I’ve gotta admit. I don’t like to suffer.
In Christian circles we enjoy immortalizing the martyrs and their eternal sacrifices. We wonder if we would ever be so brave, so faith filled. We hope so, but deep down inside there is this twinge of fear that we may not have what it takes.
Today, I taught Vacation Bible School for sweet little children using the Group curriculum CAVE QUEST. My friend Janine set up the room with dark blue sheets pinned up over the walls and a translucent blue pool covering the entire floor. We hoisted a huge boat into the room through a side door for the children to sit in to reenact Peter walking (and ultimately sinking through) the water.
Matthew 14:22-33 New King James Version (NKJV)
Jesus Walks on the Sea
22 Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.
25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.
27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”
29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”
31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
33 Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”
20 children excitedly squeezed into the boat during their rotation. As we told the story of the midnight boat trip on the Sea of Galilee, crew leaders sprayed mist from water bottles and aimed fans at the children so they could “experience the storm” as lights flickered on and off to simulate lightening.
As animated as I could be, I talked about the disciples’ fear of the storm and their greater fear when they saw Jesus walking on the water. Being raised in the church, this story is one I have read and have heard from many pulpits and radio broadcasts over the years. But somehow, today, it was rather poignant. It wasn’t just a story with a lesson on faith in a storm, it was an eerie reminder of the storms I have gone through in the past year and how I, like Peter, stepped out in the excitement of the moment, only to crash through the waves when I took my eyes off of Jesus and looked back at the storm. (And myself, quite frankly.)
How am I supposed to stand up under one more wave of relationship distress crashing over me? How am I supposed to not shrink back when the electricity of culture buzzes around me and social issues celebrating sin thunder over me? How am I supposed to think this is all in God’s plan for me to suffer one more loss or one more disappointment?
Fear. Fear. Fear at every turn. Fear of loss. Fear of rejection. Fear of pain. Loneliness. Physical and emotional demands come in from work, life and family. And then come the thoughts, “How can this be? Is this how God intended it to be?”
This is where, I think, many people throw in the towel. I am guessing, this is the tough place in the hike where some just say, “This spiritual stuff isn’t for me.” Or they say, “I can live my life in Christ on my own…from a safe distance from everyone else. ”
And then the lesson. “And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Good question. At one point in life, (in my twenties) I thought, “Why would Jesus say that to Peter? That’s kind of hurtful, considering what he just went through.” Now, a couple decades later, I am just looking for answers. How do I actually walk on the crashing waves of a storm, when Jesus calls me out onto the waters?
Little faith? Yep. That’s me. Jesus, help my unbelief. And please get me back into the boat.
When you look at very helpless situations like kids trapped in abusive homes, or people you love going down a path of destruction, relationships you care about in a status of constant disfunction, the terrible state of our nation…I could go on and on…it’s very easy to sink into a state of despair.
So, recently, I have been asking God to show me Jesus again. Show me Jesus. Reveal Jesus to me. I need to have faith in the Son of God, because with darkness swirling and thunder crashing, I need to keep my sites focused on the only person that will bring me hope.
I’ve been praying this for a while, along with a cry to God for respite and healing. A breather. And today, he showed me one more piece to the puzzle. And I pray that God shows you this, as well, by the power of his Holy Spirit.
Listening in to Times Square Church’s Tuesday evening live prayer meeting, today they did communion. They specifically challenged the audience listening online to participate and share in the sufferings of Christ with them through the bread and the cup.
I felt the Holy Spirit stir me inside. I was reminded of a passage that I memorized in high school:
Philippians 3: 7-11 “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
In the NIV verse 10 and 11 says: 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings,becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrectionfrom the dead.
To know Christ is to participate in his sufferings. This is developing faith. This is growing in intimacy with Christ. All the while, the enemy and perhaps, a bit of my pride says that suffering is a sign that something is wrong with me and that God is angry with me.
Well, as I took the bread and drank the cup, a somber realization and hope poured into me. Jesus suffered first. Jesus suffered for me and Jesus suffers with me. My faith is in Christ Jesus and who he is. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. When James and John the sons of Thunder wanted eternal recognition to be seated at the right and left hands of Christ in his throne room, Jesus asked, “Can you drink my cup?” They said YES! (They had no idea what they were saying, but Jesus affirmed, “Yes, you will drink my cup, but those seats are not mine to give. (paraphrase).”
I want to experience the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. I want to see his power in my life, I want to see his kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven…and in more than a poetic way. I want to see relationships healed, I want to see bodies healed and I want to see revival poured out in my life and in my town. However, I first must want to know Jesus through his suffering. This is Jesus:
Jesus gave up everything for those who would reject him. He knew how much it would hurt. He chose the lonely path, the lonely life. Throngs of people were around him everyday, but daily the things he said offended his closest followers and they rejected him. Men he ate with, laughed with and cried with turned against him, betrayed him and denied him. He had no comfort, except in the arms of his Father every early morning when he would rise to pray before the sun came up. He willingly carried his cross. He willed to face the music of angry jeers and the cursing and mocking. He chose to keep his mouth shut, instead of defending himself. He suffered in silence. He suffered.
He knew resurrection was coming, but he had to endure the cross first, and before the cross, there were 30 years of rejection and being misunderstood. He hoped and trusted in his Father in Heaven…and even for a short time…because of our sin, the Father turned his back on the Son.
This is Jesus. This is whom I put my faith in and pledge my allegiance to. When I am suffering and wondering, “If God loved me, why would I suffer like this?” I remember God loved Jesus the most. His only begotten Son was at the top of the list and he was given the privilege of suffering to buy with his blood the sons and daughters of men.
When I suffer, I choose to remember that I am fellowshipping with Jesus. He is proud of me. He goes before me in suffering and in resurrection. I will follow him and rise with him from the dead.
Prayer to pray: “Father, in Jesus name I give you my hurt. I give you my suffering. I thank you that you know suffering and that Jesus was a man of sorrows, despised and rejected by men. I thank you for going before me and understanding me. I thank you that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead will raise me up. I pray that you give me the eyes and mind of Christ that I will live for eternity.
I give you my mind, in Jesus name. Take my thoughts. Take me. Heal my innermost being in the place where I mourn and grieve over loss. Help me to release sin and to repent of attitudes that desire comfort over truth. Forgive me for compromising to avoid suffering.
Give me a new and fresh infilling of your Holy Spirit, so that I can know you. And Lord, if I am going to suffer in this life for you, do not hold back your Spirit from me. Please allow me to experience you in a depth this year that I have never experienced you. Do a good work and a fresh work in my life, my family and my heart. May I walk in the fullness of Christ in everything I do.
Help me to be thankful for fellowshipping with Christ in suffering. I thank you right now for my suffering. I thank you that it gives me insight into the heart of Jesus. Thank you that I can know you so much better this way. I love you. Thank you for loving me, Jesus. Help me and increase my faith. I stand against every attack and tactic of hell that would try to destroy my faith and pull me down in Jesus name. I take captive every thought and make them obedient to Christ Jesus. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be holy and acceptable to you, Oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
I plead the blood of Jesus over my life and my family and friends. If there is any unnecessary suffering that is the result of harassment and attacks from Satan, I stand against him in Jesus name and command him to leave me alone. Father God, drive out all fear with your unconditional love.
Thank you for understanding me and loving me. Thank you that when I walk on the waves, it is because you have walked there first and you are calling me out to deeper ways, to deeper faith and to a deeper more intimate relationship with you. In Jesus name, Amen.