“How to Walk on Water” Matthew 14:22-33
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, August 9, 2020
Have you ever seen the popular video of the lizard that walks on water? It’s been given the nickname, “Jesus Lizard.” It’s mesmerizing to watch and makes you wonder how in the world it can move like that on top of water.
The disciples must have had the same reaction when they saw Jesus walking on the water. They too must have been mesmerized, but only after they were terrified. Thinking they were seeing a ghost was the only explanation they could find for what they were seeing. No one, after all, can walk on water. They soon found out, though, that it was Jesus. So how did he do it? They knew Jesus was a miracle worker, but how could he walk on water, defying the wind, the waves, and not to mention the laws of physics?
To answer that question, it is helpful for us to look at what Jesus was doing just before striding out onto the waves. Quite simply, he was spending time alone with God. We find him doing that just after his miracle of loaves and fishes. He sends away the disciples and goes up to a mountain to be alone with God. He loves his disciples and he loves the crowds, but he loves his solitude with God and knows he can’t do much without it. And it happens best when he is alone and quiet. Jesus, like Elijah in our first reading this morning, found God not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire but in the silence. Jesus had discovered that as well, that God speaks best in times of solitude and silence. The amazing way we see Jesus walking amidst the noise and waves of life is made possible by the time he spends alone with God.
It’s no different for us. The way we walk in life’s wind and waves corresponds to the way and time we spend alone with God. We tend to be like the disciples out there in the boat, surrounded by each other and being battered by the waves of stress and anxiety. Even in the moments that we are like Peter, desiring to be like Jesus and walk on water, we step out into life but still find that we fall so easily into the inevitable waves that once seemed small but now are overwhelming. We recognize in those moments how dependent we are on God; how vital our connection to God is for walking out into our world.
So how do we spend time alone with God? Matthew doesn’t give us any specifics here other than that Jesus went away from other people and things to go to a place where he could be just with God. For him, that was a mountain. There is no one place or way for getting alone with God. The important thing is to get away to a place that allows us to be away from people and distractions so that we can get quiet enough to hear God’s voice, to feel God’s strength, to receive God’s presence in our lives. Such a place may be in your home somewhere, perhaps a closet or outside. Wherever you end up, be sure you leave your phone or device somewhere else. Or, if you must have it, use it only as a timer to signal the end of your time in solitude. Then just sit there, be there in that place where God already is and wants you to be. Tell God that you are there and that you are grateful God is there too. And listen. Hear God in a word you use to center your attention, in the darkness as you close your eyes or the light that illuminates your eyelids as you sit in the sun, in a breath you inhale, or in a sense of peace you experience just by settling down for a few minutes. As you settle there, let God’s presence push your stray thoughts and distractions away. Let God fill and refresh you for what comes next in your day and life.
When you make time alone with God a daily practice, the benefits will be evident to you in many ways. Your anxieties will have less power, your heart rate will improve, your outlook will brighten, and your soul will deepen. Scientific studies continue to show the many other benefits to you physically and emotionally. But what will be most evident to you is, like Elijah, you’ll find God isn’t in the noise and drama but in the silence. Like Jesus, you will be empowered for all that comes to you in life. Like Peter, you’ll learn the power of being grounded in God and the grace that saves you in those times when you forget what God can do with your faith.
And our time alone with God will be evident for people to see. The waves will still be all around you and the winds will continue to blow against you but you will be affected by them differently after the time you spend alone with God. People around you may be terrified and anxious and will note the power you exude as you walk on top of the very things that trouble them.
As Basil Pennington says, in describing the benefits of quiet prayer,
In centering, we begin to leave aside our own thoughts and images and feelings and to make space for the Spirit to begin to operate in us through the gifts. Outside the time of prayer we begin–and often others begin before us–to perceive the presence of these wonderful gifts in our daily lives. These are the fruits by which we judge the “tree” of our centering prayer. It is only through these fruits and the healing they represent that we can know the spirit is working in our lives through this deep, quiet communion with Love at the center of our being. (Basil Pennington, The Call to Center)
That deep, quiet communion with Love at the center of your being is what you and I need if we are ever going to walk on the water. May we commit to finding that quiet time as we begin this new week.