Often times, when I am having a difficult day, when I don’t feel like doing everyday life, when words are hard, and emotions are high (some call it being in their “feels”), I like do this little mind exercise where in my mind, I go to my favorite place in the entire world.
Morro Bay, California. Let me tell you a little about this place…
Morro Bay is a coastal, waterfront city in SLO (San Luis Obispo) County in central California. It’s a unique little city of about 10,000 people or so who get the pleasure of living in one of California’s hidden gems. Beyond the beautiful ocean view, amazing seafood restaurants, and the unique lifestyles of those who inhabit Morro Bay, there is something that makes this place my favorite place in all the world…
The city’s most striking feature. A 576 foot high VOLCANIC PLUG. Yes, you read that correctly, a large, massive, almost two football fields high rock that plugs a volcano. And not just an inactive volcano, but a very alive and active volcano. Morro Rock is one in a series of similar plugs that stretch in a line inland called the Nine Sisters. To behold such a sight is such a breath taking experience and one that I got to relive over and over again on every visit.
There was something about watching the waves crash against that rock. The way in which no matter how many times the waves would hit it, that rock wouldn’t move for anything. Beyond the rock was the Pacific Ocean and all of its beauty, glory, and ambient features. There, I could find my same usual spot with a blanket in the sand only a few feet from where that day’s tide would reach. In those moments, listening to the ocean play it’s beautiful melody and watching it’s waves crash on Morro Rock, I would get lost in all my God was displaying before me. This here, was my escape.
This was my space
This was my safe haven
This was my refuge
In 2013, the Australian church, Hillsong and one of their bands, Hillsong United released an album entitled; “Zion” and on that album was the song “Oceans.” The song quickly became a church (big “C”) favorite with churches all over the world playing it as a part of their worship sets during weekend worship services. The church I was serving at in California was one of them and I vividly remember singing that song at least once every two weeks during worship services. I became so enamored with this song, I made it core piece of my weekly visit to Morro Bay. Sitting on blanket, with my feet deep in the sand, and in my ear, with Taya Smith proclaiming the beauty of following Jesus on the ocean, my mind and heart would settle to a restful state, allowing God to speak into me the wonders of his love, grace, and truth.
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet my fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
Over the last few days, I’ve been finding myself visiting Morro Bay in my mind and sitting on the blanket only a few feet away from the day’s tide with my feet dug into the sand and the ocean’s waves crashing against the rock, the sun’s horizon rising in all of it’s beauty with oceans playing in my headphones.
The reason for this relates to the story of the song. Oceans is based off one of the more well known stories of the Bible in Peter who was a follower (also known as a disciple) of Jesus. In the story, the disciples had been sent off into the sea on a boat while Jesus went to pray alone. In the evening, with the waves and wind creating havoc, Jesus meets them on the sea…by walking on water. Read the story for yourself:
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” [Matthew 14:22-33 NLT]
I can not fathom what that moment was like for the disciples. Here you are, on a boat, in the middle of the raging sea, and out of the craziness of the moment comes a person, literally walking on water. I would have too thought it was a ghost if I am being absolutely honest. Actually, with the circumstances as they were (waves and wind trying to kill us), I would have thought I had died and this was the dark underworld or something, and this ghost was the grim reaper coming for my soul (I watch too much teen titan…it’s such a good cartoon).
However, as we see, it’s Jesus, walking on the surface of the sea (ocean). I mean he is quite literally walking on water, not sinking, not swimming, not anything else but frankly walking on water. How would you have reacted upon seeing such a sight? How would you respond in that moment? Often times, when I read this story, I am fascinated with Peter’s response. Of all the disciples present in the boat, Peter is the one who steps up to challenge the scene and what he is beholding in this moment. Look at his response:
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
We see the boldness and zeal of Peter right away as he challenges the scene, “If it is you Lord, tell me to come to you on the water.” Peter doesn’t pull any punches with his request to Jesus and wants to know immediately if this really was the Jesus he had been following. I wonder if in the back of his mind, he’s thinking that Jesus is just going to confirm his identity and get in the boat and then like most people do, pull out an ID and verify that it was indeed Jesus (isn’t that what most people would do?). However, Jesus accepted his challenge and tells him to “come” out on the water and come to him.
