Out of the Boat and Into the Arms

It’s Sunday afternoon here in Tanzania. And, like any place in the world it seems, Sunday afternoons here are laid back. So I figured I would try to pump out another blog post before the busy week ahead.

Today I had a chance to go to a church service at St. Margaret’s Evangelical Church in Moshi. The service was completely in English, and while I thoroughly enjoy an African church service that is completely in Swahili, I needed to sing and read Scripture in English with other believers today more than I knew.

The service was a family service, so it was relatively short. We read from Matthew 14:22, the passage where Jesus walks on water…

Now as I wrote that sentence I realize I should’ve said it more like “We read from Matthew 14:22, which tells the story of the time JESUS DID THE IMPOSSIBLE AND LITERALLY WALKED ON A LAKE LIKE IT WAS DRY LAND.”

So, anyway, Jesus casually walks up to the boat (!) and is like, “What’s up?” and of course the disciples freak out and then Jesus is like “Don’t be afraid, it’s me.”

And then Peter says, “If it’s you, tell me to come on the water.”

So Jesus says “come” and Peter does it. But then he sees the wind and gets scared and sinks.

Silly Peter. Just another story of him trying to prove himself braver and smarter than he is. Just another story of him having less faith than what he thought he did. The moral of this story for me has always been this: Don’t be like Peter; have faith, keep trusting. Don’t be like Peter.

But today in church, the pastor brought up a question I had never thought of before: Is it better to be a wet Peter or a dry Thomas?

Is it better to stay in the boat, or better to have “failed” on the water?

These two words have come up a lot in my prayers and conversations lately: comfort and safety. I’ll come out and say it: I believe that Christians, particularly North American Christians (including myself) have become too comfortable. We are comfortable in our communities and in our church buildings. We are comfortable with our congregation and make minimal efforts to do outreach. We are comfortable reading the Bible passages we know and love but never crack open the books we don’t like or don’t understand. We are comfortable raising our families because that is what we have been taught is most important–to give our kids the best, worry-free life they could possibly have. We are comfortable giving the same size check in the offering every week even though we could be giving more. We are comfortable talking about the same old things to our same old friends because we are afraid of how they or others might react if we brought up God in a conversation. We are afraid of being uncomfortable.

And what about safety? Why do we always pray for safety? I mean, I hope God will keep the youth group or the mission team or whoever safe too, but why don’t we pray for God to be given the most glory possible, for Him to reach the most people or have the greatest effect, even if it puts our safety in jeopardy? Why don’t we pray for both, but emphasize His will and His way?

I realize I am being a little harsh, but realize this is a complete and total conviction of myself. It is way easier for me to step outside my comfort zone in Africa than it is for me to do it in my own hometown. Because there I am comfortable. There I am safe.

There I am in my boat.

Peter dared to be uncomfortable. Peter dared to be unsafe. Peter got out of the boat.

That’s more than what Thomas did. That’s more than what I do.

Let’s be honest; Peter failed on the water. He got out and took a couple steps before his faith was shaken and he was consumed by the waves. I think that is a common experience among those who have stepped out of the boat. Getting wet is part of the process. If we weren’t sinful, imperfect, fearful people, we might be able to stay atop the waves. But we are all of those things and we can’t do it on our own.

And at this point we cry, “Lord, save me!”

And He pulls us up, even though we are soaked. And we find safety and comfort in the arms of the One who saves and loves even us of little faith.

You see, safety and comfort is okay if we are finding it in the arms of our Savior. That is a level of safety and comfort beyond anything we would’ve experienced in the boat.

In Ezekiel 16, God is giving an allegory of what Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness has been like in preparation for their exile. He compares the city to a woman who as a baby, He saw lying in blood kicking and screaming. And He, God, bathed her and clothed her and even adorned her in beautiful clothes and jewels. But she used the beauty God had given her and became a prostitute, giving herself away to idolatry and shrines, “offering [her] body with increasing promiscuity to anyone who passed by” (verse 25). We are a people who, in spite of having received life and breath and all good things from our Creator God, throw ourselves at the things of this world. We look for comfort and safety everywhere except for where we will actually find it.

But He still promises to make atonement for us (verse 63). He still lifts us out of the water.

So new moral of the story: Be like Peter. Be uncomfortable and unsafe and get out of the boat. And know that if and when you fail, Jesus will be there to lift you out.

And even as the wind and waves roar around you, you will be safer than ever before in the arms of an unfailing God.

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