I have been in a reminiscent mood lately. It seems life circumstances have driven me to reflect on where I have been and what God has done in my life and the lives of others around me. It has been such a rewarding journey as I have found so many journal entries that have reassured me of the love of Jesus in my life. I have been reminded at how BIG our God is. I have been comforted by and grateful that He is God and I am not!
This morning I came across something I had written following a Sunday morning service at our church, Fellowship Bible, back in Knoxville. It was at that church that God had begun healing my heart and bringing me back to an intimate relationship with him. I wanted to share it with you all. I am not sure when I wrote it but I think it was over a year and a half ago. I hope it will bless and encourage you.
Today, as I sat listening to the word of God being taught, I felt a simple truth planting itself in my heart. I love it when God takes a piece of scripture and makes it real and applicable to our lives. We may have read the verse numerous times in the past but today it has jumped off the page and imprinted itself on our hearts.
The message taking root in my heart today came from Matthew 14:22-32. This is the story of Jesus walking on water. Peter asks Jesus to call Peter out to Jesus. Jesus calls and Peter steps out and walks on the water. As the pastor shared this familiar story, the Holy Spirit made the connection between what I was hearing and the truth I have pondered recently.
The past several weeks have been filled with a lot of study, thought, and prayer for me. I have come to a point in my spiritual life where I had to choose if I was going to give my all to God or turn and walk the other way. I thank God he enabled my heart to see and embrace the truth and find complete surrender. Almost overnight my heart went from constant turmoil to an almost perfect peace. As I have reflected on what is still happening in my heart, I have been considering the process that occurs when a believer returns to God after a time of sin. Two points stand out in this scenario. First is the way the believer responds to failure. The second is God’s response to failure.
A believer’s response to their sin and feelings of failure directly affects the intimacy they share with God. While our sin causes a temporary break in fellowship with God, I think it is the feeling of failure which causes our hearts to pull away from the intimacy God desires people to have with Him. Once we begin to dwell on the failure to obey, failure to serve, or failure to be faithful to God then we have opened the door for Satan to pull us away. As we have just studied, Satan will use anything to prevent us from being used by God. He is a mastermind at planting thoughts of defeat and discouragement in out hearts. One very popular and sadly successful thought is that of, “What’s the point? I will never be what God wants me to be. I will never be able to reach the standard. So why even try?” So with sadness of heart many of us accept defeat and hang our heads and walk away. We may still go to church, read our bibles, and come to bible study but our hearts are intimately separated from God.
On the other hand, God’s response is the exact opposite of ours. While our sin causes a break in our fellowship with Him, it doesn’t change how God feels about us. Our continued sin puts us in a position of discipline- a fact that only proves God’s love for us further. Feelings of failure do not come from God. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and leads us to repentance. The Holy Spirit leads us through brokenness so that we can be restored to intimacy with God. Separation takes place not because God moves away from us but because we have moved away from God in choosing sin. God’s forgiveness and restoration is instantaneous. The moment we turn from sin and back to God we are restored. God never says “I am sorry, you failed.” He never says,”you went too far this time. I can never use you again.” God never decides that we are no longer good enough to be his. This is such an awesome thing about God. Since God chose to save us when we were sinners, nothing we do can make God love us more. God loved us at our worst.
The passage from Matthew illustrates this perfectly. The disciples are in the midst of a storm and they begin to be taken over with fear. All of sudden Jesus appears. He is walking on the water towards the disciples. Still overwhelmed with fear, the disciples do not recognize Jesus. Jesus calls out to the disciples and tells them not to fear because it is Jesus. Peter calls out to Jesus and asks Jesus to call Peter out to him on the water. Jesus does and Peter begins to walk on the water. Unfortunately, Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and noticing the waves begins to sink. Peter cries out to Jesus and immediately Jesus takes his hand and pulls Peter out of the water.
My heart became so excited when I read this passage and listened to the pastor because I saw myself in it. My life had become a raging storm. Jesus had give me a place of safety and told me to stay there for the duration of the storm. For a while, riding in the boat while it was tossed around by the waves was easy. I could trust God that he would make things right. I could believe that he would use my pain to reach others. I was able to rest in the fact that no matter what the storm looked like on the outside, with one word, my Lord could restore peace. I knew that no matter how fierce the wind blew and the waves crashed, I would not drown. Jesus had not promised that I would not get wet; just that I would not be overtaken.
