Living in the Waves

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One of the most well-known stories in the New Testament must be when Jesus invites Peter to walk on water in Matthew 14:22-33. Peter is often held up as either an example of bold faith in stepping out of the boat or faltering faith in sinking into the waves.

However, there is another part of the story that captures my attention and it has to do with the waves. When this memorable episode from the life of Jesus and the life of Peter takes place, it is surrounded by waves of challenge.

The first type of waves is the waves of people. Immediately before this, Jesus miraculously feeds a crowd of more than five thousand people. This crowd was pressing in around Jesus. Jesus dismissed them, but, even after the walking on water episode, they hunted Him down and asked for more. It is likely, from what we read in parallel accounts, that the crowds actually hoped to make Jesus king. The waves of people surrounded Him.

Along with the waves of people came the waves of emotions. After an exciting yet stressful ministry day with people, the disciples were exhausted. They seem not only exhausted by the work they were doing with Jesus, but also by the fact that Jesus Himself was difficult to understand. This led to a sort of emotional exhaustion and anticipation that always kept the disciples on their toes. They needed to get away.  It seems that Jesus also needed to get away. The pressures on Him to live into a human-defined image of Messiah-ship, yet pushing against that in obedience to the Father, lead Him to want to draw away with the Father again.

Of course, along with these waves of human pressure and emotional pressure come a third type: the waves of natural life. The literal winds and waves that beat against the boat threaten everyone in this situation. The natural order was not on their side and could not be easily controlled. This heightened physical circumstance augments the other more subtle waves around Jesus and His disciples.

Attention to the waves in this situation tells me one important thing to keep in focus. The waves – the challenges we face – are a normal part of life.

I want to draw this out because so many of us are waiting for “someday.” We all do this at times. We have that tendency to wait for a day when we believe that everything will become calm or everything will be at perfect peaceful. If not that, many of us are simply looking for the day when everything feels “normal,” even if we have never defined what that is.

When that normal day comes, many of us say, we will then be ready to follow Christ or take some dramatic step of faith. Until then, we are on hold in fear or confusion.

However, the very setting in which Peter makes his bold step of faith is in the waves. This is important to pay attention to because the Lord is reminding us through the context of this story that waves are normal.

The challenges of people and relationships that Jesus and the apostles faced are similar to the waves with people that we face.  The challenges of emotions and pressures that Jesus and the apostles faced are similar to the emotional waves that we face. The challenges of the natural things that happen – natural life changes, natural aging, natural circumstances of the environment – are similar to the natural waves that we face.

And this is what strikes me today: these waves are the normal setting in which faith rises up. Because of this, we don’t need to wait for someday.  Someday will not come because it does not exist. The waves in which we find ourselves are the setting in which we must take a step of faith.

When Blessing Atrophies [Psalm 1, part 5]

Psalm 1

While the first three verses of Psalm 1 provide us with a description of God’s blessing, the last three verses offer an alternative vision that is distressing.

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Chaff is that part of the harvest that is separated out in the process of winnowing or threshing. There is no vitality in the chaff. It has no significance, other than to be blown away from the fruits of the harvest and burned.

Apart from God’s blessing and grace, the psalmist tells us, human beings are “like chaff.” This means, on the one hand, the wicked have lost life. The blessing that God intends for human life found in Him, His instruction, and godly relationships does not exist in the wicked and so their life is no longer life at all.  On the other hand, this means the wicked have no weight or substance. They are insubstantial in their lives, regardless of appearances, and the afternoon winds of life will quickly blow them away, let alone the hurricane winds of trouble that may come down upon us.

At the end of time, the psalmist says, the wicked will not be able to stand in God’s judgment. In the present time, the wicked will find it hard to stand in the presence of righteous people who walk with God.

There is a clear distinction between two ways of life and the blessing of God: one leads toward growth in blessing and the other leads toward atrophy of blessing. May God strengthen us to walk toward the fullness of His blessing in our lives.

What stands out to you about the description of the wicked here at the end of Psalm 1?

In what areas of your life might atrophy be taking root?

What would it look like to be a messenger of God’s blessing to those experiencing atrophy today?

