One of the ironies about life is that we make decisions but we have no idea what the full implications are. You decide on a job. You have no idea what will happen in the next ten years. Will it be great? Will the company move to another state? Will another company buy your company out? You don’t know. Where you live. Who you marry. What car you own. What church you attend. Life is about taking one step and it leads to another step.
When I meet a young couple who wants to get married, there is so much I want to share with them about what they are about to walk into. When you are younger, you don’t fully understand the changes that are coming in your marriage. You don’t fully understand how struggles may change the marriage.
I remember when Karen and I thought about having kids. I thought, sure, great idea, I’m all in. I can assure you that at that moment, I wasn’t thinking about staying up late helping kids with homework. I wasn’t thinking about holding my daughters as they cried about relationships. I wasn’t thinking about spending 40 hours in the car teaching them how to drive. So the thought of having kids, in that moment, was a great idea. And I had no idea the full implications of that decision.
That is how life works. You take one step and it leads to another. You don’t know the full implications, you just take one step at a time. This is also how walking with God is supposed to work. You take one step and it leads to another. When it comes to following God however, we can take step 1 but we may struggle to take step 2, or 3. Why? Scripture tells us;
17 For we naturally love to do evil things that are just the opposite from the things that the Holy Spirit tells us to do; and the good things we want to do when the Spirit has his way with us are just the opposite of our natural desires. These two forces within us are constantly fighting each other to win control over us, and our wishes are never free from their pressures. TLB Galatians 5:17-18
Did you see that? There are two forces battling inside us for control. Our natural desires, our sinful nature vs. the Holy Spirit. We can struggle to follow God step by step because our sinful nature craves comfort and control. Following God, we feel, would be risky, actually terrifying, because following God requires us to give up control and follow the Holy Spirit. Do you see it? There are two forces, inside us, constantly battling for what? Control.
That’s why we struggle to take step 2, or step 3. We wonder, if I follow God, will He take care of me? Isn’t that what you are afraid of? If I forgive, will the person ever pay for what they did? If I give 10%, will God help me win the lotto? If I love someone who hurts me, when will I feel loved? Following Christ, can be terrifying for people because inside us all, we want comfort and control.
So what most people do is step 1. I want God’s grace so I am okay with admitting I’m a sinner. But step 2, probably not. If you are asking me make a commitment to change, I’m out. I want the grace and love stuff, not interested in the whole being a disciple of Jesus thing. I don’t want to be Ned Flanders on the Simpsons. When it comes to forgiving, submitting, giving, engaging, loving people, I’m kinda out. So we may take 1 step with God, stop and think, that’s good enough.
Actually, to stop following Jesus; that is sin. And where there is sin, it brings death. Death to your soul, your relationships, death to your feelings of hope, etc.
6 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? NIV Romans 6:16-17
Please hear me, when you stop following Jesus, when you stop taking steps, that is sin and sin brings death. Instead of being alive, we feel dead inside. Instead of feeling fulfilled, something will be missing. Instead of hope, there is depression. It’s why marriages can start with passion and end in divorce; one or both stop following Jesus. It’s why any person can start with great focus and passion for God and end in pain because at some point, they stopped following Jesus.
Today we want you to make a commitment to take steps and follow God. Another way of saying that is to commit to grow. To start us off, let’s jump into a real story that took place with Jesus and His disciples.
22 Immediately after this, Jesus made his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake while he sent the people home. 23 Afterward he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. 24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves.
25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came to them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him, they screamed in terror, thinking he was a ghost. 27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “It’s all right,” he said. “I am here! Don’t be afraid.”
28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you by walking on water.” 29 “All right, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.
31 Instantly Jesus reached out his hand and grabbed him. “You don’t have much faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” 32 And when they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed. NLT Matthew 14:22-33
This is a crazy story right?!? Peter walked on water. If you read this quickly you might think this is about Peter being a thrill seeker, an adventure junkie. And I might say something like, “If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, you must be extreme.” Actually, this story is about obedience and trust. It has nothing to do with extreme thrills.
This story begins with the disciples, most of them grew up fishing doing what they knew best; being at sea. We know from other parts of scripture, that they were around three miles out to sea. A storm kicks up and it’s bad, it’s so bad, these guys were scared. They are fighting for their lives and around three in the morning, they see a ghost. If things weren’t bad enough because of the storm, now things just got whole lot worse.
