’s lullaby. He had found rest in the midst of restlessness.
An interesting fact about Wesley is that he was not troubled by insomnia. He slept well and peacefully. He had the ability to fall asleep “on command”. On July 5, 1773 (when he was 70) he wrote in his journal, “This was the first night I ever lay awake in my life (though I was at ease in body and mind).” On Aug 15 that year, he wrote, “I could not sleep (an uncommon thing with me) till nearly two in the morning, my companion was afraid I should not be able to go through the labour of the day.”
What is remarkable is not Wesley’s problems with illness and occasional bouts of insomnia in the latter half of 1773, but that this was so out of character with his regular ability to sleep well. When he turned 80, he noted in his journal on June 28, 1783 that he was in good health. He offered five reasons, one of which was: “my sleeping, night or day, whenever I want it”.
Like Christ, his master, who could sleep peacefully in a raging storm, Wesley too had found the peace and trust that enabled him to sleep well at night even when life was difficult. It is a blessing every Christian can have.
Even Old Testament believers knew about it. David, when he was fleeing from the sword of his own son Absalom, wrote “I lie down and sleep … I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.” (Ps 3:5-6). On another occasion, he wrote, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Ps. 4:8). David was living proof of the observation that true security has to do not with the absence of danger, but with the presence of God.
What a wonderful thing it is to hear the Spirit’s reassuring voice in the darkest of nights, bringing our anxious hearts into the ultimate safety of God’s presence. It will happen when we have a living and growing relationship with God. Then we will be surprised that we can sleep and rest in God’s love, even in the dark and stormy nights of life.