Jesus and scary waves

“Come on, you’ll be fine. Trust me.” I said with a tone of frustration. I stood alone, waste deep in the Pacific Ocean off a southern California beach. It was mid afternoon late into the summer. The swells were small – fairly peaceful and unimposing – at least from my perspective. The water was not intolerably cold as is common with most Pacific beaches up and down the California coastline. On the beachhead, approximately 50 yards away, stood my [then] six year old son Chase. Born and raised in Arizona, Chase has seen plenty of beach but very little ocean and he was one step short of terrified. He stood on the beach looking at me motioning to him with a concerned furrow in his brow and an overly cautious posture. The prospect of entering the water had him in full flight or fight mode. The waves, noise, smell, seaweed and shear vastness of the ocean had produced an anxiety in Chase. His senses were on red-alert. I called out to him again: “Chase, it’s not that bad once you get in.” I had removed the tone of frustration from my voice to try to be as convincing as possible. “I can’t dad, it’s too scary,” he replied with desperate inflection. This simple exchange would be indicative of the next 30 minutes as I stood in the water trying to coax my reluctant son into the waves. I moved closer to the shoreline, used encouraging language, tried to show him how safe it was and, at one point, even offered to carry him into the surf on my back. There were moments when Chase would venture out a few feet into the water but would quickly retreat back onto the shore to escape the surf slamming against his legs. My efforts to convince Chase that the situation was safe were waning. He’d measured the risk and determined that is was insurmountable. Neither one of us were having any fun and so, after 30 minutes of emotional gridlock, we both decided that our efforts were better spent building a sand castle. I was happy to spend time with Chase on a beach enjoying the weather and he was happy that he was able to play with his dad on dry, trusted, secure land.

That evening I began to reflect on the interplay from a few hours earlier while Chase was standing on the shoreline and I was standing in the ocean. I questioned my actions. Did I do right by my son? I’ve never been a permissive parent. I don’t agree with permissive parenting. So, should I have been firm and demanded that he obey me and walk into the ocean? Was this a simple obedience issue or was there more to this? There was something about the situation that made me believe it was much more complicated than an oversimplified conclusion. I don’t normally expose my kids to situations that make them afraid, but I wanted Chase to overcome this challenge. I wanted him to experience the deep satisfaction of courage. I wanted him to subdue his fear and expand his life-experience. And, I wanted him to do all of this without me forcing it on him. I knew that I would rob Chase of a very rich experience if I simply forced him into the ocean.

My son’s fear was understandable. He’s an Arizona kid and the Pacific Ocean is more daunting than anything he’d ever seen or experienced in his six years of life. I understood his intimidation but I wanted him to act on his self-confidence and trust. I wanted him to find confidence and courage in his swimming abilities. I wanted him to be confident in himself and I wanted him to be confident in me. That was it!!! I realized what was bugging me. I began thinking more deeply about his response to me while he stood on the shore. His reply to me was, “it’s too scary.” The word “scary” didn’t bother me … everyone get’s scared. Everyone struggles with fear, doubt and anxiety. I was empathetic to my son’s fear. What compelled me the most was the entire phrase; it wasn’t just scary, rather, it was “too scary.” This added a whole new dimension. Chase could have simply said it was scary and I could have addressed each fear specifically. But he didn’t just say it’s scary, he said it was “too scary.” The waves were scarier, bigger and tougher than the things he was normally confident of, namely me. This was a level of fear that outweighed his everyday level of trust in me. The crashing waves and scale of the ocean were enough to cause Chase to actually distrust me. My loving intentions, my guarantees of protection, my concern, my relationship with him was all outmatched by his distrust for the situation he was in. This was a dilemma of distrust.

