THROUGH IT ALL
Matthew 14: 24-33
William Batten in Fortune magazine said, “I hear my friends saying, ‘I hope my children don’t have to go through the struggles that we went through.’ I don’t agree with that philosophy. It is those hardships that have made us who we are. You can be deprived of many things and one thing is to be deprived of the struggle.”
That is a good philosophy for Christians. Many have succumbed to the belief that, “If I am a follower of Christ, life will be easier.” It is true that being a Christian makes life better, but it does not necessarily make life easier.
It is reported that about 90,000 Christians were killed for their beliefs. The study also found that is many as 600 million Christians were prevented from practicing their faith last year. This is not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, and in North Korea. Christianity is under assault from Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhist in countries such as Pakistan, India, and Myanmar. Even in America we have seen our religious liberty under assault and our government has had no strategy for specifically addressing the persecution of Christians worldwide.
This is nothing new. The amassing of evil forces against the forming and spread of Christianity was there at the beginning. Satan tried to have Jesus killed in Bethlehem. He was opposed, ridiculed, threatened and finally executed on the cross. He told his disciples that they could expect the same if they followed him. And they followed him to their deaths with most of the Twelve being executed for their faith in Christ.
Why did they and why do we continue to be his disciples? It is because of his power to transform lives into the image of God that he placed in man at creation. That image was marred by sin and can only be restored by redeeming grace. We are given the ability to live as we know life was meant to be after grace has done its work in our hearts. It is worth the struggle for He satisfies our deepest longings. He gives us a purpose for living and assures us of an eternal future for we know that there is more to us than this mortal life.
The public ministry of Jesus was only three years. At the beginning of the third year, he intensifies his teachings to the Twelve in order to prepare them for the ministry he is going to place in their hands. They must know that it will not be easy, but it will be blessed.
Jesus has just taught them the vital lessons of compassion and concern for the needs of people and his provision through the feeding of the 5000. He is now going to show them that he will be with them through it all.
STRUGGLES ARE GOD’s OPPORTUNITY
Jesus placed the disciples in a situation in which he was going to reveal more of his ability to help them. It was by design that he ordered them to get into a boat and go ahead of him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They leave the shore and about midway in their journey they are caught in a fierce storm that threatens their lives. They battled the raging storm through the long hours of the night. He goes up on the mountain by himself to pray. The disciples are in the darkness of the night struggling to keep the boat from being swamped by the waves and they are going nowhere. From late afternoon to the fourth watch of the night which was from 3 to 6 AM they had only rowed a little over 3 miles.
This is a beautiful picture that I have of Jesus in relation to my life. When I am in a struggle like they were, I picture Jesus observing everything I am going through and getting ready to do something about it. I also picture myself in a position like the disciples were that night. They were straining at the oars trying to keep the boat afloat. They were suffering fatigue, fear, and discouragement and were probably asking, “Why did Jesus send us out into this storm?” I have asked that same question many times – “Why did Jesus send me into this storm?” But I am comforted by the knowledge that he knows.
I am always learning how to handle the storm. When we were sailing the Chesapeake Bay and up and down the East Coast from Florida to Virginia, I took two Coast Guard courses to learn how to handle the boat in various situations. I wanted to keep my family safe from the storms that we would encounter and I wanted to be the best sailor within my ability. The waves were high at times, and the wind was strong, and the lightning seemed ferocious, but through it all, I had a calm assurance that all was well because the captain of our lives was the ruler of wind and water.
Each storm is different. There are storms around us and storms within us. The storms that are within us are the most difficult to deal with. The important thing is to pray and ask the Lord, “What do you want me to do in the midst of this storm?”
Sometimes I think I can almost hear the Lord say, “Do I have your attention now?”
HE COMES TO US IN OUR STRUGGLES
Does it comfort you to know that the Lord sees you and knows what you are going through? Picture yourself with the disciples in the boat in the midst of the storm with Jesus on the mountain above them praying and observing all that is happening. He then decides to demonstrate his glory and his authority by coming to them walking on the water. Now picture Jesus coming to you where you are now in the midst of your struggle. He wants to show you his glory and his authority over what you are facing.
When Jesus was walking on the water, he was walking above the danger that was threatening his disciples. He is always above the danger that you and I face. Sometimes, like the disciples, the present conditions are such that we do not recognize him when he comes. Because of the fierceness of the storm and the blackness of the night they did not recognize Jesus. They thought what they visualized was a ghost or some apparition. But when they heard his voice it was familiar to them as he said, “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
A little boy in a Sunday school program was assigned that verse to memorize and say in a program before the whole church. As each of the children said their verse he would say his verse over in his mind. The girl next to him said her verse and he repeated his verse over in his mind. Then, the moment he had dreaded for weeks came. There was a long pause and he blurted out, “It’s me and I’m scared to death!”
