Walking on Water?

The Sinking of the Apostle Peter by Julia Stankova
The Sinking of the Apostle Peter by Julia Stankova, 2006

The New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John allow us to see Jesus for who he really is: The Son of God, the true King of the universe who seeks to reconcile people to God through his life, miracles, and teaching.  The Gospels also allow us to see the disciples of Jesus for who they really are: A rag-tag bunch who express both belief and doubt, and experience both faith and failure.

The reality of the Christian life is that it is often a herky-jerky three-steps-forward and two-steps-backward kind of experience. An expectation that we will “succeed” and have everything go well every time we try something by stepping out in faith is way out of step with how things work in both this world and in the kingdom of God. It would be a bit like a basketball player expecting to make every free throw attempt – and if they cannot do it, they refuse to even try.

Doubt and failure are important experiences for the believer in Jesus Christ.  Without failure, there is no Christian life. Never failing means we have not tried – we are still in the boat, having never left the safety of established routines and responded to God’s command to come, leave your comfort zone, and enter the scary world of kingdom living.

Our failures may sometimes, like the disciple Peter, be colossal belly-flops. Yet, the story of Peter getting out of the boat and walking on the water and becoming overcome with the waves is just as much or more about Jesus (Matthew 14:22-33).  Christ extended grace to Peter and helped him, even in his failure of faith.  Therefore, our failures do not need to define us.  Jesus is Lord over the water, the storms, and of everything – including our own hardship and trouble.

Yes, there are a lot of scary things in life.  Learning to ride a bike is scary.  Driving for the first time on an icy road is scary.  Getting married and having kids is scary.  Admitting an addiction or unethical behavior is scary.  Sharing the innermost thoughts with a friend is scary.  It is scary just to be in this world.  It can even be scary to be at church!  It is all scary because we might fail, and the failure, we reason and worry about, might crush us.

However, the fear of failure need not control our lives because grace overcomes everything.  We all find ourselves, at times, caught midway between faith and doubt. Yet, to know this situation is to experience grace.  If the worst scenario you worry about in your head would actually come to pass, it will still never change the reality that God loves you!  And it will not stop Jesus from extending his hand to you in a life-saving grip of grace.

Jesus Saving Peter by Bertram Poole
Jesus Saving Peter by Bertram Poole, 2012

Fear only melts away when we keep our eyes on Jesus. Christ is the polestar whom we must center our lives, instead of focusing on the waves around us. The truth sets us free, so, take note of the following truths about Jesus that will help us overcome the fear of failure and embrace a life of faith.

Jesus is a person of prayer (Matthew 14:22-24).

Jesus, the Son of God, was deeply dependent on his heavenly Father.  His life exhibited the necessities of simple prayer and obedience.  If Jesus found the need for solitude and prayer in his life and ministry, how much more to we need it!?

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go out on the lake.  As Lord of the elements, he knew very well they were about to face a storm.  Sure enough, the storm clouds gathered, and the boat got thrown around by the waves.  Even though the disciples were doing God’s will by going out on the lake, they were not spared from the adversity.  In fact, Jesus wanted them to experience the storm because it is through the storm that we really learn faith.

Faith is a muscle which requires continual use. Through stressful and vigorous exercise, there is a breaking down of muscle tissue and tearing of muscle fibers which leaves the body in need of rest and recuperation. It is through this process of healing that the muscles grow and are strengthened. Muscles which do not experience this type of stress become useless and eventually atrophy.  Show me a person of great faith, and I’ll show you a person who has gone through a boat load of adversity and hurt, having allowed Jesus to grace them with healing.

There is no shame in either being hurt and/or admitting failure. Where there is shame, our instinct is to run away much like our ancestors Adam and Eve. We can try and hide from the shame, but we will end up hiding ourselves from the grace that could be ours through the Body of Christ.  Grace is free, not cheap – it is accessed by the humility of confession.

Jesus is present with us, bringing an end to fear (Matthew 14:25-27).