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever you would call me
Jesus calls Peter out onto the waters where he is at. This image to me is so powerful because of what I assume Jesus is calling Peter to. You see, I believe that is what I would call a “forward” calling.
Forward: onward so as to make progress; toward a successful conclusion
Jesus is calling Peter forward to something he’s never known. Something that is beyond the capacity of his mental and emotional makeup and understanding. Something that would undoubtedly change his life for the betterment of his spiritual and physical being. With the simple command of “come,” Jesus is giving Peter the opportunity to move…
Move forward with his life
Move forward in his faith
Move forward in his purpose
So Peter gets out of the boat and sure enough, begins walking on the surface of waters. Like, can we just take a moment to circle this big moment in the story. Peter, a mere human-man is walking on water. This isn’t a trick, there is no one under the water holding him up, there isn’t a trick glass platform that he’s walking on. This is purely the surface of the water that Peter finds himself on. The story could end here and we would all be amazed that this actually happened. If the story ended here, we could take from this that if we have faith like Peter, than we too, could find ourselves walking on water (either in the literal sense or the metaphorical sense). But as you know or as you will find out, the story doesn’t end there. And I don’t know about you, but thank God it doesn’t.
No sooner than we read Peter’s journey on the water, the writer of the story says that “when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.” Jesus then reaches for him and as he does, he says to Peter, “ Faint-heart, what got into you? (The message)” Like, I can imagine for a second the look on Jesus’ face when Peter starts to sink. Some have said that Jesus was angry with Peter for not believing he could do as Jesus was doing, others have said that Jesus was disappointed in the fact that Peter didn’t believe enough in Jesus.
I think it was more than that.
I think Jesus was heartbroken because this isn’t the way it was supposed to be. We were never intended to be low on faith. We were never intended to have doubt in our creator. Jesus was there at the apex of creation when God the Father created his most prized creation in humanity. God created humanity last as a way of putting the icing on the cake of creation. Humanity was the summation of God’s divine glory and power in creation. We were created to live in this harmony with our creator in which doubts, fears, insecurity, and feelings of inadequacy didn’t exist. And here was Jesus, looking down at his most prized creation, sinking into the ocean…
Full of doubt
Full of fears
Full of insecurities
Full of feeling inadequate
This wasn’t supposed to be like that
But, what about Peter in this moment? He’s the one sinking into the ocean, desperately clinging to Jesus for life, probably assuming he’s about to die. What about him? What is he thinking? It’s interesting to me that when I’ve heard this story taught, people tend to jump from point A to point Z. They say things like, “Peter walked on water, but began to sink. So Peter should of had more faith.” “Don’t be like Peter and have little faith in God.” “If only Peter had more faith in God, what great things he could have done. Make sure you have more faith than Peter had.”
A to Z and nothing in between
I wonder if anyone ever stopped to asked the question of…why?
Why did Peter take his eyes off of Jesus?
Why didn’t Peter trust Jesus more?
Why did Peter start looking at the wind and waves at his feet?
Why didn’t Peter believe more that he could in fact do what Jesus was doing?
I believe the most difficult question to answer sometimes is the “why” behind why we do what we do or more accurately, why we do what we don’t want to do. There are so many mysteries to the human complexity that is beyond our capacity for knowledge and understanding. I know at the very floor of the problem is sin. It’s the truth, but also the easy answer to all of it. But once you move beyond sin, which we could say is the underlining cause, what are the symptoms of why we do what we don’t want to do? Why did Peter doubt and looked away? What was it that changed his belief that he could do what Jesus was doing? What changed his heart?
