Sometimes the most powerful things come in small packages. Last week, we looked at the book of Jonah with 4 chapters. Today, we look at only twelve verses in the gospel of Matthew and will focus on five specific words: "Courage. I AM. Quit Fearing!"
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." [The five words in Greek here could be literally translated: "Courage! I AM! Quit Fearing!"]
"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."
"Come," Jesus said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down (Matthew 14:22-32)
This little stick of dynamite made up of these five simple words — "Courage! I AM! Quit fearing!" — lets Jesus speak to us on two different levels as his disciples.
In this short event, Matthew gives us a message as individual disciples. This message is given to help us in those times when we are caught in our own personal LIFE-STORMS. Matthew also gives us another message for leaders. Through the lens of the apostle Peter, Jesus reminds us how to lead others as we try to serve others through our shared LIFE-STORMS. Let's look at each of these in a little more detail. As we do, let's ask, "What can I do and what should I know as we face our LIFE-STORMS?"
We're all going to have LIFE-STORMS. We live in a broken world where bad things happen to good people. We are regularly confronted with all sorts of unfair challenges that can be caused by health problems, unfairness, world economic issues, unscrupulous people, betrayal by those close to us, natural disasters, and a host of other things. So we need to be prepared for these unwanted storms.
We will focus first on Jesus' message to us as individuals. What is Jesus saying to each of us personally in our own individual LIFE-STORMS? What do Jesus' five words — "Courage. I AM. Quit fearing!" — really mean for us?
Jesus' words powerfully echo God's words to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-15). God revealed himself to Moses and called him to redeem the children of Israel from the bondage of Egypt. The LORD revealed himself through the name "I AM," the God who is and was and always will be. He also identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then, God reveals himself as the LORD (YHWH) and tells Moses that he is about to act powerfully for his people:
"I have indeed seen the misery of my people... I have heard them crying out... I am concerned about their suffering... So I have come down to rescue them..." (Exodus 3:7-8).
Jesus is reminding us that he is "I AM." HE is our God. He is our LORD, who worked through the history of Israel to bring deliverance, redemption, and salvation. This God preserved his people through all sorts of "impossible" challenges over the course of centuries and generation-upon-generation. He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He will allow nothing to separate us from his love for us (Romans 8:38-39). So in the storm, let's look for our LORD. Let's ask him to reveal his presence to us and guide us to where he wants us to be. Let's trust that Jesus is with us and that Jesus is the great "I AM"!
No matter what our circumstances are at the moment, no matter our doubts, no matter what Satan is trying to do to make us ashamed or afraid, we can choose to believe the promises of Jesus as the great "I AM"! He will not abandon us or leave us. He is working in our LIFE-STORM to bring us deliverance. He is there with us in the roiling waves and the fearsome winds and the driving rain. We can choose to believe he is there, but it is hard to do on our own. So we must choose to stay connected to the Lord's people and not be too proud to admit our fears and our doubts.
Sometimes, however, we need help remembering that the LORD is tangibly with us. Rather than seeing ourselves as fellow disciples of Jesus caught in a LIFE-STORM with other disciples in the same boat, we often feel alone and vulnerable as we face our LIFE-STORMS.
I am reminded of the often-told story about the little boy in a new house who is scared of the lightning and thunder. He repeatedly ran into his mom and dad's room seeking comfort and reassurance during the storm. Each time the boy hopped in bed with them, they let him stay for a few minutes. Then, his daddy would tuck him back into bed. Finally, as the dad could hear the storm moving off in the other direction, he tucked his son in bed and said, "You know God will take care of you. You don't need to be afraid."
The little boy looked up at his daddy and said, "Yes daddy, God will take care of me. But sometimes, daddy, I just need God with skin on. Can you please stay with me until I go to sleep?"
Satan wants to keep us isolated. He wants us to feel alone in our LIFE-STORMS. Sooner or later, each of us will need "God with skin on Him" — we need the reassurance of our brothers and sisters in Christ who can be the physical touch, concern, and support of God. Jesus reminds us in this story that he often comes and ministers to us personally, even individually, when we recognize we are in the boat together facing our LIFE-STORMS. We are not alone. Even when no one has the answer to our problems, there is something about being together and seeking the presence of the Lord that restores us and empowers us to keep going!
But what is this event on the Sea of Galilee saying to us as leaders? And what if we don't consider ourselves a leader, does this message speak anything to us?
Peter becomes the window for all of us find additional ways to welcome Jesus into our LIFE-STORMs. His actions make him an especially good window for leaders to see how Jesus can help them. What the Lord does for Peter and with Peter are equally applicable for all of us. Yet before you rule yourself out as a leader, please remember the truth about leadership: influence is leadership. Many of us are leaders who don't really recognize our leadership. If we are in any position of influence, then we lead. We might be a leader in our family, at our work, in our school or our children's school, among those in our community, through the media or social media, in our congregations, life groups, and missional communities. So let's look at Jesus' response to Peter in this event on the Sea of Galilee recognizing that Jesus is preparing Peter to be a great leader.
Jesus is with us as leaders just as he is with us in our personal lives. As leaders, we are reminded by Peter's words and actions in this event. Peter reminds us that we need to ask for the LORD's presence, help, and guidance. Like Peter, we need to say, "Lord if it's you... tell me to come to you...!" (Matthew 14:28).
In today's circles of church leadership, many can talk the language of leadership. Some can speak the language of the latest church gurus. However, the real question is whether or not we, as leaders, are really looking to Jesus to direct us and help us as we lead? Are we seeking to lead our people only into the places, the opportunities, and the missions where Jesus has called us to go? In the middle of our storms, do we panic and resort to our own insight rather than the leading of the Lord? Peter reminds us that our first response in LIFE-STORMS, whether personal or shared, must be to look for Jesus!
Leaders, often at no fault of their own, can get into storms too big for them to handle. When they do, even the most spiritual can sometimes take their eyes off of Christ and be overwhelmed by the raging storm around them. When we find ourselves in such situations, we need to openly and unashamedly cry out, "Lord, we need your help. We need you! Save us!" Thankfully Jesus still reaches down and saves his leaders when we call out to him. He reminds us that we need to have faith, but in a loving way like he did with Peter: "You of little faith... why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:31). Even the Lord's gentle reprimand is a reminder of his gracious presence in our storms to help us and save us if we will look for him and call out to him for help.
When we are willing to take Jesus into our boat, when we are willing to put him into the control room of our lives, he still calms LIFE-STORMS. He joins us in our fear and struggle. He gets us where we NEED to be to most effectively serve Him. He uses our LIFE-STORMS to prepare us for bigger challenges and greater opportunities. But most importantly, the LORD wants us to look for him in our most challenging situations. He wants us to call on him in our most trying and fearful moments. Through all circumstances of life, Jesus comes to us and says, "Courage. I AM. Quit fearing!" The real question is whether or not we will look to him in our storms!
Special thanks to the incredible work of the team who produced The Bible Epic Miniseries for the images. This visual quality series is worth your investment.