This is the fifth and final post in a series of posts on Psalm 1. You can read the other posts here:

The Full Blessing of God [Psalm 1, part 4]

Psalm 1

Now look with me at Psalm 1, verse 3, we encounter the results of growth toward the full blessing of God. When our choose to walk into the way of God’s blessing, when we take steps with our environment for growth – our relationships and choices, and when we take in the essential food for growth – the Scripture, something beautiful happens. This is verse 3:

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

True blessing is a gift from God into our lives. True growth toward that blessing happens by the grace of God in our lives. We simply receive God’s gift and yield to God’s grace in our lives. As this happens, the psalmist points out three things that occur as part of the blessing of God on our lives.

Fruitful
First, we will become fruitful. That is, the result of our daily lives – both individually and together – will bring a crop of delicious fruit from our lives. Have you ever tried to do a project but felt like a lack of fruitfulness is there? There is nothing more frustrating. In our own lives, we cannot control blessing but we can yield to God’s to blessing. We cannot make ourselves grow, but we can surrender to the Holy Spirit’s work of bringing growth. Cultivating the right environment and then taking in the essential food for growth opens the doorways for fruitfulness. What sort of fruitfulness? From the New Testament perspective we can certainly turn to that wonderful passage in Paul’s letter to the Galatian church where he says: “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Our lives become truly life-giving to others. Our words restore and build up. Our actions reflect the astounding love and joy of God to the world.

Enduring
Along with fruitfulness, true growth results in endurance. Psalm 1:3 says: “whose leaf does not wither.” The seasons of life in this world can certainly cause us to wither. Like the droughts of certain summers, the trials, tribulations, and difficulties of this world threaten to bend us and break us down. But the person who is truly ‘blessed’ bears up, like Jesus, in the face of difficulty. Why? Because there is a solid, trustworthy grace of God that enters into us to provide strength for what we face. This is reflected in what we read from the prophet Habakkuk 3:17-18:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Prospering
Thirdly, we read here that the results of growth are prosperity: “whatever they do prospers.” We are not talking about something as simple and passing as monetary or material blessing here. Psalm 1 is not the seedbed for the prosperity gospel. Rather, we are talking about God giving us what we most deeply need: a life truly blessed by the joy of God’s presence and lived in an enduring and prosperous world. We all clearly know that material abundance does not in and of itself bring us prosperity in life. Otherwise, wealthy athletes and pop culture stars would not ruin their lives in meaningless ways. True prosperity comes through a life well-lived before God; a blessed life. A life that others look at and say, “I wish I was a person like that.” Of course, we know that such things are only derived from the grace of God.

We are made to grow. When we take steps to grow we begin to experience the fullness of God’s blessing: fruitfulness, endurance, and prosperity.

In what ways are do you want to grow toward fruitfulness, endurance, and prosperity with God’s blessing in your life?

What do you think it might look like to step forward toward the fullness of God’s blessing in this season of your life?

This is the fourth in a series of posts on Psalm 1. You can read the other posts here:

The Compassion of Jesus

Harvard Medical School lists a number of ways people deal with stress, highlighting the tendency we all have to deal with stress in unhealthy ways, such as:

  • Watching endless hours of TV
  • Withdrawing from friends or partners or, conversely jumping into a frenzied social life to avoid facing problems
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Sleeping too much
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Lashing out at others in emotionally or physically violent outbursts
  • Taking up smoking or smoking more than usual
  • Taking prescription, over-the-counter or even illegal drugs[1]

Now, I don’t know what you do when things are busy and stressful, but Jesus’ response is markedly different.  Look at what we read in Matthew 14:14:

“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14)

I love that phrase: “He had compassion on them…” (NIV). 

The Greek word for “compassion” here, σπλαγχνίζομαι (splanchnizomai), is a difficult word to translate because no one word entirely captures its range of meaning. It is a cognate of the word for “spleen” and has the idea of deep emotions coming from the deep places of one’s person, like the bowels or intestines. It conveys being deeply moved, pity, sympathy, compassion, and warmth toward others.[2]

Again and again, Jesus is moved with compassion by the situation of the crowd and those in need (Matthew 9:24; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34). This is Jesus’ typical response to humanity in need: compassion. Or, as one commentator, R. T. France, renders it: “His heart went out to them…”[3]

And this is, in my opinion, how you know that Jesus is the Messiah sent from God and not just some ordinary person. Worn out by grief, needs, and pressures, Jesus doesn’t check out with a cold beer and his buddies to watch Ted Lasso or the Packers game. He steps forward, open-hearted and full of compassion to those in need.

