I was listening to a song on the radio. It had just started up and the words began, “In this time of desperation, when all we know is doubt and fear…”
I got to thinking: What a great song for the times that we are in right now. We are in the midst of all sorts of things that seem to be spinning out of control – from wars and rumors of wars, to disease of the body and dis-ease of the mind: from political machinations and efforts that feel like they will take us to the brink. Then I got to thinking again: When was this song written? Was it written for today or some other time of desperation?
The song is called ‘We Believe’ and it was performed by the Newsboys in 2013. That was the year of the Boston Marathon Tragedy, the 16 day government shutdown, and Detroit filing for bankruptcy. While it is the sign of good art when it can transcend time and space, I got to thinking a third time: We are always in a time of desperation.
When is there not a crisis of all categories in our world? One day the financial markets hiccup, the next, violence and racial unrest boil over. We seem to have COVID-19 resolved to a certain extent, and then the profound lack of disease management on the continent of Africa threatens to unleash the viral beast once again.
You could say that I should stop watching the news. You are right, and I do. You could say that this is a product of fear mongering of the news media and the power that social media, TV, and other cultural outlets have in our lives. You are right, it is. However, just because we are presented with the challenges of this world in a sickly artificial and neurotically compelling way doesn’t mean they aren’t still problems.
Of course we can ignore it all by turning off the TV and leaving Facebook for a day or two. We can even go on vacation and leave our phones on ‘Do Not Disturb’. But just because we can develop skills and amass resources that give us the ability to ignore most of the challenges of our times doesn’t mean that those challenges aren’t going to effect our lives—no matter how insular we are.
We are still in a time of desperation. Fact is, we are always in a time of desperation.
Yet we aren’t made to live like that. Adrenaline isn’t supposed to be constantly flowing through our veins. Our bodies and our minds need rest, but it needs to be real rejuvenating rest, not simply the ceasing of activity. If our times are always desperate then how do we know peace–real peace?
How does Jesus teach us to live in our times? How do we teach others to live in Jesus’ way in our times? Scripture gives us some hot tips.
In Matthew 14 beginning in verse 22, written in plain simple language, a story is told about Jesus walking on water. The water is rough and waves, urged on by the high winds, are crashing against the sides of the boat. As experienced sailors, the disciples are managing. It wasn’t until they saw Jesus walking on the water toward them, through the rough sea and high wind, that they cried out in fear “It’s a ghost!”. Jesus calls out, “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” And even after Jesus identifies himself, Peter feels the need to test this incredible reality. “Lord if it is you…” order me to walk on the water to where you are. Jesus does and Peter does, and it does turn out exactly like Peter imaged.
This story tells us about Jesus’ power and authority over all things. It tells us how Jesus calls us to join him in scary places and he will not let us drown. But consider this: In that moment, what was Jesus trying to teach his disciples? What was Peter hoping to accomplish by asking to be ordered to get out of the boat? What did the disciples learn that night?
Clearly the intention was to give tools to the disciples to integrate their spiritual world with their physical world. They initially think that Jesus is a ghost because physical bodies cannot walk on water. Jesus Identifies himself, yes, but some transfigured astral projection telling me that I shouldn’t be afraid doesn’t really cut the mustard when the winds are blowing, the doctor’s office is calling, the elections are coming up, wars are raging, injustice abounds, and apathy is the currency of the day.
Peter’s challenge of ‘Lord, if it is you…’ is an expression of the reluctance of our minds and hearts to accept the fact that Jesus transcends the spiritual and physical worlds. Jesus is showing the disciples that he is in control over the physical world and the spiritual world. His actions matter and his words have power, and this results in this altogether incomprehensible thing: Jesus walking on the rough seas.
Jesus is also teaching his disciples about living in a world of rough seas and constant anxiety. In order to walk above the chaos we need to live a life that integrates the spiritual and the physical, living in both worlds. It is not that we ignore the waves and the wind; that would be living in a spiritual La-La land and we would have no reason to get out of the boat. That ghost walking out there in the squall is inspiring and descriptive, but I don’t actually have to do anything in order to benefit spiritually. It is also not that we treat the wind and the waves in a completely practical manner. Who in their right mind, with even a modicum of Physical Science knowledge, would jump out of the boat to meet Jesus. Let us invite Jesus into our boat!
It is when we live like Jesus, doing Jesus’ works in Jesus’ way, that we find the restful balance between our spiritual lives and our physical lives. When we take seriously that Jesus is in the thick of it; not a conjecture or a projection, but the real Jesus walking out in the wind and waves of the world, we can confidently take the truth of scripture and work it out practically.
When we find ourselves stepping out of the boat, like Peter, walking toward Jesus, we are pulling the pieces of our spiritual lives and our physical lives together. The results of this is that the waves and the wind are not ceased, nor the risk of us falling into the depths, but that our focus is on Jesus. While we are people of little faith, let us pray that we might grow in truth and knowledge, and not doubt that Jesus is in control and we are in good hands.