We all have the experience of starting things with enthusiasm and then petering out along the way, right? I did a basic Google search on ”things we start well but don’t finish” (and I thought my computer was going to have a heart seizure by how many things the search turned back-142 million articles). Here are a few of them:
– Diets: How many in the midst of a lapsed diet right now? – Workout plans. – Med school. – College.- Navy Seal training.
– Running a marathon (The highest percentage of people to ?dropout of a marathon is at mile 18-they don’t know why it’s that mile. I think that’s your body saying, ”This is a bad idea”). They say the key in training for a marathon is to run to 13 miles one direction and not take any money or your cell phone with you.
– Reading a book.- Writing a book.- Trying to sign up at healthcare.gov. – Watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy. 40% of you-that’s the greatest movie series ever. 60%: Could this movie be any longer? How many endings? – Getting all the way through the mini-series LOST. (Never have I been so captivated by the beginning of a series; or so weary, bewildered, and disappointed by the ending. By that last season I was like, ”Would everyone please die, so this can be over?”).
In the life of faith, we have the experience of starting something but not finishing, too.
– Maybe you have resolved to read the Bible through in a year, or memorize Scripture; to give up a destructive or sinful habit; to be generous-to start tithing or giving sacrificially. I know church planters who volunteered to go overseas but are having trouble now staying with it now, even right now, as you ?listen to this podcast, you’ve been thinking about quitting.
– Or maybe you’re the girl who resolved to stop dating guys who aren’t spiritual leaders but you’ve gotten lonely, wavering in your resolve to wait for the man who is a gift from God.
So I want to talk about staying faith, the kind of faith that not only makes the commitment-but sees it through.
– Jesus told a story about 2 brothers. With which one was he more pleased? Not the one who made the promise, but the one who saw it through.
– So it is with us. Write this down: ?It’s not just making the decision that counts with God, it’s seeing it through.
In Matthew 14 we have a rather infamous story of a man who faltered in his faith: Peter.- Everybody loves Peter, because I think we see a lot of ourselves in him. He’s a man big on promises, but short, sometimes, on ?execution. His aspirations are often loftier than his accomplishments. ?”Peter,” btw, was not his real name. That was a nickname Jesus gave him that meant ”rock.”1 Simon was his real name. Think of him as two different people trapped in the same body.
– Right before the crucifixion, Peter says, ”I’ll never deny you, even ?if everyone else does.” That’s the Peter part of him. Yet that same night, he denies Christ 3 times. That’s Simon. – Peter in Acts 2 is the first one to declare that God has included Gentiles in the gospel. That’s Peter, the rock. But later he refuses to eat with Gentiles because he’s scared of what the Jews will say and Paul has to call him out (Simon). – Today, you’ll see a story in which he says, ”Jesus, if that’s you, I’ll walk on water to you.” He is the only one to show that kind of courage. That’s Peter. Then right in the middle of it he gets scared and starts to sink (that’s Simon). – Peter’s got a faith side to him, and a fear side. (When I was a kid McDonald’s had a burger called the McDLT in which the hot side was hot and the cold side was cold. Burger innovation.) Peter’s like that. He’s got a hot side and a cold side. No lukewarm.
– I think we’re all like that. You ever feel like you should have two names? I think I need one name that means rock and another that means pansy. Matthew 14:22-24: (Jesus had just fed the 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish) 22Immediately, he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.
He sent the disciples into a storm.
Have you ever heard the line: ”The safest place to be is in the will of God”? That’s true, in a sense, but sometimes people confuse that to mean that everywhere God sends you is safe, easy, like a walk through a rose garden.
Here, they obeyed the direct command Jesus and ended up in a storm as the result.And you need to understand this so when storms hit you, you don’t assume you’re out of the will of God. Certain storms are part of the will of God for you, because God is not just doing something for you, he’s doing something in you.
– Acts 20:22-23, Paul says, 22And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships await me.
– Paul understood that these trials to which he is referring were part of the will of God for him.
