Introduction to a sleepless night
Have you ever had a sleepless night and wondered why? I did. Unable to go back to sleep one night, I turned my attention to Jesus and whispered, “Lord, here I am, all ears, speak to me.” Suddenly, I heard the Lord say to me: “Step out of the boat.” I’m a rower, but somehow this answer did not seem to have any relevance to my sports. It didn’t take more than a split second, and my thoughts went to a story in the gospels. You’ll find it in Matthew 14, verses 28 to 31. Let me tell you the story.
Peter’s story retold
Jesus had just fed 5000 men, their wives, and all the children. He told the disciples to get into the ship and row to the other side of the lake. Meanwhile, he sent the multitude home and went up a mountain to be alone and pray. In the darkness of the night, the disciples were toiling very hard against the wind and the waves. Suddenly Jesus approached them, walking on water. Not recognizing him and thinking he was a spirit, they screamed in terror. “It’s me,” Jesus said, “don’t be afraid.” Peter shouted, “Lord if it’s you, call me to come.” “Come,” Jesus said. Peter stepped out of the boat and began walking on the water. He fixed his eyes on Jesus and took step after step. Suddenly, aware of the wind and the waves, fear gripped him, and Peter began to sink. “Save me,” he shouted, and Jesus stretched out his hand and grabbed Peter, saying, “your faith isn’t big enough. Why did you doubt?”
When God calls you to step out of something, you have to step into something else. You cannot live in a vacuum. Stepping out of a boat and walking on water means leaving one’s comfort zone and dare to step into something that you cannot master without the help and the call of God. It can be a lonely walk for some of the time.
My thoughts took me further as I remembered that God had a plan for every human being. Often this is referred to as one’s calling. What was God’s calling on my life? Or what was I called to do?
Jeremiah 29:11 gives us a clue about the qualities of God’s ideas and thoughts concerning our human lives: “I say this because I know the plans that I have for you.” This message is from the Lord. “I have good plans for you. I don’t plan to hurt you. I plan to give you hope and a good future.” (Easy-to-Read Version). God’s good plans assure us that his calling on our lives is a life worth living.
To step out of the boat equaled to take a step into the calling of God on my life.
God had a reason to remind me to step out. I took a marketing course to reach many people with the messages God had been giving me over all those years of knowing him intimately and serving him faithfully. This course brought me to my limits almost daily. It was so much hard work involved, and each day brought new information that I tried to understand and put into practice.
Frequently I prayed: “God, how can this be? How can I do all these things in such little time? I have no idea about this new subject. It is as strange as a foreign language.” As these challenging thoughts accompanied me day by day, God’s demand to step out of this boat of comfort was highly reassuring.
I remembered another verse:
“With your help, I can defeat an army. If my God is with me, I can climb over enemy walls.”(Psalm 18:29, Easy-to-Read Version).
What did it mean for me when Jesus spoke those words: “Get out of the boat”? In the gospel, it was Peter who initiated the stepping out of the boat. In my case, Jesus said this to me. The expression boat can, of course, mean many different things. In Peter’s case, it was an actual rowing boat. In my situation, it meant something specific at this particular time of my life. I had stepped out of the everyday working routine and embarked on a new and highly challenging venture. And like Peter, I had to focus on Jesus and not look at the circumstances to finish the task.
I wondered if there was more to it and prayerfully pondered the Lord’s invitation to step out of the boat.
Learning from the past
Let me take you back some years.
It was summertime. I was in grammar school, preparing very hard for my final exams. Two years earlier, I had given my life to Jesus and, as a consequence, had joined the school Bible group. All of us were thinking about our future and the profession we should choose. Most of us didn’t have a clue and were seriously considering this and that. I had many interests. I could have been the perfect Jack of all trades but master of none. Welcome help and guidance were offered to me by a friendly and mature leader of the students’ Bible group.
He said, “there are three options I could imagine for you, becoming a teacher, studying theology, or maybe even becoming a Head Nurse on a hospital ward.” My answer to that advice wasn’t very enthusiastic. I was afraid of people, very shy, insecure, and introverted. I couldn’t see myself standing in front of a school class and talk to unruly and difficult teenagers. Studying theology was a better idea, I thought. However, having to learn ancient Greek and Hebrew vocabulary was a daunting prospect for me. Becoming a Head-nurse and consequently being in charge of other people didn’t seem to be the thing to do either.
