Surviving the Rapids

       I had an opportunity as a younger man in college to go white water rafting in Western Pennsylvania. I have since had opportunities to ride the rapids in different parts of our country. Someday, I would love to experience the Colorado River section through the Grand Canyon. Learning to raft white water offers several insights for learning to raft the rapids of life!

      I was recently reflecting on a well-known passage of the Bible. The account of Jesus walking on the water. My attention was drawn to the Apostle in training, Peter. It would be beneficial for you to pause and read the biblical account: “Jesus Walks on the Water” before continuing (Matthew 14:22-33).

     Living life is similar in many ways to rafting. First, once you are in the boat you have to face what is around the next corner. Second, there are beautifully calm sections but also rapids. Third, there are different levels of rapids that you may face. Fourth, there are rafting practices that keep you out of the water during the rough sections. And fifth, if you are wearing the right safety gear you will survive any time you spend in the water!

     Our account follows a time of unexpected ministry that ended with the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus, desiring to get away to spend time with His Heavenly Father, put the disciples in their boat to send them home. The disciples, led by professional fishermen, were facing a rough night of sailing. What would normally take a half-day to row in normal conditions had become an all-night ordeal. Sometime in the early morning between 3am and 6am they noticed a human form walking near their boat. I want to focus on Peter’s response after Jesus identifies himself.

      Peter requests Jesus’ permission to join Him on the water. It is hard to describe in words all the distractions in rough water boating; from the rocking of the boat to the waves splashing over the bow as well as all the noise of the storm and the lack of visibility at night. Jesus’ invitation “Come” allowed Peter to become the first man, apart from Jesus, to walk on water. I can only imagine how incredible it was for Peter! Living in Jesus’ presence is the greatest experience His follower can know. All was great until something changed. The circumstances did not change. Jesus did not change His mind. So, what changed? We read about Peter, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.””(Matthew 14:30)

     What changed? Peter’s focus. He took His eye off Jesus to focus on the circumstances. All of us face the temptation to walk in fear of the unknown rather that trusting Jesus. Faith in Christ gives us the courage to get out of the boat. Fear on the other hand causes us to not even take the boat home!

     The key to running the rapids is to keep your boat pointed down river. Now, that is harder than it sounds in rough water with all the distractions. You also have to keep paddling. It is amazing how you can think you are doomed, only to realize that the right technique keeps you on track! This past Sunday I was reminded in our message “Running with Endurance” how important it is to keep our eyes on Jesus. The writer of Hebrews reminds us the secret to getting through the rough sections of life: “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2).

     I will leave you with one last thought to ponder. Even when Peter was overcome by the fear of his circumstances, Jesus was there!  “[Jesus] has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”” (Hebrews 13:5).

-Pastor Joe Parkinson

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