– So when you make a decision in faith and it gets difficult, don’t be surprised. (A) You have an enemy that immediately goes to war against you and (B) God is trying to test your resolve and deepen your faith ?
– The biggest thing God is doing in your life is teaching you to trust him, so faith usually leads you through difficult, not around it. Isaiah 43:2-3: ”When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
I would want my Savior to take me around the waters, or to a bridge over the waters. But God takes me through the waters to show me his grace is deeper than the water; his presence stronger than the fire. He wants me to be able to trust him in any situation.
Faith leads you not through difficulty, not around it.
25And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them (which means about 4 am, which means they had been battling this storm for about 6 hours… you know what that means, Jesus did not come immediately-he let them fight the storm for most of the night before he came!),2 walking on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said ”It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ”Take heart; it is
I. Do not be afraid.”
OK, so let’s talk about this for a little bit.- He doesn’t come immediately. And then when he does come, he comes strolling by at a distance so close they can see him and hear him (which, in the midst of the storm, had to be close!) – But does he come right up to them and hop in the boat and say, ”It’s OK, I’m here to save you!”? No. Mark 6:48, a parallel account of this, adds: ”He meant to pass by them.” How odd! They’re struggling for their lives. And Jesus’ actions basically issue an ”I’ll see you on the other side” perspective.
– To get his help, they have to call out.
– Quick lesson: Never overlook human initiative in gaining the help of God as you struggle. He’s there to help but you have to ask.
– And I love this: they don’t even cry out in faith. They cry out in fear. Which is bad faith, but Jesus answers them. Do you know what that shows you? God is a compassionate father who responds to his children when they call upon him. ”Call upon me in the day of trouble, he says, I will deliver you, and you will glorify me.”3
Matthew 14:28-29: 28And Peter answered him, ”Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, ”Come.”
Notice, Jesus did not fix the disciples’ problem by making the storms go away. He just gave Peter another command: ”Come.”- You’re in difficulty? Maybe you should stop asking God to fix the situation, and start asking him what his command is. There is nothing wrong with asking him to fix the solution, but first ask him what his command is!
– Start demanding and start listening.
So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ”Lord, save me.” (There is a time for long prayers and a time for short ones. When you’re sinking in the waves, short prayers will suffice).
31Jesus immediately reached out his hand (he’s always close in difficulty) and took hold of him, saying to him, ”O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Why is this story in there? You should always ask that.
– This story is not in there to inspire us to actually walk on water. (In Acts, when Paul is in a shipwreck, it never occurs to Paul to get out of the boat and start strolling to shore.)- This story is to show us how to continue what we start in faith.4 Because that’s going to be one of the biggest problems for Christians.
So here’s the lesson:(A) Initial faith is not enough. We need staying faith.
– When Jesus said to Peter at the end, ”O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” he is not talking about the intensity of Peter’s faith, but its duration.- Peter’s faith, when it started, was very strong (he was the only one who got out of the boat). It just didn’t last long.- Initial faith is not enough; we need sustaining faith.
(B) We find staying faith at the same place we found initial faith.
Where did Peter’s initial faith come from? 2 places:
(1) A vision of Jesus.
– When Jesus says, ”Take heart, it is I,” in Greek that is ego eimi. ”I am.” Which was the name of God. ”Don’t be afraid; I am.”?- Peter saw that the Great ”I am” was standing on top of everything that terrified him.
(2) Jesus’ command.
– Peter figured that it was more important to obey Jesus’ command than to focus on the circumstances.- The Great I AM is on top of those waves, what he is said is larger than the waves rising up against me. – He focused not on what he had walk through, but whom he was walking to. ?
Write this down: Peter is not so much walking on water as he is walking on the promises of God; he’s not so much standing on the waves as he is standing on the character of Jesus.
It was when he took his eyes off of those 2 things that he started to sink. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out.
Focus on the Word and you’ll walk on water. Focus on the waves and you’ll wallow in weakness.