I was seriously thinking and praying about these options. Eventually, the idea of studying theology, despite the arduous task of having to learn two strange languages, began to take shape.
Of course, we exchanged our ideas and thoughts at the school Bible group. Guess what happened next: a close friend of mine started to mock my idea of studying theology, she said: “What, theology? You? No, not you. Who do you think you are? Patrick should study theology, but certainly not you. He always has such insights from the Lord. But you? No, this is not for you.” I began to feel disheartened, all courage left me, and insecurity took over once again. This close friend went ahead and studied nursing and, guess what? I did too. I never studied theology.
Back into the present
I connected the past event with Jesus’ command to step out of the boat. It brought fresh insights. At the end of my school years, I didn’t dare to step out of my comfort zone. My friend did not encourage me to take the responsibility of becoming a theologian. Fear of people and what they thought about me prevailed. I entered into a profession that suited the ideas of those in the boat. The courage to step out had failed me.
Remembering this particular past happening brought light to a present situation.
Light shed on an awkward situation.
A few days before my dream about stepping out of the boat, a friend had attacked me. I had done work for my course. I had sent out a survey to promote my book and find out who might be interested in receiving newsletters from me and participating in teleseminars and webinars. This friend didn’t even open my survey. Had she done so, she could have answered those seven questions with a yes or no in less than a minute and decline any further information. Instead of doing so, she wrote me three consecutive emails. In each message, she became angrier and more upset than before. She told me off and scolded me for what I was doing. She accused me of having fallen prey to some strange organization. Of course, I knew she was wrong in criticizing me and my work. She had concluded without first verifying with me if she was right or wrong. Yet, her accusations did hit me. I felt upset and hurt because I thought that a real friend wouldn’t react that way. DEJA-VU! How about connecting that past situation concerning the choice of a profession with this present happening?
What do you think were my conclusions? I knew that the Lord had spoken in such a way that it would all make sense to me. Those two happenings, the past and the present, showed similarities. I had wanted to step out or had already stepped out, and each time somebody came along who was displeased with my decision and sought to distract me from doing what I felt was the right thing to do.
These insights were a confirmation from the Lord that I was on track and should not be distracted by people who did not understand what God’s plan was for me at this particular time of my life.
A lesson for my heart
Let’s go back to Peter on the water for a moment. Peter was eye to eye with different problems. He suddenly felt the wind in his face and caught the waves in the corner of his eyes. Peter was a fisherman and knew what it meant to be in a boat when wind and waves raged. But now, he was no longer in the relative security of the ship and the trusted company of his fellows. These things were behind him. In front of him was Jesus, the person who had worked many miracles. Jesus had fed a multitude as large as a small town with a little boy’s lunch. Peter was between two situations. Behind him, the boat and the fellows, before him, the Master miracle-worker. Peter’s senses were overwhelmed by a dangerous problem, wind, and waves on the Kinneret. Peter faltered.
But what did Peter do as a next step after he had begun to sink? He called out to Jesus, who caught him and sustained him. What had I done when I had been attacked by my friend those many years ago? I gave in. I never went where I should have gone. Oh, Jesus was still with me, as he always will be, for he promised not to leave us nor forsake us, and he would be with us until the end of the ages.
So here I was, having heard Jesus say, “step out of the boat,” being reminded of the past, which connected for me to the present, I suddenly understood what the Lord wanted to tell me.
Jesus told me to step out of any comfort zone and onto the water, not looking back, not looking to the left or the right, not considering “unfriendly” friends and their views, but focusing hard onto Him, so that everything else faded into oblivion.
I felt the Lord’s implicit questions, “will you focus on me in such difficult and challenging times? Will you stay with me and go through the toughest situations with me? Do you know me and trust me enough to lay your hand into mine?”
Don’t allow difficulties and problems to keep you from reaching God’s goal for you. Don’t let adverse circumstances stop you from achieving all he has in store for you. Don’t let unfriendly friends distract you from what you know is right to do. If God has given you a vision, be very careful with whom you share it.
Remember Isaiah 26:3:
“Lord, you give true peace to people who depend on you, to those who trust in you.”(Easy-to-Read Version)
Fix your eyes focused on him, yield yourself to him all the time. As the branch on the vine cannot bring forth fruit unless it remains on the vine, at the same time, we will bring forth the kind of fruit, successful works, if we keep hanging onto Jesus, trusting him no matter what.
Now, just recently, I had another sleepless night. But that’s for another time.
Dr. Marianne Herr