A Walk on the Waves

Last Friday was my day to share a devotion for the training program where I’m currently serving. As I prayed about what to share, I was reminded of a teaching I did earlier this year. You may have guessed the topic from the title of this post – Peter’s walk on the waves with Jesus, found in Matthew 14:22-33.

I’ve heard people tell this story and teach about it almost since infancy. Peter and the other disciples are in a boat, battling to stay afloat in the midst of a major storm.  At some point between 3 – 6 A.M., a figure comes strolling along in the midst of the darkness, wind, and waves. The disciples are terrified, and I’m thinking the terror is justified. It’s not every day someone strolls along on the waves of a storm while you’re trying to keep your boat above the water…

Jesus calls out that they needn’t fear, that it is Him. As usual, Peter is the first to speak up. “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” I can just see the other eleven guys in the boat rolling their eyes. I picture at least a couple of them trying to stop Peter from getting out of the boat, trying to reason with him about how stupid this idea is. I imagine others still trying to keep the boat afloat, and one trying to ready a net so that they can fish Peter’s body out of the sea.

In thinking over all the times I’ve heard this story, it seems that many people often focus on the end of the story. Yes, Peter started to sink and had to be rescued by Jesus, but let’s not skip the part of the story I find most impressive… Peter got out of the boat! Out of twelve men, only one can say he walked on the water with Jesus.

As I thought about this story, God showed me several things that have challenged my own walk with Him – whether on a seemingly safe stretch of land or the roaring waves of a storm…

1. Peter initiated this adventure. Jesus didn’t call Peter out of the boat; He responded to Peter’s request to come to Him. The Bible points out twice that when Peter got out of the boat his intention was to get to Jesus. He wasn’t content to wait in the boat until Jesus drew near to him. I think Jesus honored Peter’s request because He knew the motivation was to reach Him, not for Peter to have a cool story to tell about how he walked on water. When was the last time you asked God to allow you to do something crazy because you were so desperate to draw closer to Him?

2. Peter’s problem was one of focus. As long as his eyes remained on Jesus, he had no problem, but when he lost focus… uh oh! God showed me that there are two things that tend to cause this problem in my life: pride and fear. Too often when I am “out of the boat” with Jesus, I start feeling pretty proud of myself. “Look at me! I’m walking on water! How cool am I?” Bam! The moment my focus moves from Jesus to myself, I’m going down.

My other tendency looks more like Peter’s. I start looking around me and become fearful. Peter saw the waves and freaked out. Sometimes my circumstances start to scare me, and I focus on them and lose my view of Jesus. More often though, I find myself looking toward Jesus, but trying to sneak a look over his shoulder to see what’s ahead on the path. The waves at my feet wouldn’t be so worrying if I could just see a glassy surface to walk on just ahead… My fear of the unknown gets the best of me more often than I would like to admit. The thing is, though, that looking in Jesus’ direction is not enough. My vision must be fixed on Him and Him alone, or I’m sinking.

3. Jesus didn’t make the journey easy. The last time these thirteen men were in a storm together, Jesus spoke three words, and the wind and waves calmed. “Peace, be still.” Jesus could have easily said that again, and given Peter a smooth surface to practice walking on before the waves started up again. The thing is, though, Jesus isn’t concerned with our comfort zone. He doesn’t always make it easy to get to Him or to where He is taking us. Jesus didn’t even calm the waves when Peter started to fear. It wasn’t until they were back in the boat that the wind stopped. Jesus sustained and saved Peter in the midst of the storm, but He didn’t just fix the circumstances that caused Peter’s fear. Our faith is a muscle that is strengthened with use. Peter’s faith failed in the latter part of the story, but I’ll bet it was stronger as they got back into the boat than it was when the disciples first saw the figure walking toward them on the sea.

4. The final thing I noticed is that Peter didn’t just reach back and grab the boat when he became afraid. I don’t know how far away from the boat Jesus was when Peter took his first steps on the water, but Peter had walked far enough that Jesus was his only hope. As I prayed one day last year, I felt like God said He was proud of me for taking this journey of faith with Him and “getting out of the boat.” And then He asked some questions… How far out of the boat am I willing to go with Him? Will I go far enough that I can’t reach out and grab hold of the boat if I get scared? Will I go far enough that I can’t even turn around and see it anymore?

And you? How far are you willing to go with Him?

Distinguishing “the Undead”…

One of my favorite musicians, Andrew Peterson, has just released a new album. An early frontrunner for my favorite song is “The Rain Keeps Falling.” It has a verse that talks about planting seeds and waiting for the death to bring forth new life.

I think this speaks to me because I have been thinking lately about what happens to dreams when they are buried. Sometimes they end up in a crypt, dead forever, mourned and moved beyond. Some become seeds, buried and left to grow, and one day, break the surface again with new life.

Lately I have been wondering though, are all dreams that come back to “life” again meant to live? As I pondered this question recently, I realized that my brain is odd because I very quickly came up with three options for the reanimation of buried dreams. I find this very odd because I’m not interested in the current fascination with zombies or anything of the kind. In fact, I’m not even sure the following descriptions would fit with what the dictionary or traditional definitions are. Nevertheless, these are the options that came to mind:

1. Resurrection – Something is fully alive again. The only true resurrections to take place are brought about by the power of God. He is the One who breathed life into our very being, and He is the only One who can still bring life into the deepest parts of us. Physical death was not the only death over which Jesus was victorious.

2. Zombie – Based on the tiny bit I understand from the stories that have been so popular lately, zombies are the victims of a virus or bacteria that spreads from one person to another. In other words, it is a “natural” phenomenon that makes these “undead.”  It is possible that our own natural desires can bring dreams to the surface again.

3. Necromancy – In an episode of BBC’s Merlin, the villain reanimated someone who had died in a previous episode. The process was called necromancy, and the purpose of bringing this character back to “life” was to wreak havoc in the lives of the show’s heroes. The man brought “back from the dead” did not have his true life back. He didn’t have his memories, and he was totally under the control of the one who brought him back. It occurred to me as I suddenly remembered this episode that sometimes our buried dreams might break the surface again, appearing to be raised to life. In reality, however, they are simply reanimated by our Enemy as a distraction or disruption to what God is doing in us.

Those are the options that came to mind for how my dreams, once buried and mourned were suddenly back. Now the trick is to distinguish which is the one that has brought the dreams to the surface once again… Are they truly alive? Or are they “zombies” that will just eat away at me until I am able to banish them to the crypt once again? Have they grown from a seed that God planted in my heart? Or are they merely empty shells reanimated by my own mind or even the Enemy of my heart? In some cases, they aren’t even solid hopes but simply ghosts that haunt my mind and heart.

Unfortunately, I don’t yet know which is the case in my current situation. I don’t have a definite answer for how to distinguish between the “undead” options. It isn’t always obvious when you’re in the middle of warring emotions – hope for resurrected dreams versus fear of having to bury and mourn for them yet again…

What I do know is that until I figure it out, my heart is safe as long as it is surrendered to the One who loves me and can breathe life into those places in me that I am not even aware of yet. He will bring the growth and the increase of the things that He has planted, and He will sustain me through the process of pruning and even through the burial of those things that are not meant to live. He knows what is best for me, and I am thankful that I don’t have to settle for less than His very best.