A little over five years ago, I survived an ascending aortic dissection. Dissections are fairly rare at 3 per 100,000 per year. Of those, about half are a dissection of the ascending aorta such as I had. Of that 50%, about 20% of the patients will die before they reach the hospital with that rate increasing by 3% every hour surgery is delayed. I was fortunate to have survived, and I have no doubt that I survived because God wasn’t done with me yet – and because I was in the care of some amazing medical personnel!
Although I still have no idea what His plan is for me, I can say that many good things have come to light in the past five years. Premier among them, I’ve learned to accept and enjoy the love of my family, the compassion of my friends and the overwhelming love of my heavenly Father. However, physically it’s been a challenge for me, and lately I’ve had to examine whether or not I can continue working the same way I did over five years ago. I believe the surgery and recovery took a toll on my mental and physical health that I can’t seem to sustain anymore.
Lately, I’ve given a lot of thought to Peter as he dared to step out of the boat at Jesus’s assurance.
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” Matthew 14:28.
Now, at this point the disciples weren’t sure what they were seeing. Perhaps it was a ghost. I have the benefit of retrospect. I know for a fact that it was Jesus. That’s a certain game-changer for me.
In the next verse, Jesus says so simply, “Come.” And Peter did something that was completely counter-intuitive. He stepped out onto water – deep, perilous, frenzied, terrifying water. He was no fool when it came to the dangers of the sea. This was a fisherman who had learned to respect the nature of a storm and the dangers it brought.
But he had also just witnessed the incredible power of the Son of God. Besides the most recent multiplication of bread and fish, he’d already witnessed unbelievable healings. So he had two things to consider: the power of the waves or the power of Christ.
He chose Christ. For a moment. Then he looked away and saw the ferocity of the sea around him and became afraid. I often think of the cartoon characters of my childhood who would run off a cliff but wouldn’t be in danger of falling until they realized that, oops!, there was no ground beneath them. (Which is not to make light of this scripture, by any means! It just proves that I’m a member of the TV generation.)
So lately, as I said, I’ve been thinking of Peter’s test of Jesus. Did Peter just want to prove to the other guys that he was bad-assed enough to walk on water? That would certainly fit into his profile as a passionate renegade, but I don’t think that was it. I think Peter, like the others, was genuinely afraid for his life. He saw that the winds and waves out there – around Jesus – were still. Regardless of the reason why they were still, Peter wanted to be in the same stillness that surrounded Jesus, and there is no shorter line between point A and point B than a straight line. Wherever Jesus was, was safer than in the boat.
We all know the lesson here: Keep your eyes on Jesus and not your surroundings. For me, that would mean focusing on the face of my Savior and not at the bills that would keep me from working fewer hours to protect my health. That’s not as easy as it sounds, and Peter is the perfect example.
Here’s my challenge: I know I spend more time seeking God’s hand than I do His face. As long as Peter focused on Christ’s face, he was good. It wasn’t until he began to sink that he had to call out for His hand. When I seek God’s face, His kingdom, I am promised that all things will be added. If I know my Father, who I can see through His Son, intimately enough, how can I doubt that he will provide and sustain me? I wish it were that easy for me, but it’s not.
Here’s my comfort: When Peter cried out for help two things did not happen. First, Jesus didn’t call from afar, “Hold on, Peter! I’ll be right there.” Jesus was there immediately. In fact, Peter was probably nearer to the boat than he was to Jesus; but it wasn’t a disciple who rescued him. Similarly, it will likely not be our friends who will be able to rescue us in the same way Jesus can. Second, although Jesus called Peter “ye of little faith,” Jesus did not chastise him. He honored that faith – as little as it was. I believe it left a seed in Peter from which stronger faith would grow – the kind of faith that could produce a thriving world-wide church. This challenge wasn’t a wasted opportunity or failed exercise by any means. It left Peter, just as such experiences leave me, with the confidence that “next time….” Next time, my faith will be stronger and last longer because it will be built upon this experience.
I know that if I step out of my boat and focus on His face, if I step out at His command to “Come,” those around me will likely think I’m as crazy as the disciples must have though Peter was to walk into a savage sea at the command of what they thought was a ghost, rather than the One who created those very waters upon which he stood. I will likely be among those numbers. I know I will look at our finances and anxiously wonder how I will handle things, manage things, instead of trusting the Abba who has promised to take care of me and my family with the same compassion and paternal love of one who care for His own creations. And with the same confidence, we can be assured that Christ will advocate on behalf of those He calls friends, brother and sisters – family.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Matthew 6:25-34
In fact, Peter puts it even more simply in 1 Peter 5:7: “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
How strong is my faith that He will care for me enough for me to abandon my futile efforts to manage things myself? How many steps will I make before I look around in fear? And does it matter how small my faith is as long as the one in whom I have faith is greater than anything surrounding me?