So my life is hard right now. I don’t want it to be but it is. I am walking through things I don’t want to be walking through. There are days I don’t feel like I’m going to make it. My heart is broken. I am tired. And I am asking Jesus not just what to do but how to even do anything.
Life is like that. We are in a world at war between God’s kingdom and the kingdom of darkness. Love and life and health are things we contend for in a fallen world. As I seek His face in all that I am facing- He led me to the story of Jesus walking on water which truly seemed totally irrelevant to me. But I read it and prayed about it and asked Jesus about it, and it turned out to not be so irrelevant after all.
Part of the reason I assumed it did not apply to my life right now was because I had heard the story so many times I had become comfortable with it and made certain assumptions. Like when you see pictures of Jesus walking on water or when I mentally picture Him in my mind- He is always walking across a placid lake and the only ripples are coming from His steps. The water is blue and inviting and the sun is shining as the disciples are looking on in awe as Jesus approaches with arms outstretched in some sort of “holy posture”. Why I picture Him walking that far with His arms out- I don’t know- because honestly if someone were to walk toward me with outstretched arms I would find it weird and creepy.
As I read the actual story as Matthew told it- I saw a very different picture. First- the disciples had spent all day ministering with Jesus. They had seen Him do amazing things. Jesus sent them ahead in the boat while He spent some time alone in prayer. The scriptures say that when Jesus was ready to join them- the boat was already a long way from shore and was buffeted by waves. Because the wind was against it.
Sometimes we are surprised when we follow God- that things come against us. The disciples were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do but the wind was against them. We can be right in the middle of God’s will and have the winds come so ferociously we aren’t sure we can withstand them. As if that’s not enough, the waves are happening on top of that!
Do you know what buffet means? To strike repeatedly and violently. Synonyms are batter, pound, lash
There goes the picture of Jesus walking across a crystal clear lake with tiny ripples coming out from each step He takes. Violent waves are battering the boat whilethe boys are being lashed by the wind.
Then the Word goes on to saythat during the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.
Do you know when the fourth watch is? 3 am. 3 o’ clock in the morning. It’s dark. Very dark. It’s the time of night you desperately want to be asleep. I have had those nights as of late when it is 3 am and I am still wide awake hoping and praying the night ends. Because sometimes in a storm it feels like it never will.
And this is when Jesus decides to come to them. In the battering waves and pounding wind, in the dead of night. Jesus goes to them. And He goes in the most unexpected way. He walks on top of the waves, through the wind, out of the darkness. Jesus went to them. That is the first and most glorious thing I noticed this time. Jesus went to them.
But as is the case with so many of us- the disciples were terrified when they saw Him because they didn’t recognize Him. So often Jesus comes to us in our storm but we are so disoriented by the waves and the wind and the fear that is already lurking below the surface that when we don’t recognize Him or understand what He’s doing- our fear comes out in full force, and instead of being filled with hope and reassurance, we are terrified and cry out in fear. And we believe that the God who is coming to rescue us is the thing that is going to destroy us.
But Jesus speaks and the Bible says He speaks “immediately”. He answers their cry immediately and tells them to “take courage. It is I.” If we can recognize it is Jesus coming to us – we can be full of courage. I am still working on this part. Mostly what I want is for Him to make the storm stop. I want the peaceful lake with a nice balmy breeze. I want the sun on my face and to hear the birds singing. I want all to be right in the world. And if it can’t be right in the whole world- I atleast want it all to be right in my world. But in this story- that’s not what Jesus does- not right away.
Peter tells Jesus, “if it’s You, tell me to come to you on the water.”
I don’t even have words. First- is this not a man’s reasoning? The disciples think he is a ghost or a demon but Peter is trusting whatever it is to be honest and only call him out there in the waves and wind if it’s Jesus? I would have said “Prove you are Jesus then I will come out on the water to You.” This is very backward logic to me.
But Jesus tells Peter to come. And Peter does. He gets out of the boat in battering waves and thrashing winds and walks on the water towards Jesus.
And this is the invitation Jesus is offering me in this season. He is telling me to come and walk across the waves and winds of my circumstances. The problem is- I want to hunker down in the boat in a fetal position and just try not to die. But Jesus offers so much more. He says “Come out and live. Come out and see how much bigger I am than whatever this life throws at you. Come out and experience Me in a way you never can on smooth seas or in the safety of a boat. Come out and know that it is I and you can be filled with courage.”
It doesn’t take courage to try and walk on a placid lake. The worst that will happen is you get wet. But battering waves and howling winds are scary. They are dangerous. The stakes are high here. It has to be Jesus outside of that boat that I am walking toward or I’m not going to survive.
How do we know when to step out of the boat? Peter stepped out on the Word from Jesus. When we have His Word- His promises- His commands- we listen and discern His voice and we trust Him to tell us if it’s not Him. Because I really think Peter wasn’t trusting whatever he was seeing on the water to tell him the truth- he was trusting that if it wasn’t Jesus, then Jesus would let Him know. Because Jesus is faithful and true. If we are looking for Him with our whole hearts- we will find Him. And if we keep our eyes on Him- we will walk across the waves through the wind and into the arms of the One our soul loves.
So Peter steps out and walks on the water. For a minute anyway. Until he started looking around. At the waves. And the wind. Then he started to sink. Here is where I can really relate to Peter. In the sinking. I find myself hearing from the Lord in quiet moments and having peace fill my heart. Then I walk out of that time alone with Him and into daily life. And I see the waves and the wind. My circumstances look scary and overwhelm me. And I start to sink. It doesn’t take a major life crisis for this to happen, either. There are so many things that can cause us to sink- into despair and hopelessness, or fear, or anger. It can be relationships that are broken, financial situations, the state of our nation…whatever it may be takes our eyes off the One we are walking toward and the next thing we know, we are drowning. But Jesus is still faithful and true. Even when we forget for a moment what He has said and where we are going ,and we start to sink- He reaches out His hand and grabs hold of us. Because while He is the One our soul loves, we are the ones He loves. In the moments where we gloriously walk on water and the moments where we sink like a rock- His love for us, His heart for us never changes. He is faithful and true. He never sinks. He never forgets how to make His promises come true. He never loses sight of us in the wind and the waves. We are never too far for Him to save us.
There is a beautiful song by Jenn Johnson called In Over My Head where she sings, “Whether I sink or whether I swim, it makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over my head.”
I think sometimes we focus so much on Peter sinking that we forget something so important. Peter got out of the boat. No one else did. Just peter. Maybe he sank. But he also walked on water. He experienced the miracle of stepping out on God’s Word and finding it to be true. And he experienced being rescued by Jesus. So in my fear and uncertainty over what my future holds- I am refusing to stay curled up in the boat. I am stepping out into the unknown, the scary winds, and dangerous waters because I am walking toward the only One who can save me. And He says I can walk on water. And I would rather risk sinking and being in over my head with Jesus than try to stay safe in a boat that only holds the illusion of control.
Scripture reference ~ Matthew 14:22-31