Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yea, though I walk through the valley...

When I was in the 4th grade, I played softball. I had to, my dad was the coach. I was awful. Not just bad…really, really awful. During games, I was always in the outfield. When it was our turn to bat, I was always at the end of the line-up.

My poor dad. He was a great athlete in his day…good at every sport he played. Basketball, baseball, track. He’s completed 10 marathons, and were it not for his recently replaced hip, he’d still be running.

He was blessed to have three daughters…never got that elusive son, but never complained. Oh, how he must have wanted me to be the star of that team. And I was just about as girly as they came. Plus, I was really only interested in singing and theatre. But, I played softball (and basketball…another sad, sad story for another time) and I gave it my best. Both of my parents put time in with me at the batting cages and in the back yard…hours of practice…to no avail. I was just bad. Really, really bad.

I learned a few things through it all, though. First, humility, and how to be a gracious loser. Second, to keep my eye on the ball. “Keep your eye on the ball, Rebecca!” I can still hear my dad’s voice. “Eye on the ball, Boo-ba-doo!” That phrase used to pop into my head while studying for finals…when I was so tired my eyes were crossing. “Focus, Rebecca! Keep your eye on the ball!” Even today, as a scattered, working wife and mother. Anytime I need to keep my mind on the task at hand, I remind myself to “keep my eye on the ball.”

Someone should’ve taught that to Peter. You know the story of Jesus walking on water. This happens right after He feeds the 5000 men (not to mention all the women and children – He actually fed anywhere from 10 to 15 thousand) with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Immediately following the miraculous meal, Matthew 14:22 tells us, “Jesus made His disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake while He sent the people home to pray. Night fell while He was there alone.” Meanwhile, Peter and the other disciples get caught in a storm, and were struggling terribly against heavy waves. Let’s pick it up at Matthew 14:25 and read through verse 26. “About 3 o’clock in the morning Jesus came to them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him, they screamed in terror, thinking He was a ghost. But Jesus spoke to them at once. ‘It’s all right,’ He said. ‘I am here! Don’t be afraid.’”

That’s just like Jesus, isn’t it? His first concern is to calm their fears. He identifies Himself and comforts them like a mother soothing a child waking up from a bad dream. But it’s what happens next that I really want you to pay attention to. Matthew 14:27, Then Peter called to Him, “Lord, if it’s really You, tell me to come to you by walking on water.” “All right, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. Ok, PAUSE! Did you catch that? Let’s read it again. “So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he looked around….” PAUSE!! Peter was doing just fine…as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. Notice that. We have the other disciples panicking in the boat. Waves are crashing all around them. Wind is howling. They literally fear for their very lives. And yet with all of this going on around him, Peter is able to step out of the boat…and walk on water. Until he takes his eyes off Jesus. Un-pause. In fact, rewind just a tad. “But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. ‘Save me Lord!’ he shouted. Instantly Jesus reached out His hand and grabbed him. ‘You don’t have much faith,’ Jesus said. ‘Why did you doubt me?’ And when they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped.”

Let that sink in. How many storms, how many valleys have we been through, where we took our eyes off the Lord and doubted? It’s so easy to have faith when our boats are sailing across smooth water. You can be sure when the disciples started out across the Sea of Galilee, they were riding high. They’d just watched Jesus feed THOUSANDS with 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish. They personally walked around and collected TWELVE BASKETS of leftovers. And yet…the first wave to rock the boat and they spiral into sheer and utter panic. They most certainly took their eyes off the ball, didn’t they?

You know what used to happen when I failed to watch the ball? I missed. Every time. At best, I hit a wild, crazy fly that was easily caught. And I was out. But when I focused…when I remembered what my father had so patiently taught me…I hit that sucker. My scrawny little 4th grade arms hit that puppy at least to mid-field! I rarely made it to first, because I was slow, too, but at least I hit it! Here’s the thing, when we keep our eyes on Jesus, we hit life's fast balls head on…and send the enemy running.

You know what the other team used to do when I went up to bat? They “brought it in.” I’ll never forget that feeling. “Easy out, everyone! Bring it in! Bring it in!” I can still hear them, and still feel the humiliation. It was a pretty effective maneuver. They saw that I wasn’t very strong. Bringing the team in added to my intimidation.

Friends…don’t you think the enemy does the same thing? Don’t you think he knows when you’re in a valley? Let me tell you something. If Jesus Christ is your personal Savior, then you’re saved, and there is nothing the enemy can do about that. But he will distract you every chance he gets. He will tempt you when you’re weak. He will taunt you when you’re frightened. And he will make every effort to take your eyes off of Christ.

If you are breathing and over the age of 5, you’ve traveled through a valley. If you live in the United States of America, there is a very good chance you’re in one now. The latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor show that the unemployment rate is at 10% as of December ‘09. We’re in the worst recession the nation has seen in decades. War in Afghanistan. War in Iraq. Climate change. Health care reform. Depression and anxiety rates as high as they’ve ever been. We are hurting as a nation, and we are hurting as individuals! Do not take your eyes off Christ, don’t do it!

He wants you to TRUST HIM…He tells us so over and over and over in the bible. And He wants us to look at HIM. When all hell is breaking loose, you keep your eyes on HIM. And let me tell you something…He’s there with you, I don’t care how deep or dark your valley is. John 8:12 – Jesus says to the people, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through the darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

Psalm 139:3, David writes of the LORD, “You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am.” Every moment. You have not breathed one breath without the Lord knowing of it. Every hair on your head is counted, and God is not going to desert you.

Psalm 139:5, You both precede me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.” He goes in front of you, with you and behind you. While things are uncertain in your life, He knows exactly where you are…and He wants you to follow Him!

How do you do this? Seek Him. Pray to Him. Learn more about Him by reading His Word. Psalm 109:105, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” One thing I want you to notice about that, though…it all hinges on faith. He promises a light unto our feet…not a search light to show us what’s ahead. He will guide your every step, I promise you, but He will do it one step at a time.

One thing that just astounds me as I learn more about God through bible study, is how many times He tells us not worry. Oh, He knows us so well, doesn’t He? We’re certainly no better than the disciples who walked with Him on earth. Here in this moment, 2000 years after Christ’s death, He knows our struggles. Matthew 6:31-33, “So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” I’m going to stop there for just a second…because it’s so important to understand that. He gives us “our daily bread.” He doesn’t give us the big grocery store run of a week’s worth of grace and strength. When you wake up in the morning, you have everything you need from the Father to get through that day. He has already given you the strength to hit every curve ball life can throw at you. All right…pick it up at verse 34. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Amen. Amen to that.

He hears ours prayers. And He loves us. Seek Him. Cry out to Him. And don’t take your eyes off the ball.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4