A Little Secret to this Passage:
The point of this passage is not to demonstrate the greatness or weakness of Peter’s faith. The point is to demonstrate the greatness of God’s grace. ?
When I was reading the parallel accounts, I noticed that Mark’s account didn’t mention the part about Peter getting out the boat sinking, only about Jesus coming to them on top of the waves. Well, Mark was Peter’s traveling companion, and scholars tell us the Gospel of Mark are essentially Peter’s preaching notes. At first I thought, Peter doesn’t want us to know about his wavering faith. Ashamed. But I think there’s a different reason: Peter doesn’t want the focus on him at all! ?Because this story is not about Peter’s faith; it’s about Jesus’ faithfulness. Peter wants us to know…
– That he is always close.- When you call out to him, even if it’s in fear for from a lack of faith, he helps. Ps 94:18: ”When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your steadfast love, O Lord, supported me.”?Our God is a God who will always be there to catch us, pick us back up, and lift us on top of the waves. So, when you waver, put your eyes back on him.?- This story doesn’t give you an example to emulate, but a Savior to trust.- A friend of mine says, ”In this story, Peter may have failed at what he set out to do, but Jesus succeeded in proving exactly what he wanted to prove.”5 That he is always trustworthy.
– How much more should we see this on this side of the cross? There we see Jesus not only came to us in the storm, he took into himself the storm of God’s wrath; he not only walked on top of the waves, but soared over sin and death in the resurrection; not only did he lift us up on top of the waves, he filled with the power of resurrection life; and I know that if he reached all the way down to hell to rescue me from my sin, I know he’ll help me when I stumble. If he reached out to save me when I was his enemy, certainly he’s reach out to help me now that I’m his son.Ultimately, God’s purpose in the Christian life is to teach you to trust him.?
– In Peter’s first letter to the church, 1 Peter, he writes to Christians going through their own storms. 1 Peter 1:6: ”In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials [storms], and so that the tested genuineness of your faith . . . may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
So initial faith is not enough; you need staying faith, and staying faith comes from the same place as initial faith.
So where does this leave us? You’re in the midst of difficulties in the decisions of faith that you have made. You started out well but now you’re faltering.Put your eyes and ears back on the things you were looking at when you fist made the decision. You believed Jesus was trustworthy and you took a dare on him. You obeyed his command. And now things have gotten difficult. That does not mean that Jesus has left you or that you made a wrong decision. He is testing your resolve and trying deepen your trust in him.
– Re-embrace his character, re-hear the command, and take the next step.
Think of Peter’s faith in the first step. Isn’t that the exact same kind of faith he needed for the next step??Every step is the same act of faith.
– We don’t experience faith so much by sitting around and dreaming up grand dreams, but by taking the next step.- The expression of faith is a step, not a dream.?- Getting to the end of your life and feeling like you walked on water is the result of a lifetime of small, faithful steps. – Isn’t that what you want from your life? Your family, your ministry…?- ”It’s never the dreams your dream; it’s the (little) decisions you make.”
Take that step of faith!
– It’s the small step forgiving the person. – Reclaiming God’s forgiveness of you and getting up again in the morning to struggle another day against the sin (Prov 24:16).
– Being willing to put up with scorn one more day as you try to be a faithful witness for Jesus to the people whom he has sent you.- Getting back to the assignment.- Trusting God again with your finances, so you can be generous. Embracing sacrifice again.?- Being willing to press on without a boyfriend as you wait for the one that is a choice from God.
The expression of faith is the step. So, take the next step. Maybe the ”next step” for you is the first step.
– If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat!- Read a book recently: ”There is only one line in life you can control and it’s not the finish line, it’s the starting line.”6- The author says: ”Every big finish began with a small start.”- Jesus is close and compassionate, and he doesn’t come to criticize-you start walking in faith and he’ll help you!
Prayer: Bow your head; see vision of Jesus. What command is the Holy Spirit giving you? If you’re in a difficulty, might you say, ”Lord, what is your command?” like Peter’s prayer.Samuel’s prayer: ”Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”