"In God's design for our trials there is a place for real, authentic grieving and distress. But this experience is fundamentally altered from the way the world experiences these things. We see a design in it all. And so our root stays planted even though the branches thrash in the wind. And the leaves remain green and the fruit keeps growing because our roots go down by the stream of God's sovereign grace - and we trust him for a good design."
- John Piper, sermon
How often would you say that when you go through some sort of trial that the minute you ask God to "take this away" he snaps his fingers and you're home free?
For me, I'd say not often at all. And, for that I am truly grateful... sound crazy to you too?
My favorite story in the bible comes a few chapters after our first water experience with Jesus. In Matthew 14:22, the disciples again find themselves in a boat, in the middle of the sea, being "beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them" (14:24). They had been battling the wind and waves for a while because it says, "in the fourth watch of the night he (Jesus) came to them, walking on the sea." This freaked them out because they thought he was a ghost so they "cried out in fear"; understandable. I see a dude walking on water in a storm coming straight at the boat after hours of no sleep and physical exertion trying to stay afloat, I'd probably be thinking something along those same lines.
"Immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'take heart; it is I, Do not be afraid. (14:27)'" Then Peter asks Jesus to command him to come, walking on water, to where Jesus was standing. And Jesus said "come." So Peter got out of the boat, walked over to Jesus, but then saw the wind and the waves and started to sink into the water. "Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt? (14:33)'" So Jesus walked Peter back to the boat, they got in, and then the wind and waves ceased.
The disciples spent 3 watches of the night beating waves back from the boat and wrestling the sea before Jesus came to them; 3 long, exhausting watches. What should that say about God in the midst of our trials? My first observation of this passage is this: God allows us to go through trials and suffering. If we believe what the good book says about an all-knowing all-capable God, then we should understand that Christ knew exactly what was happening out there and he could have easily stepped in right away, or even rebuked the storm at the first hint of a breeze so the disciples wouldn't have been tossed around.
But James 1:2 tells us to "count it all joy, my brothers (and sisters), when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." God allows us to endure trials knowing that in the end, we will be all the more steadfast in faith, and that will bring the most glory to the Father which is the ultimate goal in our walk.
May I quickly point out that God wasn't absent in their 3 watches; God provided the strength for each row, each deep gasp of breath, and kept them afloat safely above the water. Don't ever forget that!
My second observation is what happened to Peter as he was walking toward's Jesus. As his eyes were fixed upon his savior, he was stepping firm on top of the water. But, the minute he took his eyes off of Jesus and focused on the wind and waves he started to sink and cried out, "Lord save me!" (Matt 14:30). As long as we fix our eyes on the one who saves, we can be assured that we are safe no matter the circumstance.
But let's continue digging: Peter started to sink and cried out, "Lord save me!". What is interesting is that he had enough time to say that whole phrase without going head under. What this has to mean is that Jesus was allowing Peter to sink SLOWLY! If that doesn't blow your mind right away, take a few minutes and think about it - the physics of walking on water, and the metaphors surrounding the entire event. Why did Christ allow him to sink slowly instead of letting him submerge instantly? I'm betting that it was a way to show Peter, in a trial-filled situation, how much Christ was actually in control. Sinking inevitably lead Peter to cry out knowing full well that Christ was the only one who could save him.
Sometimes we are called to walk on water in the middle of a storm. As we do, we can either focus on the one calling us understanding he has the power to see us through to the end, or we can become distracted by the wind and waves around us and start to sink.
• • •
We can be assured that we will see trials and sufferings of various kinds in this life, we were never promised the easy road (Matthew 7:14). But, we can be encouraged that every trial is designed by God himself, and that through our suffering we are molded and shaped by his hands so we can better endure, through steadfastness, a faith in Christ. Count every trial as a blessing, because it means God loves you and is interested in creating a more complete you through your suffering.
Steel is refined by the fire.