Let me ask you something. Where was Jesus?
Think about this, the disciples are tired, scared and things are getting worse. To them, where was Jesus? To them, Jesus wasn’t anywhere around to them.
Maybe you are walking through something right now and it feels like you are all alone. You are scared, tired and things only look worse. Maybe Jesus is right here with you, right now.
Another question. Do you think, getting out of the boat was risky?
Does that seem like a dumb question to you? The other 11 disciples thought so, they stayed in the boat. I would challenge you to think about his for second. Maybe staying in the boat was more risky than getting out of the boat. How in the world could I ever say that?
Peter hears Jesus’ voice, gets out of the boat and walks on water. The other 11 disciples hear Jesus’ voice and stay in the boat clinging to safety. Who experienced Jesus? Peter did. Who didn’t experience Jesus? The 11 disciples clinging to safety. The price they paid for comfort was experiencing Jesus.
Maybe for you to take the next step and follow Jesus, feels risky. Sometimes obedience does feel risky. What is God asking of you? Does it feel risky to you? Consider the reality that it might be riskier to NOT obey. Maybe, if you make the choice to not take the next step to follow Jesus, it might feel safe but you will miss out on experiencing God.
Another question. Do you think, the best way to avoid fear is to stay in the boat?
Again, seems like a pretty obvious question. Think about this. For Peter, there is fear stepping out of the boat. For the other 11 disciples who stayed in the boat clinging to safety, there was fear. Peter was afraid of drowning. The 11 disciples were afraid of sinking.
The reality of life is that you will always face fear, you can’t avoid it. It’s like Mac N Cheese. Fear and following Jesus go together, you can’t separate the two. Unfortunately, we tend to want comfort so much, that the moment we experience fear, we retreat from it. And we can wrongly assume, is something is hard, it must not be from Jesus. Thankfully, Peter did the opposite, he followed Jesus and faced fear head on and jumped out of the boat.
Another question. Did Peter fail?
Think about this. Peter hears the voice of Jesus, faces fear and gets out of the boat, walks on water, begins to sink and is rescued by Jesus. The other 11 disciples retreated from fear and stayed in the boat wanting comfort. I think Peter had a pretty amazing experience. Later, he can tell stories about it. I think the 11 disciples had an opportunity of a life time and retreated from it. Their story was about what Peter did. Peter didn’t fail, he fully experienced Jesus. The disciples clinging to safety; failed.
Five things about taking steps to follow Jesus you need to know.
If you take a few steps and then stop following Jesus, that is sin. It will bring death. Your Christianity will become boring. It will be like going through the motions. It will be like painting by the numbers; 1 is red, 2 is blue and 3 is green, yeah. You may even become the person who doesn’t grow but you feel comfortable criticizing people who are growing.
If you are in the middle of a storm right now, hear me, Jesus is right there with you. Chances are, the storm is so bad, you might struggle to see that.
Following Christ can feel risky and most people will retreat and cling to safety. I didn’t say thrill seeking risky. I said following Jesus, that means obedience.
Following Christ means you will feel fear. Actually, you will feel fear if you don’t follow Christ too. Don’t assume that following Jesus is easy, it’s not, it can be so hard, you feel fear.
As you follow Christ, things might not go the way you expect, that doesn’t mean you failed. That means you followed Christ.
I want to end with three things you must have in your life to grow.
First: Fear makes people disobedient.
You must believe that not following Christ and to feel comfortable is worse than feeling fear and obeying Him. So before the next question, has fear stopped you from taking the next steps to follow Christ?
Second: Do something.
What are you doing right now that you could not do apart from the power of God? If you say nothing, chances are you are seriously under challenged. Chances are your Christianity is boring. Remember, I’m not talking about seeking thrills, it’s about obeying Jesus.
Lastly: To follow Christ, we must renounce comfort and safety as your most important value.
If comfort and safety is our highest value, chances are, maybe, your not following Christ. You might want more information before you follow. Or maybe you want guarantees that whatever you do will be perfect before you follow. That just means, you stopped following. And maybe, you are not experiencing God.
“If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.”