I have to admit at the outset that I am terribly afraid of heights. I don’t like climbing ladders. I don’t like being on roofs. I don’t even like being near windows in tall buildings. A few years ago, I visited the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington. To get to the observation deck you had to take a glass elevator (the floor was glass also) and ride on the outside of the tower all the way to the top! Who came up with THAT idea? I couldn’t look out or down. I just looked straight ahead at the elevator door until we reached the top. I tell you this not to embarrass myself – although I just did – but to let you know that I understand what it feels like to leave the comfort of what we know, of what is secure. I am perfectly content with my feet firmly planted on the ground. There is no good reason to “rock the boat” and climb anything. Which brings me to this story about the Apostle Peter found in the Gospel of Matthew:
Immediately after this, Jesus made his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake while he sent the people home. Afterward he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came to them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him, they screamed in terror, thinking he was a ghost. But Jesus spoke to them at once. “It’s all right,” he said. “I am here! Don’t be afraid.” Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you by walking on water.” “All right, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.
So I’m not exactly sure everything that is going on here, but one thing is very clear – Peter is crazy! They are in a boat in the middle of the lake, fighting a storm and what they think is a ghost shows up next to them on top of the water. My first reaction would not be, “Hey, I should go out there and join him.” No, I think I’ll stay in the comfort of my boat, such as it is. Sure it may be a little rocky, a little wet and unstable, but at least I know I’m reasonably safe. Boats are where people belong, secure, not out ON the water. “Stay in the boat,” our brains scream at us!
Peter, I think, had a different motivation. If this really was Jesus out there on the water, then Peter wanted to experience everything the Lord had for him. Peter didn’t want to miss any opportunity to follow or be with Jesus. If Jesus was there, then Peter was going to be there. If Jesus was walking on water, as unlikely as that should be, then Peter was going to walk on water. Peter was willing to risk everything to live the fullness of life with Jesus. And stepping out of the boat into the storm was certainly a risk, a big risk; after all he could drown, but was a risk worth taking to be with Jesus.
Here’s what we need to think about. Most of us would likely stay in the boat – like the other eleven disciples. That is the reasonable thing to do. Most of us would listen to our inner voice telling us to stay in the boat. I understand. It makes sense and it is scary out there on the water in the midst of our life storms. Many of us have built “boats” in our attempt to be safe or at least have some semblance of safety in our lives. But we’ve built those boats out of the planks of fear, anger, frustration, pain, self-effort, self-protection or control. We’ve convinced ourselves that as long as we stay in the boat, the storm won’t get to us. However, remember that Jesus is not in the boat! He is out there in the middle of the storm telling us that it is safe to go to Him. He is not some illusion, some nice idea or some good but misguided teacher. No, He is real and He is really God. And being on the water, in the storm with Jesus is better than trying to live in our boats and just get by.
Getting out of our boats may seem terrifying, just like climbing a ladder is for me. But getting out of the boat doesn’t have to be traumatic or dramatic. I think it starts with simply recognizing that our boat isn’t such a good place to be – it’s not as safe, secure or reliable as we would like to believe. Life with Jesus is much better, more fulfilling than floundering about in our self-made rowboat. When He calls us out to Him, we can, like Peter, risk everything to be with Him. When He calls us out to Him, we respond by letting go of all those things we think will protect us and stay focused on Him – who He is and what He is saying to us. I can’t promise it will be easy. The storms will still come and they will be frightening, but think about the adrenaline rush, the adventure, of walking above and through the storm with Jesus. Now that is a journey worth taking. Oh, and don’t forget the raincoat.