Sunday, 20 May 2012

Walking on water

Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o'clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. "A ghost!" they said, crying out in terror. But Jesus was quick to comfort them. "Courage, it's me. Don't be afraid."
 Peter, suddenly bold, said, "Master, if it's really you, call me to come to you on the water."
 He said, "Come ahead."
 Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, "Master, save me!"
 Jesus didn't hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, "Faint-heart, what got into you?"
 The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, "This is it! You are God's Son for sure!" Matthew 14:24 – 33, The Message
We are accustomed to thinking of this passage as encouragement when we go through the ‘storms’ of life. Jesus gets in the boat and the water calms down. One of my favourite books is indeed called ‘Lord of my rocking boat’  by Carole Mayhall, who was on the staff of The Navigators for many years.  I thoroughly recommend it: full of practical wisdom; teaching about the lessons to be learned from and through the storms; and inspiration to ‘soar’ with God above them.

Today I thought we could look at the process of being in the boat, in the storm, a little more closely.

1. Being in the middle of a storm is bad enough but then something else happens: "A ghost!" they said, crying out in terror.
Our storms are relatively easy to identify: trouble at work, difficult relationships, perhaps money worries or health issues – but what is a ghost?
Could it be our terrified response?
The ‘storm’ is bad enough, but it is often how we handle it which determines how well we cope. Our perception – the  ‘ghost’ in the storm – may be coloured by fear, depression, anxiety, doubt...we react to the ‘spirit’ we see. We see the spectres of despair and discouragement as we are tormented by doubt and disappointment.
Life is challenging enough – we don’t need to add fear to the recipe for disaster. As we struggle with life circumstances, let’s not succumb to spiritual attack. Let us remember that ‘though I walk the darkest path, I will NOT fear the evil one.

John Ortberg (If You Want To Walk On Water, You Have To Get Out Of The Boat, page 14) points out that Jesus meant to ‘pass by’ and that the verb used is the same one used when God ‘passed by’ Moses to show his glory, when Moses was hidden in the cleft of the rock. Maybe we should not be afraid to see Jesus for who he is: on the contrary, other ‘spectres’ then disappear.

2. As we cry out in fear, like the disciples, what happens? Jesus was quick to comfort them. "Courage, it's me. Don't be afraid."
Jesus answers. He tells us to cheer up. And Not To Fear.
Easy? Only if we ‘fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith...’ Hebrews 12:2
(Courtney of Women Living Well, in the first introductory video for the Proverbs 31 Bible study, also quotes this verse.)
We can indeed ‘cheer up’ because Jesus has come.

3. These words of comfort were all Peter needed. On recognising Jesus, he then makes a strange request. Peter, suddenly bold, said, "Master, if it's really you, call me to come to you on the water." He needed wisdom: asking ‘if it’s really you,’ he waited for an answer. He didn’t just assume it was Jesus.
We too can ask and wait for an answer from Jesus.
Wouldn’t you just have wanted Jesus to be with you IN THE BOAT? Wouldn’t you or I have asked Jesus to take them miraculously into the harbour or to make the storm disappear?
Peter just wanted to be with Jesus – that was enough for him.

4. Jesus said "Come ahead."  Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. So Peter, discerning between foolishness – jumping out of the boat into the lake and  faith – jumping out of the boat onto the lake – jumped. He moved from difficult circumstances – a tiny boat in the middle of a fierce storm – to something worse. Certain death by drowning.
Yet he started walking.
When I’m also trying to ‘walk on water’ – trying to keep my eyes on Jesus when life is tossing me around like washing on a windy day – I remember some wise words which a friend said to me many years ago: Don’t look at the water. Don’t look at the circumstances, but keep on trusting Jesus.

5. Of course, we know that Peter’s faith wavered. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, "Master, save me!"
How far away from the boat was Peter by then? He must have gone quite a way, because he was nearer Jesus. Peter was near enough for Jesus to grab hold of him: Jesus didn't hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand.
For us, as for Peter, there is no sitting still in the middle of life’s storms. I am reminded of the quote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” attributed to the 18th Century philosopher Edmund Burke. We need to keep moving towards ‘Jesus. Sitting still is not an option. A fish needs to keep swimming against the current if it is to maintain its position, let alone if it wants to actually swim upstream.
How do we keep on ‘swimming’?

6. Jesus had already told Peter to come to him. Just as on other occasions – for example, when there was another storm after Jesus had told the disciples that they were all going to cross over the lake – Jesus had said, ‘This is what we’re going to do, chaps.’
Like Peter, we allow circumstances to tell us otherwise.
Why do we do that? 
We have to get OUT of the boat otherwise we have no chance of walking on water. Jesus makes us many promises but we often fail to believe them. Promises such as ‘I am with you always,’ – but we don’t always believe or act as if that is true.
We cling to the ‘boat’  - the known, however inadequate or unhealthy or unsafe, seems a better choice than believing Jesus when he says ‘come’.
Getting out of the boat is rather like learning to skate: you have to let go of the sides of the rink to experience skating, balancing on your feet instead of clinging with your hands.
It is RISKY. Getting out of the boat – facing a new challenge – will always have an element of fear, that ‘heart in mouth’ feeling before we realise that we are in fact skating freely, ‘walking on water’. (John Ortberg, p21.)
However, getting ‘out of the boat’ is also HABIT FORMING. Once we’ve done it once, it’s easier. It enables us to ‘bank’ memories of God’s leading and power. We did it once, so we can do it again...

Did Peter fail?
Yes – he didn’t get to Jesus.
No – he DID get out of the boat and he DID start to move towards Jesus and he DID let Jesus save him.  SUCCESS!
Let us be encouraged by Peter’s example. Peter connected with Jesus. So can we.

I am struck by the unexpectedness of this encounter.
The unusual
1.      Timing. It was the middle of the night.
2.      Life circumstances. At their worst.
3.      In the middle of obeying. Doing the will of God.
4.      When we’re not expecting him.
5.      Place.
Not at the synagogue – church.
Nor on the mountainside – on a spiritual retreat
Nor on a journey – a pilgrimage
Nor at the temple – New Wine worship or prayer ministry
Nor during quiet prayer times.
In the midst of difficulties.

Are we ready?

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