When I was younger, my husband and I enjoyed wilderness backpacking and camping. One summer we hiked the west coast of Vancouver Island, and while we were walking a deeply forested path, suddenly the view unfolded and we found ourselves on a cliffside high above the Pacific Ocean. Jutting out from the cliff was a narrow spit of land that led to a spire of rock rising hundreds of feet above a small bay where a herd of seals played in the sparkling water and sunned themselves on the rocks.
As I stood there drinking in the glorious view, my husband said, “Let’s go out there!” “Out where?” I said, wondering if he wanted to somehow climb down the side of the cliff. “To the top of that spire,” he replied. “NO WAY.” I said. “Yes, you can do it!” he said. “The path is three feet wide. There’s plenty of room and nothing to be afraid of. You can walk anywhere with three feet of room!” Somehow, that made sense to me, and I thought, “OK, sure. I can do this. I’ve got three feet of solid ground to walk on and it will be fun!”
Beloved Friends, when you picture a path consisting of three feet of solid rock in your minds, you, too, may think, “Oh sure! I can walk across that!” But let me tell you the truth – when you’re in the middle of a spit of rock a thousand feet in the air that is about ten yards long and three feet wide, you feel very differently about the entire operation! Somehow three feet wide becomes three inches wide, and it feels like walking on a tightrope! The wind was blowing, the waves were crashing, the seals were barking, and I was freaking out!
Of course, my husband dashed across like he’d been brought up by the Flying Wallendas and was cheering me on from the plateau about five yards ahead of me. It looked like he was standing in empty space.
Once I got to the top of the rocky spire, which was perfectly flat and round, about the size of the top of a dining table that could seat maybe six people, I stood there weak-kneed with my teeth chattering in fear, gazing out to sea and wondering if it would be painful when I fainted and plunged headlong into the Pacific.
I heard my husband’s voice say, “Sit down.” Again, I said, “NO WAY.” (I was afraid to move even one inch in any direction.) He said, “Sit down. There’s plenty of room and once you sit, you won’t be afraid.” I figured, “What the heck, I’ve come this far. I might as well be comfortable because I am not walking back over that tightrope. I’m gonna be here ‘til the park rangers come and rescue me.”
I sat down.
And, miracle of miracles, my whole body relaxed, I took a long deep breath, and realized that I was immersed in a view that was glorious beyond imagining. Friends, it was incredible! The sky was so blue it colored the wind. The ocean sparkled like a field of diamonds in the sun, the seals were frisking and frolicking below us – and, I am not kidding – grey whales were migrating up the coast, while bald eagles soared over our heads. It was one of the most spectacular afternoons of my life. Literally a taste of what we can expect in heaven.
And, maybe most wonderful of all, we had brought lunch. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
We spent the afternoon on that tiny tabletop of rock over the vast sea - suspended in the air, glorifying God. And, another miracle, when it was time to walk back to the cliffside, I wasn’t afraid at all! We just walked on back to the forest, in about three minutes, tops. Seriously, we were practically skipping! Something about all that fresh air, exercise, good food and magnificent beauty wiped away every fear and soothed my weary soul.
This story reminds me of the time that Peter walked on the water. You remember, in Matthew 14, when very early in the morning while it was still dark, Jesus, who had stayed behind on a mountain alone to pray, saw his disciples on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee when a storm came up – and he walked across the water to rescue them? The first thing he said to them as he drew closer over the crashing waves was, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (v. 27). Peter, who had no problem taking risks while Jesus was around, said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come out on the water” (v. 28). Jesus said, “Come.” And Peter leaped out of the boat.
He had good success for a few steps, until he took his eyes off Jesus, and got distracted by the wind and the waves. The scripture says that Peter became afraid and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me” (v. 30).
Of course, Jesus was standing right there on the water, and he reached out his hand and rescued Peter, who had never been alone and was never in any danger. (Notice that the scripture says that Peter began to sink. Not that he obeyed the laws of physics and sank like a rock. Nope. He began to sink. Was he maybe waist deep when Jesus grabbed him? Can you imagine the look on his face? I’ll bet he was feeling pretty sheep-ish!)
Then Peter and Jesus walked across the water and back to the boat. “And when they got to the boat, the wind ceased” (v. 32).
So here, Beloved Friends, is the point. Three feet of solid rock is plenty of ground to walk on, even if you’re a thousand feet in the air. And, with Jesus by our side, we can accomplish the impossible - like walking on water!
Then why, when challenges come, are we so afraid?
If you took a yardstick and drew a path on the ground that was three feet wide, you would be absolutely confident that you could hop, skip, jump, run or cartwheel over it. But suspend it in the air over the ocean, and NO WAY. Walking hand-in-hand with Jesus on a normal day? It’s a blessing and a pleasure! Walking next to him on a stormy sea? Not so much, and we lose heart and begin to sink.
You see, Beloveds, it isn’t the path we are on, but the circumstances surrounding us and where we place our focus that distract us and makes us afraid. While I was walking on the shady path in the woods, fear never entered my mind. Surround that same path with empty space instead of solid earth and it became very scary. Would Peter have spent more time above water if the sea had been calm? Maybe, but the whole reason Jesus walked on the water in the first place was because he saw his disciples struggling in the very storm that rattled Peter. Peter never would have walked on the water at all if there had been no storm; and I wouldn’t have spent an unforgettable afternoon hovering over the ocean if I hadn’t been willing to walk through thin air.
Today our world is engulfed in a storm of biblical proportions. And even though the situation is dire, God has not changed one bit. He is still on the Throne and he is still in control. Remember his first words to his disciples as he approached them were, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (v. 27).
So, Beloveds, please take heart. Jesus is with us. He is the Alpha and Omega. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever, and he will never leave us nor forsake us. Don’t be afraid. Everything will continue to happen according to his perfect plan. We can trust him, and if we get distracted and find ourselves beginning to sink, Jesus is standing right by our side, to lift us up above the waves.
Jesus Calms a Storm
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
(Matthew 8:23-27 ESV)
All scriptures are quoted from the English Standard Version translation.