Time passed and it seemed that storm would never end. My heart cried out to God and reminded him that I didn’t think this was too funny. The isolation of being alone in the boat was making me crazy. The constant waves crashing and wind blowing began to invade my heart with fear and anger. Why did Jesus make me get in this boat and then just leave me here? Why is he not doing what he promised? With the fear and the pain, my heart began to rebel and I decided I was not so sure I wanted to be in this boat anymore. I wanted to jump out, swim to shore, and run the other way. Before long I found myself sliding down into a life that was marked more with sin and bitterness then that of a follower of Christ. I chose to doubt Jesus would ever come and bring the storm to an end. This made me angry so I decided I would not be used by God. I would still have half hearted quiet times and sometimes go to church. After all, I knew enough about God and the alternative to serving him to not want to walk away completely. But I soon learned that I can’t keep one foot in the boat and one foot in the water. Each wave that came would send me flying over the edge. Did this happen because God said, “Get out of the boat. You are a failure. I don’t want to be with you anymore.”? No, I got knocked over because I chose to be double minded, tossed about in the storm.
Then Jesus came. I was in a desperate state. A moment longer and I might have committed spiritual suicide. Jesus always comes at the right moment. My heart, despite my sin of doubt and double mindedness, knew my Lord’s voice. I heard him call me and speak his truth into my soul. My heart asked if there was anyway he could still love me and want me and use me. In a moment he called me to come to him. I left my sin (a picture of confession and repentance) and put both feet on the water and walked to my Lord. For a few short moments, I was able to see nothing but the love my Jesus had for me. His hands outstretched, he longed for intimacy with me. He didn’t remember my sins from just moments ago. All that was gone and all that remained was the uniting of my heart with his once again.
Despite the presence of Jesus, the storm still raged around me. As the waves crashed into me, I could hear the accusing voices hidden in them. “Who do you think you are? You really think Jesus is going to want to be with you? Do you really think he can use when you have been so unfaithful? You will never be able to be good enough. He doesn’t really love you. Don’t you remember what you were doing last night? Remember those friends you went out with? Remember the family you led astray?” On and on the accusations hit me. Soon the noise reminding me of my failure drowned out the voice of Jesus calling me to his arms. Deeper in despair I began to sink. I could see where I needed to get to get to Jesus and realized I would never be able to get there. This realization took my faith away. I was drowning.
The truth was, though, I did not want to drown. I wanted desperately to be in the arms of Jesus. I didn’t want to be sinking in the despair of my sin. I didn’t know what to do. Thank God that he sent the Holy Spirit who protects us until the day we are brought to heaven. The Holy Spirit reminded me of the love of God. He reminded me that I just had to call out to Jesus. I only had to believe the truth. Out of desperate determination to not be destroyed I cried out to Jesus to help me.
This is where we see one of the most amazing things about the character of God. Immediately, when we cry out to God he reaches down and pulls us out. He pulls us to his side and carries us back to the boat. There is nothing we have to do before Jesus saves us from drowning. No good works, no amount of quiet times, no period of time without sin. All we have to do is call out, “Help me Jesus”. He restores us to the place where he wants us. There may be consequences… we are wet, cold, vulnerable, and humbled. We may be gently reminded of how we got where we got. Even the gently question, “Why did you have such little faith?” displays the loving heart of a father who wants us to learn from our sin. It is not meant to drive us back into failure mode. Jesus wants me to recognize my weakness so the next time I want to put one foot overboard I will cry for help before I even get to the water.
Notice that the passage says Jesus and Peter went back to the boat. Once they arrived and were in the boat the storm stopped. Peace filled their world and their hearts. I think this is exactly what God does in out hearts. He allows to come to a point where we fall and cry for help. We see how far away from our Lord we have wandered. God, in his love, breaks us and brings us to repentance. In a moment’s time, he then restores us and speaks peace over our hearts. There is no room for the despairing, suffocating feelings of failure that accompanies our guilt of sin. Rather, Jesus longs for us to grasp the truth. He came to save sinners. Once we are saved, we become clean in his sight. We will at times choose to sin rather than obey. In these times, the Holy Spirit will bring us to repentance and God will restore us. He will use our times of weakness to strengthen others. Even a life full of sin, once broken and restored, can be used greatly in God’s kingdom. God’s focus is not on what you were or are; it is on what He has done. Accept his love for you. Leave failure at the bottom of the sea and be lifted, by his love, back into the boat. There you will feel the peace of God surround you and set you free.