Matthew 14:24-33 – The Deep End of The Pool in the Summer of ’71

Posted: January 4, 2016 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 14:24-33
Jesus Walks on Water

I remember as a child when I was a little dude, maybe about 8 years old, almost 9, and my dad was finally finishing up his college degree at Erskine College back in the early 70’s. We were living in Hartsville, SC at the time but this particular summer, for some reason, dad had to be on-campus for the semester. He could not take the courses that he took by correspondence. Back in those days, there was no internet and there was no distance learning aspect to many universities. Dad had to negotiate with the university directly back in those days to be able to take courses by correspondence as he could while at the same time being a full-time pastor. However, this particular summer, we had to be at Erskine College. He could not take these courses by correspondence. He had to be on campus and in classroom. We rented a house in Due West, SC (home of Erskine College) for the summer from a member of my mom’s family. One of the advantages of being a child of a college student was that we could use the athletic facilities at the school including the campus swimming pool. My brother and I were there practically every day when we could work it in our schedule of riding bikes all over town and playing little league baseball. That pool reminds me of what Peter was going through in this passage.

My mother loved the water so she had us in the water at early ages. She taught us to swim at an early age. So, by the time, we were at Erskine College that summer, I was a pretty good swimmer for my age. However, at that age, I was a good swimmer in my comfort zone. My comfort zone in a pool at that age was swimming in the shallow end. I could swim right up to the edge of a drop off in a pool where I was slightly over my head but no farther. Right at the edge where the rope across to pool was, I would be over my head but not so far where I could not bob up and down and get air.

My brother being a year and a half older than me had already conquered his fear of the deep end of the pool and was swimming in the deep end of the pool and jumping off the diving board. With my brother and me, everything was a competition. The inability of one of us to do something the other could not was a mark of superiority that we would laud over one another. No matter what it was, we competed at it. Academics, sports, checkers, riding bikes, who could swing on the swing set the highest, hit the baseball the farthest, run the fastest, swim the fastest, make the best grades, curry the favor of mom and dad the most, you name we competed at it. We were obsessed with beating each other and when we weren’t competing we were fighting with fists or with words. I know it is natural and good for there to be competition between siblings. It drives us to pursue excellence and, yes, it did spur my brother and me on to excelling, particularly in academics. Sometimes though our obsession with competition was unhealthy and it drove us apart and made us enemies as teenagers and to a certain extent as adults as well. We could not let each other get one up on each other.

But back to the swimming pool, it drove me nuts that my brother was already able to swim in the deep end. It was a major accomplishment that he lorded over me for a good part of the summer there at the Erskine College pool. For much of the summer, my fear of drowning outweighed my competitive nature with my brother. I acted as if it did not bother that he could swim in the deep end and I could not. But yet, it did bother me. There was this mighty inner struggle within me of staying where I knew I was safe and the need to equal my brother’s feat. The fear of the deep end of the pool was far greater than my need to say “you ain’t got nothing on me, brother!” But one day, I through caution to the wind and started swimming past the rope that divided the shallower end of the pool from the deeper end. I don’t remember why, or how, but even though being a pretty good swimmer for my age, I lost the momentum of swimming and panicked and I started sinking. In the shallow end, I could touch bottom and jump back up to get air when I was in danger, but in the deep-end of the pool, not so. I remember flailing about trying to get traction but in deep water, it’s sink or swim. I remember going under and thinking that this was it. My short life was going to be over. But when I thought was about to drown, I felt this metal hook surround my body and pull me toward the side of the pool and some dude yanking me out of the water. If there have ever been times in my life that I have been thankful for something, this is one of those times. It is amazing that now some 45 years or so later, I still remember that moment of my life in such great detail. I went beyond that day what I was capable of doing at that point in my life and I almost drown because I think I realized that I was too far from the safety of the shallow end and yet far away from the other end of the pool at which was the deepest point of the pool. And it freaked this little 9 year old out. It was not long after this incident, I conquered my fear of deep water and became an even better swimmer and enjoyed that pool more. Those moments I barely remember but this day that I almost drown is burned in my memory.

It is a reminder of us today of this passage that we are reading in Matthew today. Let’s us read from God’s Word in Matthew 14:24-33:
24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Me and the pool at Erskine College in 1971 and Peter stepping out of the boat 2,000 years ago. Some things are consistent between our era and his. Sometimes we would rather stay in the boat in our comfort zone like most of the disciples. Sometimes, we think we got this and step out of the boat only to find that we don’t have what it takes to make it in situations because we jumped out of the boat too soon. Sometimes, people in the boat tells us we can’t do what we are doing. Sometimes, we have to be pulled out of the water by Jesus. It is a reminder to us that we have to rely on Jesus when we are in water that is over our head.