Although on the middle of a lake during a storm, Jesus was still present with the disciples. Adverse weather was no problem for Jesus – he just walked on the water to be with them.  Even though the disciples had just seen and participated in the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand, they were not looking for another miracle. Maybe that is why they did not recognize Jesus and were afraid when they saw him.

The disciples’ expectations of Jesus were far too low! Sometimes when we are afraid, we fail to see Jesus, even when he is right in front of our faces. We just do not expect him to be there. When the disciples cried out in fear, Jesus responded. I used to work at a factory where I trained people in their jobs. When the training was finished, I had the trainees evaluate our time together. The top response I received from most of them is that it was my presence that helped them to learn their job – the ability to fail time and time again. And having me there to rescue them when things got overwhelming eventually built faith that they could do it on their own.

Jesus wants those who follow him to imitate him (Matthew 14:28-31).

Jesus walked on water.  Jesus invited Peter to walk on water.  We are to do what Jesus did.  Notice that Peter is not chided by Jesus for getting out of the boat but for doubting that he could continue in the miracle that was happening.  Jesus wants more than a regurgitation or parroting of his teaching; he wants us to exercise that learning through actual deeds of faith.  Once the command of Jesus was given to “come” then walking on water became nothing more than a matter of trust. Christianity is more than a set of doctrines to believe; it is a powerful reality to be live into.

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” –G.K. Chesterton

We understandably get nervous when a crazy Jesus and an unpredictable Holy Spirit call us to get out of the friendly confines of the boat.  After all, we might fail.  However, it is in such times we bank on the Word of God and the promises of God.

The Apostle James said that if we find ourselves lacking wisdom to deal with the unpredictable and unknowable that we are to ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault and will be given to them (James 1:5).

Peter responded to his sinking situation by crying out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”  Jesus immediately reached out and saved Peter from his own doubt and lack of faith.  Jesus called Peter a “little-faith.” Many people have lived too long with the notion that God is some stern angry deity who is constantly displeased with his sinful people, and that only through perfection will he ever be happy with us.  The truth is that Jesus wants us to imitate him; and, when we fail, he is there to pick us up.

Jesus has the authority to settle the storm when he is good and ready to do it (Matthew 14:32).

Jesus is the King of the universe and the Sovereign of the world.  He will bring the crisis to an end according to his own good pleasure and in his own good timing.  Rather than spending all our emotional capital by worrying or conniving to get out of a situation, we need to trust God and keep our eyes on Jesus. Our job is trust; God’s job is everything else.

Jesus’ power led the disciples to acknowledge who he is (Matthew 14:33).

Worship happens when we see Jesus as he really is, the Son of God.  Flat, dull, boring worship comes from flat, dull, boring Christians who are unable to see the power of Jesus in their lives. And the way we know the power of God is when we are in a situation which requires God’s strength to deliver us. Grasping Jesus as the Son of God is more than a verbal confession of faith; it is being able to trust him, like getting out of a boat in the middle of a lake.

We are to live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20). It does not require much faith to pray that Aunt Mable’s bunions will feel better. It only requires a little faith to give a dollar when you have ten dollars. It takes no faith to discuss the weather and steer clear of hard conversations.

However, it does require faith to pray for a miraculous healing every day without giving up for a little boy who is racked by epilepsy, and trust God to spare his life. It does require faith to write a check for $100 to someone in need when you have exactly $100 in your checking account, and you must trust God to provide for you own necessities.  It does require faith to deviate from the routine schedule to have a difficult discussion about race. It does require faith to act on Christ’s teachings.  It does require faith to live as though the mission of God in this world is the most important thing we could ever do.

It would be nice for me say that if you live by faith in the Son of God that you will never fail, but that would be lying.  The only way of not failing is not living life, and not exercising faith.  It would be great if we could pray and act without ever doubting, yet the only way to avoid doubt is to not believe.

