Monday, August 25, 2008

Facing Struggles, Taking Risks

Matthew records Jesus miraculously feeding over five thousand people in Matthew 14, followed by the miracle of Jesus walking on the water to meet up with his disciples as they took a boat to the other shore. A few things catch my attention in the water-walking story:

First, after feeding thousands, Jesus sent the disciples on ahead, then found a place where he could be alone to pray. This was always odd to me as I was growing up. After all, if Jesus is God, why would he pray? But this is part of the mystery of what we know as the Trinity; that is, the one God expressed as three distinct Persons. In prayer, Jesus stayed connected and nourished relationship with the Persons of God the Father and the Holy Spirit. And if Jesus sought that connection, which was already part of his very nature, how much more we need to strengthen such relationship through prayer!

Second, Jesus went to the disciples "during the fourth watch of the night." The night hours were divided into segments of watch duty. In this case, "the fourth watch" was probably sometime between 3:00am and 6:00am. Think about that for a minute. What was it like to be among the disciples then? It had already been a very long day, and here they find themselves fighting difficult weather in the middle of the night as they work very hard with their already-worn bodies to reach their destination. It was dark, too, and things so often feel more hopeless in the wee hours of the morning. But Jesus went to them in that difficult time.

Third, it looks to me like Peter took to the extreme Jesus' encouragement -- "Take courage!" -- by asking Jesus to invite him (Peter) to also walk on water. Wow, Peter had guts! Such gumption can be admirable. And he did wait for Jesus' invitation rather than jumping out into the choppy waters. But...

Then Peter "saw the wind" and became afraid. This makes natural sense, of course, since he was walking on water at the time, and in a strong wind, too. But his response betrays his doubt. Could Jesus really be trusted? Did he really have both the power and the desire to sustain Peter when things got rough? What power was keeping Peter afloat, anyway? Those are questions for all of us to wrestle with.

Finally, while Peter did lose clear sight of Jesus for a moment, he knew who to turn to when he realized his error, and he did so with vigor: "Lord, save me!" And Jesus, ever gracious, "reached out his hand and caught him."

If you were to place yourself in this story right now, where would you be? You might be one of the thousands in the crowd, having experienced divine power and now returning back to home and everyday life. Perhaps you relate more to the disciples in the boat, having also experienced divine power but now facing opposition and you don't quite see him clearly yet. Peter might make sense, too, if you've found yourself facing a challenge and stepping out boldly to meet it. Or if you've stepped out boldly and have slipped up.

Think about where you are in your own story, and consider: "Where is Jesus, and where am I, and what are the two of us going to do about this situation?" Answering that question well, and consistently, will change our lives.

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