I was recently hired at a Lutheran school. Our theme for this school year is “Jesus Saves Me” taken from Matthew 14 when Jesus walks on the water.
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said,“why did you doubt?” 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
It was a year ago that I heard a sermon on Matthew chapter 14 when Jesus walks on the water at 242 Community Church in Ann Arbor. The next week it was fitting that my family went canoeing on the Huron river so I had the whole trip to think about the previous Sunday’s sermon. I actually started a rough draft for this a year ago and it never seemed to be coming out quite right. Then throughout this last year I was constantly challenged to “Get Out of the Boat” so it’s kind of been my own theme verse for the year. What’s funny is it’s now a whole year later and once again this passage has been on my mind but in new way and a different outlook.
At school, we have emphasized to our students the idea that the wind and waves of life tend to distract us from looking at Jesus. When Peter saw the wind he became afraid and started to sink. His mind was on life’s obstacles instead of on Jesus, the one who would save Him. With my class we’ve discussed things that are distracting in their lives and worries they have about their futures that sometimes keep them from focusing on God. I’m afraid that in a few sermons I’ve heard at school and even in my own teaching I’ve cautioned my students not to be like Peter. We don’t want to start sinking because we are focused on the wrong things. Poor Peter just didn’t keep his eyes on Jesus.
The more times I read this passage though, the more I realize that we should all strive to be just as brave as Peter. I mean, Peter wasn’t the only guy in the boat and yet he was the only one gutsy enough to attempt to meet Jesus on the lake. In fact, when I used to read this chapter I always thought, “How dare he ask Jesus to prove himself by allowing Peter to walk on water! He’s got a lot of nerve!” But now when I read this I think, “Peter may have been onto something.” If we want to follow Jesus and we are trying to live the life that God has planned for us, there are many times when we’re going to be unsure of where we’re supposed to go next. At least I know I am.
Last October I had no idea what was in store for my life. My husband was applying to various jobs across the country and I had taken a year off work not even sure if I was ever going to teach again. I felt lost and many times, alone. Then slowly, things began coming clear. We prayed and Mike got interviews. We prayed, and he got quite a few job offers. We prayed, and felt God pulling us to Las Vegas. Later, when everything seemed to be falling into place for my husband, I felt like his purpose was becoming clear and he was feeling confident while I was still lost. Selfish I know, but true. Mike and I agreed that it wouldn’t make sense for me to work unless I found the ideal job. His exact words were, “You should plan on staying at home and taking it easy one more year. I mean, unless something just falls into your lap.”
I began calling schools for my own kids to go to in April. The schools I called all told me that they had already been filled as early as January. I asked my questions and their secretaries were very polite and told me that I could always get on a waiting list and if that didn’t work out then we could try next year. One school though stood out in particular. The secretary was incredibly friendly and as I talked to her and she answered my questions at one point she stopped and said, “Wait, are you a teacher?” I laughed and said yes and she told me, “My principal is getting ready to post an opening for a position at our school If you got hired then your kids could go here too. I’m pretty sure you were supposed to call today and that God wants me to tell you, you should apply.” I laughed and thanked her, but when we hung up I prayed. I talked to Mike about it when he got home and prayed again. Seriously? Was this something just falling into my lap? In truth, I was terrified. I had never taught in Nevada. I had never taught at a private school. I had taken a year off and I was afraid of going back. I applied for the job and kept praying, but not even sure of what I even wanted the outcome to be. Would I even remember how to teach? I got an interview and kind of laughed at the idea of interviewing via FaceTime, Who gets hired like that? but reminded myself that with God, all things are possible. And I prayed Peter’s words, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Well, here I am, teaching at the same place I wanted my kids to attend school and loving it. The likelihood of me being able to get his job was slim to none and yet, I’m where I am only because God wanted me to be here. I got out of the boat and because I was heading in a direction He wanted me to go, I was successful.
Now when I think of Peter, I think he reminds us to make sure we’re going in the right direction before we “jump in.” If it’s God’s will, He’ll open up doors for us that allow us to know we’re heading the way He intended for us to go. But like Peter taught us, that’s only the first step out of the boat.
I know that I’m in the place God wanted me and yet the world has a way of making me second guess that I’m on the right track. I think it’s easy to be like Peter and become distracted by other people, by own inadequacies, and even by the Devil who I’m sure does all he can to convince us that we’re a) on the wrong path or b) we don’t deserve to be traveling on it. I think it’s easy to forget that in Matthew 14 the wind didn’t die down when Peter got out of the boat and the waves didn’t become any smaller. God doesn’t promise that we’ll have smooth sailing when we follow Him and yet so often that’s what I expect.
Everything went so perfectly for me when I got hired shouldn’t my new life in Vegas be paradise? If I’m working in a Christian school doesn’t that mean that all my interactions with people will be Christ-centered? Since my students have all been raised in Christian homes won’t they all be little angels? How was it that I’d forgotten how hard it is to be a working mother? How am I supposed to do all there is to do in only 24 hours? When am I supposed to get time alone?
I think one of the crucial things Peter teaches me in Matthew is that even as I’m following Jesus, I’ll sink. Way more than once. I know that I am not perfect, so I will doubt. I will become distracted. I’m going to have days when I feel like I’m in over my head, but if I can catch a glimpse of Jesus I know that He’ll help me tread water long enough to catch my breath and begin again. He won’t let me drown. Now when I look at this verse I’m not so sure it’s important to focus only on “not sinking” but to know that I can call on Jesus for help when I do. I don’t want to be too afraid to take risks because I’m afraid of the storm that I know awaits me. It might be more comfortable in the boat, but God doesn’t want us to just observe miracles. He wants us to be part of them. When they reached the other side of the lake how many disciples were jealous of Peter? Do you think they sat around the fire late that night asking him how it felt to walk on water? I want to step out of the boat. I want to be brave like Peter. I know I’m going to sink. Guaranteed. But I also know that there will be moments when God allows me to walk on water.