Monday, October 31, 2016

Fibular Hememila -When You Feel Like Your Boat is Sinking

A message I heard from an evangelist has resonated with me -maybe changed my entire perspective on our purpose for being -and God keeps bringing me back to this scripture, this life changing truth because He wants to transform me, to mold me into the image of Himself.  

In Matthew 14, Jesus performs a miracle, feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes. Following this meal, the WORD tells us that “straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. 23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. 24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.”

The dictionary defines “constrained” as compelling or forcing (someone) toward a particular course of action. Jesus “compelled” the disciples to get into the ship and go to the other side -knowing what was to come -a storm of “contrary” winds that would toss the ship.  The dictionary defines “contrary” as opposite, clashing, conflicting, irreconcilable, and incompatible.  

So this begs the question: why? Why send, compel, force the disciples into a boat, headed toward a storm that would cause them great distress and fear? Why stay behind to pray and leave them alone to face the stormy sea? Why wait, as verse 25 discloses, until the fourth watch of the night, near morning, to come to their rescue?

The Christian life, we know, is a journey, not through a placid lake, but through a swift river.  If we don’t paddle, we won’t just sit still, we’ll go backward, lose ground.  But sometimes, when the winds are raging -clashing, seeming irreconcilable, it’s exhausting to keep lifting the oars.  Press forward, that’s what Paul tells us to do, right?  Press “toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). It’s the prize, then, that’s supposed to keep us rowing despite our fears and our exhaustion?

Yet, in the boat sometimes, especially at night, I lose sight of the prize.  I just want stiller waters, not stronger arms.  I want the life that the world promised instead: smooth sailing, health, vitality, prosperity, happiness.   So much more appealing than picking up the oar and pressing on.

Ann VosKamp writes that this year one of her sons was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, and she describes herself as having joined the club of those who watch their children inject themselves with insulin each day and count carbs and prick fingers.  A club of the broken-hearted, worried parents who get up each day and press on, rowing to the other side with thoughts of the health of their babies.

And I think of the boat I’m in and the weighty things I’m hauling that make rowing especially hard.  Standing in line at Wal-Mart yesterday, buying iron- on letters for Emily’s team day shirt, I begin to sweat.  Even though it’s two hours until I have to be at MECC for the night class that I’m teaching, I’m worried I’ll be late.  The cashier is taking way too much time -and when I get to the car, I realize I’ve forgotten something and have to go back in -and wait again.  My stomach is literally sick and I’m fanning myself with my wallet. Although I know it takes maybe thirty-five minutes to get to the college, my adrenal glands must not have gotten the message.  And someone’s thinking -really, that’s all you’ve got in that boat: anxiety? But if you don’t know, if you’ve never held what I’m carrying, then you can’t imagine what it weighs and how difficult it makes the rowing.
And I think of my family and my friends and these boats that He sent them out in, knowing the contrary winds that were to come.  And I consider what they’re facing -these worst fears becoming truth. And in the recesses of my heart, I know. I know that there are PROMISES made that will come to pass and that my God, He’s faithful to His Word.  And I know He’ll work all this out, but sometimes I forget.  I’m prone to wander and He knows it. He knows I’ll sit in my boat sometimes and feel alone despite the truth of His Word that tells me I’m not Forsaken.  I’ll wonder why my cousins are left to pick up the pieces after their grandfather’s death and their mother’s subsequent suicide.  And I’ll wonder why my mom struggles for breath, to simply breathe in the air God’s provides.  And why my friend and her husband are anticipating the birth of their first grandbaby while sorting through cancer treatment options. And why every 10 seconds a child in our world dies from hunger and 125,000 babies are aborted every day.  

And I could sit here in this boat for hours, my eyes off the prize, and put down my oar and float backward -away from the shore.  

BUT in the FOURTH HOUR something never fails to compel me - to rescue me from myself and the weightiness of despair.  To remind me of the PRIZE -that has nothing to do with health and vitality and prosperity and happiness and has everything to do with JESUS.

In Philippians, Paul tells us that “he count[s] all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus [his]Lord.” This PRIZE, then, that we’re striving toward is a knowing -an intimate knowledge of our Savior. Paul wants to “be found in him,” to “know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”
To KNOW HIM, we have to be stripped of our religious pretense -to stand before HIM bare, vulnerable, in need.  We have to experience a STORM in order to experience a rescuing, a knowing of who He is, and a transforming of who we are as a result of who He is.  We cannot fellowship in the sufferings of Christ apart from suffering.  We cannot be conformed without being refined.  The dictionary defines “refined” as to bring to a fine or a pure state; free from impurities.  The Prize, then, all along, is FREEDOM in CHRIST, a putting on of a righteousness that isn’t our own.  

I can think about this water and this boat in two ways; I have a choice.  I can choose to see a God who sent me ahead alone to navigate through fearful waves. Or I can choose to see a God whose greatest desire is for me to KNOW Him -to know the strength He provides when the oars are too heavy -to know His methods of rescue -the words and the people and the circumstances that He sends to spur me on. I can see this water and this boat as unfairness or I can see it as GRACE. I can choose to believe that “when God raises the winds and lifts the waves — you can always trust His hand to lift you higher — further up into Himself. And Sometimes when it feels like God’s breaking our anchor — He’s really breaking our idols —- what we were holding on to more than we were holding on to Him.”  

This Grace, this AMAZING GRACE that saved us, this Grace of turbulent times and rough waters, it’s our passage to knowing Him. In Matthew, Jesus eventually comes to the disciples in the fourth hour, walking on the water. Excitedly, Peter attempts to join Him, but sinks because of doubt and fear.  What does Peter do at this moment, this sinking, fearful moment. The WORD tells us he cried out and Jesus, our rescuer, “immediately stretched forth his hand, and caught him.” Aren’t we all in need of immediate rescue? Don’t we all just need to be caught -to be held by this ONE who came to save and not to condemn? And what’s the requirement? What can we do? Like Peter, we must cry for out HIM -and He will come.

Don’t we all need to cry in repentance -repenting of a life lived for the wrong prize -a life lived for the accumulation of meaningless things and selfish desires -for thinking that anything apart from HIM was of any worth -for wanting God to conform to our plans and not seeing the BEAUTY of HIS. I need to repent, don’t you, of wishing I had a different boat, a different weight to carry -an easier way to be transformed. I need to repent, don’t you, of holding on to things (health, vitality, prosperity, happiness, children, family, security, pride, self-sufficiency) more than HIM.

I need to come to HIM, don’t you -because He tells us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Remember He has carried our burden for us --already borne it to Calvary. I need to cry out - to grow in grace and KNOWLEDGE - because my burden of SIN has been lifted, freely lifted -and the rest is GRACE. And these fears, these heavy-hearted feelings can be REDEEMED, TRANSFORMED, stripped of their power - by the Holy One.

And I Press On.