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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew 14’

At the moment, I am making my way yet again through my current novel, checking for errors and tweaking this and that to make it the best I can. It is painstaking work—and it seems to have gone on forever. But each morning, as I open my laptop and go to the relevant document, I am cheered by the polite, little greeting that awaits me there. On the right of my screen, I always see a little box that says happily:

Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.

How encouraging is that? But recently, that little message did more than cheer me up and inspire me to pick up where I left off with even more determination. It also alerted me to open my ears to hear what God might want to say to me. It was as if God highlighted that little box on my screen so that I could not miss a much more important message it contained.

Then it hit me. In an instant, I sensed God saying: ‘That’s exactly what I’ve said to you so many times over the years, Jo-Anne. Whenever you have pulled back from following me for a while and gone your own way, but then turned around and repented, I have always been there waiting for you with open arms. Time and time again, like your laptop does each day, I have said to you, “Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.” What a joy it has been to offer you forgiveness each time—and how good it is to pick you up and help you stand firm again!’

Then my mind went to the Apostle Peter’s story in the bible. I love Peter. He seems such a full-on person—always the leader, opening his mouth on behalf of the other disciples and stepping out when others might well have feared to. I love how he was brave enough to get out of that boat and walk towards Jesus on the water (Matthew 14). I love how he realised early on that Jesus was the only one worth following and the only one who could offer eternal life.

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. John 6:68-69

I love too how he declared he would never deny Jesus, fully thinking that was true—and I always feel sad when I read how he did deny him, then wept bitterly over it (Matthew 26:75). But later, when the resurrected Jesus appears on the shore as Peter is fishing with the other disciples and proceeds to provide them with breakfast, I hold my breath at what unfolds. Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loves him. And three times, Peter replies, Lord, you know that I love you (John 21).

Can you imagine how Peter must have felt, as Jesus treated him in such a loving way and reinstated him to be the strong shepherd and leader he had called him to be? What grace Jesus showed him that day! And what grace Jesus shows each of us today, whenever we turn back to him, as he says with such love: ‘Welcome back! Pick up where you left off.’

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For years I drove my family crazy. At regular intervals, I would come out with statements such as the following:

‘I’d like to write a book one day.’

‘Oh, I could write my Great Australian Novel in that beautiful spot!’

‘You’ll see. One day I’ll write my own novel.’

Eventually, our older daughter got tired of hearing me talk like this. For my birthday, she gave me a pile of books on how to write, plus a bookmark she had made herself, with a picture of a steaming cup of tea on it and a little sticker that said ‘Write your own!’

So I did—although it took me over twenty years to get around to it! I still have that little, handmade bookmark and often take it with me when I speak somewhere. I use it to encourage others not to ignore the dreams God has put in their hearts and to step out with courage and do whatever it is they have longed to do.

Recently, I met someone who wants to write and has even planned out her first novel. But as for actually starting on the writing itself—well, that’s another matter. Somehow it’s all just too scary for her. What if she finds she can’t do it? What if she discovers, after months of effort, that she has been wasting her time?

I understand how she feels—as would many writers, I believe. Even now, with seven books published, I find myself a little reluctant to launch into writing that eight book. I want to write it, with all my heart. I believe I have something worthwhile to say in this book. I fully intend to write it and have even begun, but it’s amazing how many other tasks I decide I have to do first! Yet I know from past experience how wonderfully fulfilling it is to give myself over to writing and allow those words to flow out onto that screen, to see those characters and storyline develop or to be carried along as a non-fiction book takes shape.

So what’s to be done?  You may not intend to write a book in 2014. Perhaps it’s the last thing you could imagine yourself doing! But we all have things in our minds that we would like to do—some day.  Sometimes we even know in our hearts it is what God wants us to do, yet still we are reluctant to rise to the challenge and respond to that call on our lives. Maybe we all need to take to heart more Paul’s words in Colossians 3:23-24 during the coming year:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Will 2014 be the year for you, like Peter in Matthew 14, to step out of that boat that represents safety and familiarity and instead walk on the water towards Jesus? Will you listen when Jesus looks straight at you with such love and speaks that one strong, encouraging word, as he did to Peter—‘Come!’?