The apostles experienced a similar dilemma of trust in Matthew chapter 14. This is a familiar passage for anyone who’s grown-up in the church. This section of Matthew is rich with the undertones of Christ’s divinity. Jesus exhibits supernatural qualities in this chapter that should have generated, in any reasonably thinking person, a high degree of trust and confidence in his divinity. In verses 13-21 the apostles witness the act of Jesus feeding five thousand people from five loaves of bread and two fish. Immediately following this incredible display of power and provision the apostles are lead by Jesus in verses 22 to a docked boat on the northern side of Galilee. Jesus instructs the disciples to sail on ahead of him assuring them that he would catch-up after he had spent time in prayer alone. Several hours pass by (we don’t how many) and the disciples are now several miles from land. A storm ensues and begins to batter their fully loaded fishing boat. After some time in the storm the disciples suddenly see a figure walking through the waves towards them and they being to freak-out. They presume the figure is some type of ghost walking towards them. By this time the disciples had completely forgotten the incredible miracles they had seen Jesus perform just hours earlier and his commitment to regroup with them later. Jesus identifies himself to the men on the boat in order to calm them down, and perhaps correct their ghost theory. We don’t know exactly how this exchange was received by the majority of the group but we do see Peter in vintage fashion. Peter decides to display his loyalty to Jesus while the others sit around presumably cowering in the boat. Most of us know the story: Peter gets out of the boat and makes it a few steps before fear overtakes him and he starts to sink. Peter knows he’s walking to Jesus and even sees Jesus walking on the water but the waves eventually overwhelmed Peter and he cries out, “Lord save me!” The word “cried” in verse 30 is the Greek verb “krazo” and it means to squawk like bird. Peter had lost all trust and had been relegated to squawking like a bird in this moment terror. Nothing he saw or believed about Jesus in that moment would generate a trust that outweighed his fear. Peter wasn’t sinking as a result of the water – Jesus had taken care of the water. Peter was drowning in his distrust for who Jesus was and what Jesus was capable of doing for him in that moment. But, my bigger question is: what about the other guys who stayed in the boat?

Peter gets a bad reputation from us because he’s the biggest target in the group. But, let’s give some credit where credit is due. At the very least Peter was willing to get out of the boat. There was at least a modicum of faith when Peter walked on water, even if it was just a fleeting moment. Why is it that only AFTER Jesus restores order to the sea that the other guys begin to worship him as the Son of God (Cf. vs. 32)? The answer: their trust in Jesus was even weaker than Peter’s! Not only did the rest of the disciples NOT get out of the boat but, frankly, there is no real indication they exercised any faith or lordship at all until after Jesus had fixed their circumstances.

During my years in church I have heard countless comparisons made between Peter’s dilemma of trust and the dilemma of trust experienced by the modern day Christian. However, I think I see the modern American church more closely resembling the cowards in the boat. How many of our church members attend a worship services celebrating the power of Jesus Christ only to leave their place of worhsip and lose all faith on Monday. As long as the seas are calm they’ll fellowship in the boat and extol Jesus as the object of their worship. But, when seas get rough people hunker-down and forget all about the greatness of Jesus Christ in their everyday life. The tricky part is that their distrust is often concealed within the normal regimen of life. It is hidden well within the comfort and expediency of modern American living … that is until the storm hits. That’s when they confuse Jesus for something he’s not (like a ghost). That’s when they refuse to trust him even after he calls to them from within the storm. The situation is “too scary” and their confidence in Jesus is outmatched. They distrust their circumstances more than they trust their Savior and it keeps them from experiencing something extraordinary and life-changing!

Hebrews 12 implores us to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” He is the originator, sustainer and supreme example of truth concerning what the church believes about life, death and eternity. If we do not begin to REALLY trust him in the storms we will not begin to REALLY live the life he desires for us. This is the lesson I learned reflecting on my experience with Chase on the beach. He, like all of us, was “too scared” to move towards the person he knows loves him more than anyone else in his life. His fear outweighed his trust for me. The difference is, Jesus loves his church immeasurably more than I am able to love my son. But, the life that Jesus has called his church to live is peculiar and scary a times.

If we do not trust the architect of this peculiar yet extraordinary life then we will not experience the unique and extraordinary goodness that comes with it … like the act of walking on water. We will live conventionally within the parameters of our comforts but what we’re actually doing is a masquerade. We’re masquerading as trusting followers who refuse to get out of the boat and walk towards our Savior when the storms of life seem too scary.

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About Matt Brecht
Lead Pastor of NorthPointe Church

2 Responses to Jesus and scary waves

  1. Kevin Brown says:

    Matt,

    Excellently written! I agree with you 110%!

    I love Hebrews chapter 11, which speaks of the triumphs of faith. Verse 6 says, “without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE to please Him.” How can we say we have “faith” if our trust in God is weak or even non existent?

    I am of the firm belief that the only true way to please God is to trust Him through faith, not just our weak faith, but more importantly, trusting His true faithfulness to His promises. To do that we must know Him on a very personal level with depth. When we grow close to Him we gain the strength needed to walk through the battlefield, coming out the other side with increased faith, and a greater understanding of His faithfulness.

    God has placed on my heart a passion to help others experience God’s healing power by removing the mask. The masquerade you speak of, the superficial me. To do this requires trusting God. The storms and battles WILL come to each of us. It’s our choice to trust Him or ourselves. I choose HIM!

    Matt, thank you for your commitment and faithful service.

    Blessings,
    Kevin

  2. mattbrecht says:

    Thank you Kevin. You are definitely on a special journey of knowing God better so as to trust him more. Your faith and ministry have blossomed since I’ve known you … it’s been awesome to watch! Thank again Kevin.

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