The Coronavirus pandemic we are living through is a threshold moment. As we walk through it, we will arrive at a new place in the world and in our lives. The question is, how will we be changed? Today I want to reflect together on listening for God’s voice in threshold moments.
A voice can make all the difference in the world. You may have heard the story about Ole, who decided to go ice-fishing. He got all his gear set up out on the ice, and started to drill a hole. Just then, he heard a voice from above: “Ole, not there.” So he moved his things a little ways away and started to drill again, “No, Ole, not there either. Try another place.” So a third time Ole moved his things and got is auger ready, “No, Ole,” the voice boomed, “the hockey game is about to start; go try on a lake.”
A voice can make all the difference. Of course, it depends what voice you listen to. Throughout Scripture, we hear (or we can imagine) God’s voice. God spoke, and the creation came into being. God’s voice thundered from the top of Mount Sinai, God spoke when Jesus was baptized and on the mountain with his disciples. The God we meet in Jesus Christ is a God who has spoken, and who still speaks, if only we will listen.
There is a tremendous amount of wonderful art that depicts various biblical scenes, but surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) there are almost no great works of art that depict this scene in Matthew 14.22-33, when Jesus walks on the lake, invites Peter to come to him, and Peter begins to sink. This passage doesn’t present the disciples in a very flattering light. They’re crying out in fear because they think they see a ghost. And Peter is quickly sinking into the water because of his fear and doubt. Not exactly heroes of the faith.
But they are real, aren’t they? They are a picture of us.
Take the disciples. Jesus has just employed them, miraculously, to feed 5000 people, and now Jesus wants to say goodbye to the crowd and spend some time in prayer, so he sends them (lit. “makes” them) get in the boat and row for the other shore. You would think that maybe if Jesus made them do that, the least he could do would be to give them a tailwind—you know, the wind at your back and the sun on your face, a song in your heart and the promise of grace. Well, there is the promise of grace, but the rest…not so much, because they spend the whole night, until 3-6am, struggling at the oars. The NIrV says the boat was being pounded by the waves. The Greek word can also mean it was being “tormented” and “disturbed.”
How about you? Do you ever feel pounded by the waves? Or worse? And what if the struggle comes—or at least seems to come—because, or while, you’re doing the right thing, trying to please God and serve others and follow Jesus?
Being where Jesus sends us doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but there is the voice: “Be brave. I am. Don’t be afraid.” A voice can make all the difference.
Be brave. Take courage. Cheer up! Jesus also says, “Don’t be afraid,” which God says to us over and over and over in Scripture. “Be brave” and “Don’t be afraid” are words to us, what we are to do, but the thing Jesus says in-between them is the pivot, the fulcrum everything turns on. It’s not about what we should do or not do; it’s a statement about him: I AM.
This is often mistranslated: Not “I am” as in “Hey guys, it’s me!” And it doesn’t mean, “Be brave, because I am.” “I AM” is what God said when he revealed his identity to Moses in the wilderness when Moses wanted to know who he should say appeared to him. I AM. (Exodus 3:14)
Jesus speaks, and comforts and encourages, but it is Jesus HIMSELF who is the Word of God, the Voice, God present with us in the storm. He doesn’t need to say anything to explain, but just to be present, because HE IS. He IS in control. He IS sovereign. He IS aware. He IS able to save. He IS with us. He IS above the wind and the waves. He IS wise and compassionate and merciful and strong. He IS. He IS. He IS. He simply IS.
It’s because of that that the whole second part of the story unfolds. Peter (God bless him) says, Well, if you ARE (literally), then tell me to come to you.
It’s interesting that Peter doesn’t say, If you ARE, then could you please make it stop blowing? Or Could you grab a bucket and start bailing, because we’re swamped here? In other words, please get me out of this storm, make it stop! He says, Lord, in this storm, you have come to me. I want to come to you. Tell me what to do.
And Jesus says, “Come.” And again, Matthew isn’t concerned with HOW it happens, because it’s really not about that; it’s about the fact that Jesus is Jesus. He is the great I AM. And so long as Peter is transfixed and absorbed and walking in that reality, he walks like Jesus, and is fully engaged in the Kingdom of God. It’s not about the spectacle of walking on water. It’s about walking like Jesus.
More on this tomorrow…
Bob Jacobs is Pastor of Westminster Church, Rapid City. If you're interested in more of Bob's writings, check out his personal blog at www.brittlecrazyglass.wordpress.com.