I hope you do. I hope I do. God is faithful. May we be equally so.

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‘We all have to go through change—that’s what life’s about,’ a friend told me this week. Her comment arose from dealing with someone who complained when things were done differently in a certain area of their church life. Yes, change can be hard—but it is inevitable. And right now, many people are experiencing it. For some, it is loss of a job while for others it’s the end of a period of study and the necessity of finding employment.

I reflected on my friend’s words later that same day, as I removed an old lavender bush from our front yard. It had well and truly had its day, yet I had been reluctant to pull it out for sentimental reasons. It was the first gift I received for speaking to a group outside our own church a very long time ago now. But with deliberation, I reached down and pulled that old thing out of the ground. It was time for a change.

I reflected further as I prepared for two speaking engagements this week. One is at a community group where I am speaking about my writing journey and the challenges and rewards of the writing life. I plan to talk about how I had always wanted to write and how a change in my job situation, not to mention that huge tug in my heart, caused me to take that step of beginning my first novel. My other talk will be given to a women’s group in a large church. There I’ll be speaking more overtly about God’s leading in my writing journey and about learning to trust, just as the apostle Peter had to when he walked on the water towards Jesus (Matt 14).

Both these talks have reminded me of the changes in my own life over the years and the widely different roles God has given me. I can remember leaving some jobs with reluctance to move onto the next. I remember not wanting to put aside my editing role that I took up after teaching. Here was a job where, as I told my boss one day, I could not believe I was being paid to do something I loved so much! Later, I remember leaving my office job at our church with mixed feelings, including excitement at my theological studies ahead. But above all, I remember the sadness with which I left my ministry role on our church staff, still sure God had wanted me there but equally certain God was saying it was time to move on. Now, after almost nine years of writing and seven books later, I am horrified at the thought that I might have missed out on such a wonderful privilege, had I insisted on staying where I was.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven’, the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us (Ecc 3:1). Times change—and we change too. I have seen how God taught me many things in one season of my life, then gave me a role where those skills and the experience gained were so much needed. And as we continue to listen and to trust, our God walks with us through each twist and turn of our lives, constant and faithful. ‘I the Lord do not change’ is the simple, unequivocal statement we find in Malachi 3:6—and I find that so reassuring.

Are you in the midst of a time of change? May you find your strength and comfort in our God who sees everything, who with faithfully lead you and who is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8).

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There’s something heart warming about Peter, I reckon.  Of all Jesus’ followers, he seems to be the one most prepared to stick his neck out and have a go, whether by word or action.

In the story of how Jesus walked on water in Chapter 14 of Matthew’s Gospel, we read that the disciples were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.  Yet as soon as Peter heard Jesus’ voice telling them not to be afraid, he decides to ‘take the plunge’ – literally!  ‘Lord, if it’s you,” he says, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’  And when Jesus says to him one simple word – ‘Come’, Peter does exactly that.  Sure, he freaks out after a while and begins to sink, but Jesus is there for him, when he yells for help.  At least he had the courage to try.  At least he showed he trusted Jesus that much.

A couple of chapters further on, Jesus asks his disciples a simple question: ‘Who do you say I am?’  Peter is the one who answers unequivocally, with great faith and insight:  ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’   Yet in the same chapter, we read how Peter rebukes Jesus, refusing to believe the Son of God has to suffer and die.  Jesus in turn gives him an even sterner rebuke: ’Get behind me, Satan!’  Ouch!

And what about Peter’s firm assertion in John 13 to Jesus: ‘I will lay now my life for you’?  Yet we know that when Jesus was arrested and taken away to be crucified, Peter denied even knowing him.

But that’s not the end of the story.  In John 21, we read how Jesus, having risen from the dead, reinstates Peter, how he gives him a second chance to be the leader he was called to be.  And again, like that simple ‘Come!’ that got Peter climbing out of that boat, Jesus gives him another simple but profound instruction: ‘Follow me!’  And that is exactly what Peter did – even giving his own life in the process, just as he had said he would.

Stepping out of the boat might seem risky, but Jesus is there to walk towards, to give me a hand up, to follow forever – and I’m so glad of that.

How about you?  How are you at stepping out of boats?

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