We can sympathize with that little lad can’t we? But it is the familiar voice which we have heard many times speaking to our spirit saying, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you.” It is the familiar peace that only he can give that calms our souls. It is the familiar Scripture that gives us hope. It is the familiar line from a hymn or song that brings us to reality and causes us to believe that the Lord is with us.
Tim Hansel wrote:
“Most of the Psalms were born in difficulty. Most of the Epistles were written in prisons. Most of the greatest thoughts of the greatest thinkers of all time had to pass through the fire. Bunyan wrote Pilgrim's Progress from jail. Florence Nightingale, too ill to move from her bed, reorganized the hospitals of England. Semi-paralyzed and under the constant menace of apoplexy, Pasteur was tireless in his attack on disease. During the greater part of his life, American historian, Francis Parkman, suffered so acutely that he could not work for more than five minutes as a time. His eyesight was so wretched that he could scrawl only a few gigantic words on a manuscript, yet he contrived to write twenty magnificent volumes of history.
Sometimes it seems that when God is about to make preeminent use of a man, he puts him through the fire.”
Tim Hansel, You Gotta Keep Dancin', David C. Cook, 1985, p. 87.
WE CAN GO TO THE LORD IN DEEPER FAITH
Peter responded to that familiar voice out on the water and said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And he said, “Come!”
Previously, Peter had been given authority to perform some of the miracles of healing that Christ had performed. He had come to believe that he could do miraculous things in the name of Christ. Now he was going to try something that no human being at ever done before – walk on water. He believed that anything could be done at the command of Christ.
The storm was still raging. The waves were high. The winds were strong in his face. But suddenly, Peter was no longer terrified. His gaze was upon his Lord and in a miraculous exhibition of faith he steps out of the tossing boat on to the water and walked toward Jesus. He must have taken a few steps and then, suddenly, fear gripped him again and he began to sink with the waves over his head. He cried out, “Lord, save me!” He did not wait to go all the way under the water, but cried out for help. We must learn to do what Peter did – call for help before we seek too low. Why do we struggle and struggle and struggle and try to win the battle on our own?
Let’s just be honest. There are times when we who are the people of faith actually stop walking by faith. All of our lives we have been taught to be self-sufficient and we intend to be so. This hard rock conviction about natural life carries over into spiritual life and sometimes causes us to stop walking by faith. We can be in the will of God and in the presence of God and still stop walking by faith. And we always sink when that happens.
“And immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and took hold of him and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Why do we doubt? Could it be that there is still an un-sanctified part of our nature that says when the times get hard and we are overwhelmed, “I knew I could not depend on you.” You see, we are conditioned by the people in our lives who have let us down that causes us to say to people, “I don’t know if I can ever fully trust you.” This carries over into our spiritual lives in our relationship to the Lord. There have been times when we have prayed for help and his answer has not been what we wanted and so that old thought comes up again, “I don’t know if I can ever fully trust you to have my best interest at heart.”
This is why God allows things to come into our lives so that we can learn to trust him with all of our hearts.
Divine help is always immediately available to us. Just as Jesus reached out his hand and lifted Peter from his sinking condition, he will lift out his hand to us and lift us out on our sinking spiral. But we have to hold up our hands and place our hands in his to be lifted out of our lack of faith.
For many of us, our faith is not yet proven to the Lord or to ourselves. We are at a point in life when we need to see Jesus revealed in a deeper dimension. We need to see his glory and his power to work in our lives and in the lives of others. Christ will rescue and restore us and we can exclaim as the disciples did as they worshiped him saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”
These experiences equip us to be an authentic Christian in a non-Christian world, but they also prepare us for the next world.
“A famous evangelist told the following incident: I have a friend who in a time of business recession lost his job, a sizable fortune, and his beautiful home. To add to his sorrow, his precious wife died; yet he tenaciously held to his faith -- the only thing he had left. One day when he was out walking in search of employment, he stopped to watch some men who were doing stonework on a large church. One of them was chiseling a triangular piece of rock. 'Where are you going to put that?' he asked. The workman said, 'Do you see that little opening up there near the spire? Well, I'm shaping this stone down here so that it will fit in up there.' Tears filled my friend's eyes as he walked away, for the Lord had spoken to him through that laborer whose words gave new meaning to his troubled situation.” Our Daily Bread
PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!