For this article I want to look at fear.
I covered this topic in an article in October last year, but here I want to look at a particular fear that creeps in under the radar. This fear causes a stagnant and stale life and could well be something most of us unconsciously run from our entire lives
I think most of us fear the unknown, we fear a life that is unpredictable, where God is truly in the driver's seat. We're afraid of the possibility of what could be, of what we don't control. It's a cliché line to let God take control of your life, to trust him, but this simple idea of letting God lead (for me anyway) is an area that needs a lot of work.
What we often fear is not a God that is too harsh, or too soft, but a God who is calling us into the desolate unpredictable places, whether that is a physical place, a new vocation, or state of mind.
A story about a boat
In the Bible Simon is Jesus' chosen right hand man. Jesus changes Simon's name to Peter and later says that he will build the church upon the rock that is Peter. However Peter was for the first half of his life a simple fisherman, and the story of how he moved from a life on a boat to a life being a fisher of men is a powerful one; it's a story that illustrates my point.
In the book Your God is too safe by Mark Buchanan, he describes the Simon/Peter story of stepping out of the boat to follow Jesus as being a story we can often misinterpret.
We read in the Gospels the story of when Jesus first calls Peter, along with James and John, to join his mission. He asks them literally to leave their boat and 'follow him.' Jesus enters the fisherman's world. He climbs aboard and tells them to put their nets down in a certain spot. These are hardened, fish smelling, salty haired men who have caught nothing all day, who are being boldly told by a builder who heals the sick to put their nets down again, as if this time it'll be different. I can imagine a bit of doubt creeping into their minds as the nets are reluctantly lowered.
As the story goes, the boat lurches as the nets become laden and full of flapping fish. It's a haul like no other, as the men pull up their bulging nets as they're ripping at the seams. Peter looks at Jesus, this miracle man; he falls on his face and says "depart from me, for I am a sinful man."
We can read this and think Peter is responding to Jesus out of fear, as he realises his divine power. He now has a fear of a big powerful God and in turn he's made aware of his sin and smallness. A fear like this can make God out to be a distant tyrant on his throne, reaping where he does not sow and demanding righteousness.
However, Peter already knew of the power of Jesus.
In the previous chapter of Luke's Gospel, Peter's own mother was suffering from a high fever and Jesus healed her. He then healed many others that same day who were brought to him, even driving out demons. All this in front of Peter's eyes at his own house, but for Peter there was no realisation of his power then. There was no falling on his face demanding Jesus depart from him.
Why then, only when his nets are full, does Peter have this response?
What was Peter really afraid of?
For Peter, I can imagine that moment of amazement when those nets become full of fish, it may have been like winning the lottery: "This is it, you've hit gold. This guy is worth keeping around. It's time I can get ahead. I can make a name for myself". Peter's mind may have gone straight to day dreaming about the new boat, the new extension on the house, the holiday he's always wanted to take. Peter looks at Jesus with a mind spinning about going into business with him, the original Bubba Gump enterprise.
Peter must have been ecstatic! But, Jesus has a different look in his eyes. Jesus has a way about him, a certain vibe that Peter begins to see. Deep in Peter's gut he knows what that call of "follow me" really means.
It means stepping out of the boat. Step away from the boat; leave the fish, the money, the reputation, the comfort of what you know. Either Peter leaves it all, or Jesus leaves Peter. That was the choice, and Peter falls on knees. "Depart from me!" he says. Then almost as an excuse as to not follow... "I'm a sinful man."
Once more for good luck
Now possibly I'm adding emphasis where none was originally intended, but the fact is that Peter's go-to, his fall back plan, his place of comfort, has to be his boat. Curiously at the end of John's Gospel, after all the years of following Jesus and seeing countless miracles, we find Peter back where he started and back where he was familiar and comfortable.
After rising from the dead and appearing to many people, Jesus decides to pay Peter a visit. The Son of God comes to the shoreline while Peter is in his boat, and it's dÃ©jÃ vu. He tells the fisherman (without them recognising who he is) to put their nets down again. So they do, and once again they catch so many fish they can barely pull up the nets.
Peter realises at once that it's Jesus, but this time with no hesitation Peter dives into the water, and he's off to follow Jesus, no invitation needed. After Peter's swim, they eat fish together round a fire. Jesus then blesses Peter, and commissions him to become a fisher of men.
Peter goes on to become quite possibly the most influential man in all of Church history, yet he, like us, was slow to follow. He loved his comforts of home, and needed reminding to see the big picture.
What's my Boat?
My boat is surely living a life with very little fear, and a lot of comfort. I want Jesus to get on my boat, to fill my nets with a new car, maybe a pay rise or a chance to get on the property ladder. I want the easy, not the unknown, and I'd rather Jesus be my deckhand, not the captain. If I'm not in control then who knows where I'll go?
It's certainly a good thing that Jesus doesn't comply to my wishes alone, he does bless and he may be my comforter, but he doesn't come to make me comfortable.
Welcoming the waves
The Bible likes to be revolutionary. The Bible lifts up the youngest son, the prodigal son, the barren women, the sinner, the prostitute, the outsider. It's an upside down book full of mystery where God calls people to do mundane and extraordinary things to teach them about his love, his kingdom and that he's in control. In Peter's case it paints the ultimate picture of how God can take a slow hearted fisherman ready to turn back to his boat and old way of life, and make that man the rock on which Jesus builds his church.
Christ has taken care of our sin, and he's called us to live in the freedom that Peter had. We're invited to live as if this is actually true, to step out of the boat and to stop asking God for smooth sailing and for more stuff to make us feel complete. Rather, we should ask him: where are you going? God never leads us by guilt or shame, he isn't waiting for us to step out of line; Jesus leads by example.
I want to make sure I'm not lingering on deck hoping my nets will be filled while an adventure awaits elsewhere.
First published June 6, 2014
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Media in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html