What we most talk about when we read this passage is the fact that Peter, in his normal impetuous, act-first/think-later, nature, stepped out of the boat and started toward Jesus. But what we often do not talk about is the fact that the eleven other disciples stayed in the boat. Why did Peter go but they stayed in the boat. I think most of us are like the ones who stayed in the boat. We stay because we know the boat and we do not know the water. Like me staying in the shallow end of the pool for most of that pivotal swimming summer of 1971 at the Erskine College swimming pool. Even though the pool has its own dangers we know that end of the pool. The deep end of the pool is unknown. The deep end of the pool is where we are out of our element. It is not too unlike women who stay in relationships that are physically or mentally abusive. They know those relationships and they are afraid of the uncharted waters. It is like the fellow who feels called to preach but will never fully step away from his secular job because that water is known. That boat is known. That shallow end of the pool is known. Are you afraid to break the chains of the known life and break out into something new and unknown? Are you afraid to break free of that abusive relationship that keeps you down and oppresses you and keeps you from being what God intended you to be? If we stay in the boat, we will never know what we are made of and we will always think of what might have been. Are you afraid to change your life completely to follow God’s calling on your life? Do you want to be a missionary to India or in southeast Asia to help young girls break free of the chains of sex slavery, because it burdens your soul but yet you are afraid of losing all the things that you know? Do you want to become a missionary to Haiti or to a nation in Africa or South America or Japan or even more dangerous being a missionary to an Islamic nation such as Iraq, Iran, Saudia Arabia, Syria, etc. because it burdens you that these people might not have heard the real deal about Jesus – but you are afraid to get out the boat? But you are afraid to swim underneath that rope that separates the known shallow end of the pool from the unknown deeper end of the pool? It’s time in 2016 to make a change. It’s time to look at the man in the mirror, as Michael Jackson once sang, and make a change. Is it time for you to stop cowering in the boat and step out? Is it time for you to stop standing in the boat and watching Peter get out of the boat while you remain behind and complain about how cool it would be to be like Peter but never do anything about it?

Sometimes, we are like Peter in the sense that we are impetuous and jump out of the boat too soon. We think we are ready for something when we are jumping the gun on God. We may think we are ready to be a minister full-time but we are not. We sometimes see people zooming past us into ministry and their timetable seems to be much shorter than ours. Sometimes we may feel as though that God is not hearing us that we are ready. Sometimes we may think that people are holding us back. Sometimes we may think we are just a mule being used to plow the fields while others are perceived as championship race horses. Sometimes we think we are ready for something and plunge headlong into it without the preparation needed for getting out of the boat. At age 8 or 9, I needed more practice swimming underwater before plunging into the deep end of the pool. I needed to learn that I could survive for brief periods of time underwater and swim while doing it. I needed to learn not to panic underwater and push on through. Sometimes we jump into things that we are not physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually prepared for and we panic and drown. We must be prepared for those moments of panic through discipline, preparation, self-examination and through, most importantly, prayer. We must examine our weaknesses and realize that they are there and pray for God’s assistance in revealing the things that we need to work on. We also must realize that sometimes God has us as the mule plowing the field because that is where we need to be for this moment in our walk with Him. Sometimes we are not ready to be the racehorse. Sometimes we need to be the one cleaning the toilets instead being the face of the organization. Sometimes we need to have our iron sharpened by other iron. This is the really the most confusing time of all is when you think you are ready to jump out of the boat but when you are really not ready. We want to follow God’s call but it’s not going the way we planned it. He has us fixing a problem on the boat but we want to be walking on water. He has us working on the sails but we want to be walking on water. When we get out of the boat before Jesus gives us the command to come, we will fail because it is not God’s appointed time for us. This is where prayer is the most important tool we have. When we have a vibrant and intimate prayer life with the Lord, He will make it clear to us when we should be working on the sails of the boat and when it is time to step out of the boat. When we do not hear the command to come by Jesus then it may be a clear sign that we need to continue on being faithful fixing the sails on the boat. We need to continue to work as the mule under yoke of the plow. Our racehorse days will come when you hear it loud and clear to “Come.” I heard once from a dear friend that God is not a God of chaos. He will make it abundantly clear to us when it is time to act. He will make it clear to us what our path is and will light the way no matter how narrow the path is. He will make it clear when it is time to walk on water. He will make it clear to us when it is time to swim to the deep end of the pool.

