Yesterday, my wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. We set out on a “road trip” to explore the countryside of Northeastern Arkansas. I enjoyed the beauty of the hills and farmland through which we traveled. She took photographs of decaying buildings or natural scenes that captured her imagination. After a wonderful meal at a local diner in Wynne, we decided to head for Pocahontas, Arkansas. After arriving in Pocahontas, we visited the location of two local Churches of Christ. At the second, we noted to our astonishment that the congregation was hosting an area-wide singing that would start two hours later. I had mentioned earlier in the day how great it would be if we arrived in Pocahontas or Paragould and a church was hosting a singing. After walking together in a local park, we returned to the church building for two hours of rousing a cappella congregational singing followed by fellowship and a dinner. I led three songs: “Master, The Tempest is Raging,” “Tell Me the Story of Jesus,” and “Where No One Stands Alone.” In this post, I will discuss the prayer expressed in the first hymn.
“Master, the Tempest is Raging” imagines the emotions of the apostles in an episode related in Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 8:1, 23-27; and Luke 8:22-25. A storm arises while they sail; they fear capsizing or worse, yet Jesus sleeps soundly in the stern. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown? He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm” (Mark 4:38b-39). The disciples perhaps are more terrified by this development than by the storm, especially after Jesus asks them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
The song tells the story in the first person from one disciple’s perspective, “Master the tempest is raging! The billows are tossing high. The sky is o’er-shadowed with blackness, no shelter or help is nigh.” The first verse expresses terror about the storm; the second reveals that the song is about a disciples inner struggles and storms:
“Master, with anguish of spirit I bow in my grief today. The depths of my sad heart are trouble; O waken and save, I pray. Torrents of sin and of anguish sweep o’er my sinking soul! And I perish! I perish, dear Master; O hasten, and take control!”
The narrative of a biblical story has transformed into a Christian’s anguished call for fire. The disciple fears metaphorical drowning under torrents of sin and emotional pain. Yet the refrain reveals a confidence not seen in the biblical passage that “No water can swallow the ship where lies the Master of ocean and earth and skies; they all shall sweetly obey Thy will, Peace, be still! Peace be still!”
The final verse tells that the terror is over as the disciple continues to pray, but concludes with a fervent petition, “Linger, O blessed Redeemer, Leave me alone no more; And with Joy I shall make the blest harbor, and rest on the blissful shore.” Mary Baker wrote an emotional poem in the 1870’s that Horatio R. Palmer set to music that conveys the message of the lyrics perfectly. When one is struggling with fear, faith may be rocked by doubt. This song of prayer expresses the fear and doubt, but also a faith that Jesus does indeed care, and that he will calm the storm. Although the song is 140 years old, it still communicates our fears, our doubts, and our hopes as we pray and sing its words to the Lord. For too many, the storm still rages, and we crave peace that only the Lord can provide.