So, may we embrace the life that is truly life by stepping out of the boat.  May Jesus define our lives instead of letting failure define us.  May we accept the grace that is ours in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Jesus and Failure

Alexander Pope quote

Failure is whole lot more common than success.  In his book, Break Open the Sky, Steven Bauman writes: “Despite our near-phobic fear of failure, the facts suggest that it’s a common, almost universal, experience:

  • 75 percent of venture-capital-backed start-ups fail, and 95 percent do not meet the initial expectations.
  • 40 percent of CEOs don’t last eighteen months.
  • 70 to 90 percent of mergers and acquisitions fail to add shareholder value.
  • 81 percent of new hires don’t work out.
  • 99 percent of new patents never earn a penny.
  • 95 percent of new products introduced in any given year fail.
  • 68 percent of information technology projects fail to meet their goals.
  • 88 percent of New Year’s resolutions end in failure.
  • 100 percent of all human bodies fail.

You and I put up our best faces, especially on social media.  Like a seasoned political spin doctor, we take bits and pieces of our lives and paste them into the world for all to see our good points – how witty, or beautiful, or privileged, or wealthy, or whatever is important to us – or, how right we are about everything from creating mouth-watering smoked ribs, to communicating how the economy should really work, to punching-out opinions on others like a boxing glove to the face.

Oh, my, little do we realize this is soul draining activity that only feeds the ego and places us at arms-length to the grace of God which longs for us to be real, vulnerable, and admit our deep need for the love of Jesus Christ.

When Jesus chose to identify himself with lowly failures, the poor, and maladjusted sinners, it was the successful, wealthy, and upstanding people who thought this was a waste of time.  This was not the way to build your portfolio.  The Messiah paparazzi were aghast at what they were seeing.  Jesus was spending time with failures, and he was going to become one, at least in the eyes of those who always kept a clean social media profile.

But Jesus said to them: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do.  I didn’t come to invite good people to turn to God.  I came to invite sinners.” (Luke 5:31-32)

Posturing and preening aren’t practices that get you into the kingdom of God.  In the end, they get you nowhere.

I have failed at a whole lot more things than I’ve been successful at in life.  Truth be told, all of us have a few wild successes at things that we like to highlight, and a house full of failure that we try to cram into that one closet nobody is allowed to open.

We all share the common human condition of failure.  You can’t put the pure living water of Jesus in the cup of your life if its already full of the toilet water that looks clean but is full of nasty bacteria.

What to do?  Empty yourselves.  Pour out the potty water of peacocking your way through life, and simply let Jesus dwell in you through faith.  Sit at his feet.  Drink him in.  Let your plans go.  Let new goals seep into your soul.  Be filled with the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  And you will find yourself full of life, love, and devotion to serve the common good of all people.  Even if you fail doing it, you’re in good company.

Jeremiah 50:17-20

            Failure is not permanent.  The prophet Jeremiah had a message for Judah that excoriated their sin and wayward lives.  Most did not listen to Jeremiah.  As a result, the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem’s wall and the temple, and took thousands into captivity.  But that was not the end of the story.  There would be a remnant of people who would survive.  The people in exile would return to the land.  When that time comes, “iniquity shall be sought in Israel, and there shall be none, and sin in Judah, and none shall be found, for I will pardon those who I leave as a remnant.”
 
            When God forgives, it is a clean slate.  The Lord does not hold people’s sins over their heads to use as leverage at some later point.  A pardon from God means that he takes his divine permanent marker and completely blots out the offense; it is gone.  The good news of the Holy Scriptures is that there is grace for the sinner. 
 
            One of the reasons we humans have such a difficult time forgiving others is because we do not really comprehend the forgiveness of God to us.  But when we discern and understand that God’s pardon means that he gives new life and a fresh start then we have confident hope for the future.  It causes us to forgive others as God has forgiven us.  This happens because we are in a place of spiritual stability and eternal security in Jesus Christ.  It is the secure, not the insecure, who know God’s grace and inherit the kingdom.
 

 

            Forgiving God, you extend your grace to me despite my past actions, attitudes, and words.  Thank you for this undeserved gift of new life.  Enable me to use this gift with great care so that Jesus is glorified.  Amen.