September 11, 2013

Faith requires listening

Whenever I feel as if God is far away, I need to ask myself, “Who moved?” Was it God, or am I off on a detour again?

The Lord promises to never leave or forsake His people, yet how easily I can take my eyes off Him and stray from the path before me. Like a child, I determine that, “I can do it myself” or like a coward, something comes up that is bigger than my self-confidence and I panic, taking my eyes off Jesus to look at the giants that threaten me.

I’m much like the Apostle Peter. He was with the other disciples when they saw Jesus walking on water during a storm. “But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’” (Matthew 14:26–27)

Peter was the bold one, at least at first. I relate to that man. I’ve often felt that I had it together when everyone else was falling apart. So this time, Peter tried something very bold, even rash…

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:28–31)

Was it fear that made Peter begin to sink? Was it lack of faith? Maybe. Today’s devotional says that his fear started when he took his eyes off Jesus, and that if I keep my eyes on Jesus, I will not fear. Maybe.

My experience says fear and courage are not opposites. Neither are fear and faith, at least in one sense. I can be terrified and still act in courage. I can doubt yet still trust Jesus. The feeling of fear may go away, but it might not. Faith is trusting Jesus even when my emotions or common sense are rearing up in an opposite direction.

This past week, life-threatening symptoms called for a blood test for one of our children. In the face of what could happen, we prayed and I had that small voice of inner assurance. It is hard to describe, but it said to me that she did not have what the symptoms indicated, that her problem was something else.

In that assurance, my muscles were tense, throat dry, nights sleepless, or almost. I was afraid for her and for myself. (I don’t deal with crisis very well.) Yet that still, small assurance remained. It was something like walking on water – this experience is not making sense, but I am not sinking. Oh, Peter, what an experience to be bold and terrified at the same time.

I can’t say my eyes were on Jesus either. This week brought more than this one test and I was overwhelmed with the raging storms going on around me and in me. I doubted my own survival as I waited to hear from my child, but in all of the fury, I did not doubt that still, small voice. Odd.

When Jesus speaks, it is like a hand held out for rescue. Whether I walk or start sinking, He is there. He is keeping me. It isn’t about what I feel but about what He is doing. He is saving me.

Peter needed to sink a bit before his rescue. He was a brash, self-confident man. Sometimes my pride and self-confidence require a similar experience, yet He is there, quick to grab me before I drown in it, always saving me.  
So often other Christians urge me to “trust” or “have faith” and I am quick to think that faith is not something that I can conjure up at will. Faith is a gift from Jesus that comes into my heart after I hear Him speak. I know that He is not merely spouting, that whatever He says is as sure as any word can be. This is Jesus talking, not me fussing and trying to make myself believe.

Besides that, He is here. He walks with me, grabs me when I need a hand (always) and allows storms to distract me so I can discover all over again that He is the one who saves. All my self-effort is a waste of sweat, evidence of doubt, and an indication that I need to stop what I’m doing -- and simply listen to what He has to say.

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