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep my faith will stand
I wonder if Peter, as he looked around in the unknown, started to do what humans do best in clinging to what he already knew…his past. Yes, I think it has to do with faith, undoubtedly, Peter didn’t trust in the unknown. Peter didn’t trust in what Jesus was offering him. Peter didn’t trust in the forward calling to move beyond what was known into the unknown. In order for Peter’s continual journey to stay on top of the water, Peter would have to trust something he has yet to see, something he knows nothing about, and only Jesus knows. Peter would have to embrace this future unknown without any hint as to the outcome. And maybe, just maybe…he couldn’t. It’s easy to hold on to something we know then it is to grab on something we have no idea of where it will lead or take us. The unknown is difficult and so we stay and hold on to what we know. We cling to the past, because we know it so well, even if it was the most painful past we’ve been a part of. We cling with our hands tightly grasping around it, unwilling to let go, all the while hoping in some instances, that the past will repeat itself. If we can get back what we walked away from, what left us, what we lost, then and only then will we be ready to face the future.
I can relate to Peter’s situation in my own personal life. There was a time when I was hanging on to a dream. A dream birthed out of past that wasn’t healthy and good for me. Nonetheless, I held on to it, hoping to someday, see it come back to me and find me right where I was. I never left the moment. I held on to it as if my life depended on it. Hoping against hope that someday, somehow, it would return. Hoping that it would somehow find it’s way back to my future. I can’t begin to tell you how that effected the person I was, and the person I was becoming. It shaped the way I dealt with people, how I handled situations, how I closed myself off to anyone and everyone, and how I viewed my relationship with Jesus. I would run from good opportunities to move on because I didn’t want to let go of the past. I prevented better, more healthy relationships from forming because I wasn’t ready to let someone in like that again. I even kept Jesus at a distance because I was ashamed I had let our relationship slip as well as scared of what He was calling me to. So when Jesus called me out onto the water, I would take a step and then look back and sink as well.
I am not so different than Peter
You are not so different than Peter
We are all Peter in some form or fashion at one point or another
Giving up the past is hard. It has come to define who you are, how you are perceived, what you run too, who you hold onto, how you live, how you deal, how you decide, and how you find joy, happiness, contentment, and much more. Maybe you were like me, holding on to something in hopes of a possible return. Maybe you’ve let your past define who you are, good or bad, it’s who you are and you can’t see beyond that.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
Sometimes, instead of them getting back in the boat and going on about their business, I wish Jesus would have pulled Peter back up on top of the water and allowed him to continue his walk. Can you imagine what that would have done for his faith in that moment? However, this wouldn’t be the end of Peter’s story as we know or as you continue to read. Peter would go on to have more doubting, holding on to past, fearful moments. In the same manner, Peter would also go on to be a lead part of founding the greatest movement humanity has ever seen. There are currently an estimated 2.2 billion Christians worldwide. That’s roughly 31% of the estimated 6.9 billon people on planet earth. This number doesn’t include the people who have passed away that were followers of Jesus. This number also doesn’t include the many who became followers of Jesus at the creation of the movement OR those who’s faith was accredited to them before the cross.
As for me…
I decided I can’t live in the past anymore. I can’t hold on to what once was. As painful as it may be to finally let go, I, like Peter, have been given a chance to walk on the water of my faith and face the unknown with a sense of purpose and clarity. No longer, can I and will I hold on to something that holds me back and keeps me from moving forward. When Jesus calls me out onto the water, His desire is for me is to keep my eyes fixed on Him, trusting that even in the unknown, that…
He is with me
He is for me
He is moving me
It isn’t going to be easy. I can hear Jesus now (reaching out for my hand) “Come as you are. No questions asked. But just know, out here on the ocean, in the great unknown, I LOVE you too much to LEAVE you how I FOUND you. I’ll MOVE you forward, and it will be PAINFUL. But TRUST in me and I’ll BE by your side always.”
The same is true for you. Jesus is holding His hand out to you as He stands on the water. Patiently waiting for you to trust Him in his forward calling of your faith. I beg of you to take His hand, step out of the boat and into the great unknown that is your ocean. Allow Jesus to take you where your trust doesn’t restrict His forward movement in your life. Try not to look back at the past and hold onto it with death grips, embrace the mystery of what the future holds and if you must look back, look back at the hard, good, and great moments and what it taught you and prepared you for as you move forward.
May you remember the good of the past
May you remember to not stay in the past
May you yearn for the future
May you be willing to embrace the mystery that the future holds
And may you with everything you got be willing to step out of the boat and unto the water