Praise God for the heart of Jesus the Messiah! 

Praise God for this revelation of the heart of God in Jesus of Nazareth. Praise God that we get this glimpse into what leads Jesus ultimately to the Cross. Why doesn’t Jesus pull back? 

Because His heart leads Him to act how God always acts toward humanity: to continually move forward into human need for healing and salvation. 


[1] “Watch out for unhealthy responses to stress,” Harvard Health Publishing, August 2, 2012, https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/watch-out-for-unhealthy-responses-to-stress.

[2] Moises Silva, ed., “σπλαγχνον,” in New International Dictionary of New Testament Exegesis and Theology, 2nd ed., Volume 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 353.

[3] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 373.

The Key Nutrient of Blessing [Psalm 1, part 3]

Psalm 1

When Kelly and I were newly married we had a knack for killing the house plants we had in our apartment. One day, we saw one of our neighbors, an elderly woman named Elsie, digging a plant we had killed out of the dumpster. We watched as she took it back in her apartment, left to wonder what she would do with the pot or how she might reuse the soil. It was only later that Kelly discovered that Elsie’s apartment was filled with house plants that she had carefully nurtured back to life. Every plant needs healthy nutrients to experience life. Without those required ingredients, it will die.

The same is true in the spiritual life. The first two verses of Psalm 1 set the tone of how God brings blessing – life – into our lives. Pay attention to verse two with me for some insight into the nutrients required.

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.

If the environment for growth is related to our relationships and our activities or choices, then the psalmist shows us that the essential food for growth is the Scripture or, as stated here, ‘the law of the Lord.’

The word here is literally the ‘Torah of Yahweh.’ The Torah could refer literally to the law of Moses, or the first five books of the Bible. It is more likely here, however, that the phrase refers to the instruction God gives to human beings for their guidance and livelihood. It does not seem like too far of a stretch to include the entire Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, as relevant to this Psalm.

The Psalmist tells us that, in contrast to one who takes up wicked and ungodly relationships that slowly drag them down into a life of ruin, the truly ‘blessed’ person – the person who experiences the full joy of God’s plans for humanity – is the one who takes delight in and meditates upon God’s instruction.

There are some who come to the Bible with a sense of weariness day by day. Surely, there are times when it is hard work and discipline to get focused on reading the Bible, but the writer’s description here is quite different.

The psalmist says this reader of God’s instruction finds delight in it daily.  Because the Scripture is the powerful and truthful instruction of God, it is not just something we have to read but it is actually a source of deep joy and life for us. It is the place where blessing is found. If we really believe that the Bible contains the instruction of God, we will soon be able to exclaim words similar to those found in Psalm 119:

I rejoice in following your statues as one rejoices in great riches….I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. (Psalm 119:14, 16)

Secondly, we come to the Scripture to meditate upon it. Meditation doesn’t mean that we hit some gongs and sit in the lotus position. What it means is that we consider it deeply. We do not simply read it and pass on, but we take time to mull it over. We read it and chew on it, as one author says, like a dog chewing on a bone or like a child who could read the same short book over and over again. We allow our minds to be deeply shaped by the instruction of God instead of by the foolishness of the wicked, or sinners, or mockers mentioned in verse 1.

When we take delight in and meditate upon the Scripture it becomes the food by which we grow in experiencing the blessed life with God. It becomes the source by which, as Paul writes in Romans 12:2, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Like a plant, we were made to grow. But we need to have the essential food for growth or we will not grow at all.

Would you say you are getting the right nutrients for blessing in reading Scripture regularly?

What hinders you most from finding delight in reading God’s word?

What might it look like to take a step forward in reading Scripture regularly?

This is the third in a series of posts on Psalm 1. You can read the other posts here: