“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.
Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your
God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9, NIV)
“It’s not possible,” I thought as I peered over the edge of the diving board. My heart beat wildly in my chest and my knees felt more like jelly than bone and muscle.
“I have no idea why on earth anyone would want to do this! What’s wrong with people?” My thoughts were doing a great job at giving me the courage to take that risk and jump. If I could get them to shut up for five seconds, I just might do it.
I slowly moved up toward the edge again and looked down on my mom, who was encouraging me to jump. But she didn’t see what I saw: the water. It looked like solid glass or transparent concrete. I swear a mysterious breeze started to blow and shake the diving board. Did I mention this was an indoor pool?
I don’t remember how old I was at that point in my childhood, but I do remember the timidity and fear that seized me as I failed to bravely conquer that diving board. I don’t really think it was the diving board or swimming or scaling heights that was at stake. It was my trust.
Earlier this year, I attended a leadership conference at my home church, Gateway Church in Austin, Texas. Neil Cole delivered most of the content for the weekend, which focused on empowering and equipping organic leaders . On the second day of the conference, I vividly recall him saying, “If you don’t have a good story, it’s because you’re not taking enough risk.”
That statement echoed throughout the auditorium. I immediately recalled months earlier asking God to give me opportunities to take risk and have faith without any solid proof or clarity. No more pillars of fire by day or writing on the wall or dew-soaked fleeces. Just faith.
faith + hope = trust
I have always understood the faith part. It is essential to knowing God through Jesus. But what about the hope part? Have I really trusted God?
These questions bombarded my soul in an all-out assault on my heart. I wrestled with the answers and found more questions. I reviewed my life and saw multiple times where faith was evident and hope was somewhat present.
To be honest, hope in what has yet to happen often seems so insubstantial and elusive. I recalled instances of having hope, but they seemed to only appear in the storms of life when uncertainty surrounded me. It was as if the valleys of life offered more hope than the hills and peaks. You may know exactly what I am talking about.
The Bible offers us story after story to illustrate this, but I think that we often gloss over the reality of hope in the midst of a faith story. One story that came to mind during the war between my soul and heart was that of Peter’s hike on water. Let’s set the scene…
The disciples, following Jesus’ orders, are crossing the lake by boat while Jesus seeks several hours of solitude. Trouble arrives in the form of a squall and treacherous waters. These seasoned fishermen are having a hard time getting to the other shore, indicating the severity of the storm. (Matthew 14:22-24)
Life is like that, isn’t it? The storms of life hit us and, though we’ve been through several storms, each one can rock our world. We struggle to gain control, just as the disciples were struggling with their boat.
Jesus, now done with his solitude, sees that the disciples are in a bit of trouble and far from land. So, he charters a boat to sail to their rescue. Right?
No. Jesus strolls out into open waters, straight into the tempest! The disciples see Jesus, assume he is a ghost and immediately panic.
“But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’
‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’
‘Come,’ he said.” (Matthew 14:26-29a, NIV)
Did you notice a subtle, but important, element to this story? The disciples knew Jesus’ voice! They had enough faith that they knew that Jesus would save them. After all, the last time this sort of thing happened Jesus’ words alone calmed the storm. (Matthew 8:23-27)
Even more than having the storm calmed, Peter immediately wanted to be like Jesus. He wanted to do what he saw his master, his teacher, his mentor doing. Peter initiated and Jesus approved. Faith is like that because it always takes action. Faith always takes initiative.
“Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” (Matthew 14:29b, NIV)
I almost wish the story ended there. What a great Hollywood ending! Fortunately for us, it does not.
“But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’ And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”
(Matthew 14:30-33, NIV)
Most of the time when I read this story, I criticize Peter for his lack of faith. Think about it. Peter just saw Jesus feed 5,000 people with only 5 loaves and 2 fish!
How many times do we think something like, “If Jesus was right in front of me, I would have done it.” When I read the Bible, I am always the one who obeys or the one who loves well or the one who is daring and risky. How about you?
Truthfully, I am rarely that person. The reality of my life is more akin to the other disciples than Peter. Notice I said “other disciples.” In this story, they are only referred to as “those who were in the boat.” They aren’t even mentioned by name! That would have been me. I would not have even had the intestinal fortitude to try getting out of the boat. I would have most likely been the wanna-be protégé sitting near the edge of the boat with one hand firmly gripping the center of the boat, pretending to be fearless. Then Peter gets all hopped-up on seeing Jesus and gets all heroic.
Even Peter’s lack of faith was more faith than the rest of the disciples. In that moment, Peter was not only exercising his faith by taking initiative, but all of his hope was in Jesus. He trusted Jesus with his life. Just look at the evidence. When Peter began to sink, who did he call out to? Who did he trust to save him? His faith, combined with hope, allowed him to trust that Jesus could do what Peter was incapable of doing for himself. He trusted Jesus to save him.
This leads us back to my childhood diving-board experience. In life, I have had many diving-board opportunities. Heroic moments where my life could have been defined by great trust in Jesus. Divine moments that could have taken my comfortable life and propelled me into a life of unleashed faith. Too often, I chose the lesser life. I chose not to risk; not to trust.
What about you?
How is God asking you to trust in Him through your struggles or storms? What must you do to choose the heroic life Jesus called you to live, like Peter? What can you do at work or in your neighborhood to exercise your faith?
“Jesus, forgive me for choosing the comfortable, lesser life by not fully trusting in you. Give me the strength I need to respond to your Spirit, not with timidity, but with heroic trust. Help me step out of the boat. Amen.”