I recently headed off to Colchester, to take part in a discipleship conference organised by New Wine. “Walking on Water” was a full day event, led by Paul and Becky Harcourt and hosted by St John’s, Colchester, looking at the challenges of being a risk-taking disciple.
Paul and Becky both shared their personal experiences of coming to faith in Jesus and learning to step out of their comfort zone (one entrenched in logic and reason, the other working through the hurts of a broken heart and spirit). Both acknowledged the impact that head or heart can have on us when we’re exploring our relationship with Jesus and looking to put our trust in him, and explored ways to embrace our natural inclinations in a way that allow us to step out confidently in our faith.
Much of the challenge for us, as for the Disciples who witnessed that dramatic event with Jesus walking across the lake to greet them, is balancing what we are told God can do with what we expect God to do. The Disciples knew Jesus could perform miracles – just that day they had witnessed him feeding 5000 people from one boy’s packed lunch – yet somehow they still saw them as remote. Something that Jesus did for other people.
How often do we find ourselves viewing the world through these same discipleship eyes? We’re witnesses to amazing things that other, holier people do, yet somehow don’t see ourselves having a part to play in them ourselves. It’s exciting to hear the stories, see the transformations, share in the celebrations but, ultimately, God uses others to do these things. He doesn’t use us…
Years ago, John Ortberg published a book which, by its title alone, jumped off the shelf and shouted at me: “If you want to walk on water, then you have to get out of the boat”. It spoke volumes to me. I struggled at that time in my life to think of dramatic things God had done through me… but then I’d never tried to do anything dramatic for him! The Minister at my church is fond of telling us that “there’s nothing that will make you feel more miserable than being a half-hearted Christian”, and I can understand what he’s saying. God has given us gifts, skills, opportunities and circumstances, all of which can be used to reflect something of him in our everyday lives. If we don’t take these chances, how much are we missing out on?
That night in the boat, 12 grown men were afraid. They didn’t understand what they were seeing and couldn’t make any rational sense out of it. Perhaps it’s surprising that these men who had shared in every amazing moment of Jesus’ ministry so far, saw a figure walking on water and, rather than thinking look – it’s Jesus, thought Help! It’s a ghost! They were underestimating his power, and possibly his desire to be with them (physically and metaphorically!).
Peter’s challenge to Jesus – “Lord, if it is really you… tell me to come to you on the water” (Matt 14:28) could be seen as the height of arrogance. Jesus is the Messiah, God incarnate on earth and Peter is asking to perform the same miraculous wonders as him. Jesus could have pointed out this fact to him, reminding Peter of his complete humanity (and the laws of gravity!). However, Jesus rewards Peter’s enthusiasm by calling him out onto the water… and Peter walks! It’s easy to look at that story and focus on the fact that he also sinks, but before that PETER WALKS ON WATER. Not very far, or for very long, but he walks. He has the courage to take the risk and he glimpses the enormity of God’s power. What must that do for his faith?
Fast forward to a point after Jesus death and resurrection and we see Peter, along with John, being stopped by a lame beggar. When asked for some spare change, Peter instead offers a prayer of healing and the man gets up and walks. I wonder how formative that moment out on the lake was in this? Despite the moment of doubt and failure out on the water, Peter takes a step closer to the courage that believes God can and will use him, if he has faith and keeps his focus on Jesus. He learns that failure is not the final outcome – only a starting point for the next risk.
Now, I’m not advocating you all go out and try walking on your local pond – unless the mission context somehow requires it! Perhaps we can all start by taking some smaller risks though. Asking God to give us a word or picture for someone. Perhaps walking through town on our lunch break and asking God to show you something new that you can do to serve him. Striking up a conversation with a stranger because that feeling in the pit of your stomach says the Holy Spirit is nudging at you. Asking the person who’s having a bad day if you can pray with them. It’s scary, it’s unpredictable and you might end up feeling a bit out of your comfort zone, but God might just choose to use you there… After all – it’s no harder than walking on water!
What risk will you take today?