Often times when it made clear to us by God that it is time to step out the boat, there will be voices (people, Satan, our own self-doubt) that tell us that we are crazy. That’s just crazy. Or, why are you leaving a cushy job to move 900 miles away to a part of the country that doesn’t really care about the church anymore to plant a church. Drop everything you know, a great job with a highly respected international auto manufacturer in upstate South Carolina to move to the spiritually dead area of New England and plant a church where churches are closing almost monthly there. This is my friend, Tim Lyda. He said to me once that he knew He was ready after years of struggling against the idea but finding that he was no longer comfortable doing anything else but following that mission from God. That’s when we know that it’s time to get out of the boat and walk on the water toward Jesus. It is the time when God has made us so burdened by his calling that we are uncomfortable doing anything else. We may run as the prophet Jonah ran in the opposite direction but God keeps bringing us back to the burden. We become sick in our heart for not doing what God has called us to do. That’s when we know. That’s when it does not matter what other people say. Maybe you are called to full-time ministry and you are really burdened with that. Maybe it makes you sick to your stomach that you are not doing it. That’s when you know. Let not others detract you from your calling. Yes, we must prepare ourselves for the call like I said but God will let us know that perfect timing and He will make the burden of not following our calling ever present to us. It is then when the command is made by Jesus to “Come” that we must step out of the boat when others tell us that we are going to drown, or that we are going to crash and burn. Or there are those people that knew you way back when that are going to say that you cannot do what you are about to do. Even if you think you cannot do something because you have been listening to others and you are filled with self-doubt, hold fast to the calling of God. When the time comes, you will be able to do nothing but get out of the boat.

Just because we step out of the boat in faith does not that the water will be like glass. If stepping out in faith toward Jesus into our calling from Him was something easy, everybody would be doing it. There will be waves. There will be challenges. For example, a woman in an abusive relationship does not solve all her problems when she leaves the man that has been abusing her. Often times, there are financial troubles. There are family troubles. There are troubles with the man she left. There are times when she thinks that it might have been better to stay in the abusive relationship because she feels all alone in the uncertain world of her future and that things have actually gotten worse. There are times too when we are following God’s calling on our lives that we wonder why we did it. There are full-time ministers that I have talked to that sometimes just want to quit because the burdens are so great and the spiritual rewards are often so few and far between. Sometimes, when we follow God’s calling even when we have done everything to humanly prepare for it, we might crash, burn, and fail. We may lose our momentum and start to drown. We may cry out to God that we are drowning. We may feel as though we are failing and we want to quit and give up and let ourselves drown or at least desperately swim back to the boat, back to what we know. These are the teachable moments. This is where we learn to depend on God. This is where we learn that His church is not our bride but His. This is where we learn that whatever happens, happens because it is God’s plan. This is where humility comes. This is where we reach out, call out to God to pull us through. When we walk on water in faith toward God there are going to be waves that make us lose faith and make us look at the storm instead of God and we sink. These are the moments that we call out to God to save us from our own pride, our own fears, our own thinking and He will reach down and grab us out of the pit. He will honor that we have stepped out of the boat. The walk on the water may not always look like we want it to, but God will reach down and pull us out of the water when the storms overwhelm us. He will not let us drown. He will honor our faith to get out the boat. He will allow us to sink when we do not keep our eyes on Him. But He will reach down and grab us when we realize that we did not keep our eyes on Him. We are out of the boat and that’s where we must realize our dependence on God. We are only walking on water because God has suspended the rules of physics for us. He has brought us to this place and He will sustain us regardless of our understanding of the physics of the situation. He will be that safety hoop that grabs us when we lose our momentum and start to drown in the deep end of the pool. He will always be there by the pool to keep us from drowning. When we recognize that He is there by the pool when can swim to the deepest end of the pool without fear. We may even flourish in the deep end of the pool. We may even become a racehorse after having been a mule. But we must have trust in the fact that Jesus is there with us to catch us when we falter. We must remember that He is the one who saved us from drowning and He will be there as long as we acknowledge that it is because of Him that we are swimming in the deep end of the pool.

He will sustain us. He will teach us. He will make us ready. He will call us out of the boat. He will reach down and pick us up. He will make us a deep end swimmer when the time is right. Just as I became a deep end swimmer by the end of the summer of 1971!

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