What Does It Look Like to Step Out in Faith? [Peter and Faith, part 4]

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“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat. (Matthew 14:28-29)

Peter’s faith leads him to risk stepping out of the boat. He actually steps out in faith to follow Jesus onto the waters in the midst of the waves and wind. Peter shows us what faith looks like. He hasn’t waited for someday. He’s looked and listened for Jesus. And he steps out.

Philippe Petit, a French acrobat and high-wire artist, knows what it means to risk stepping out. In the early 1970s, he heard about the construction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. When he saw a picture of their design, it was like he heard a voice calling him to do something startling and risky.

The 2008 documentary, Man on Wire, tells the story of how, after six years of planning, on August 7th, 1974, Petit and his friends secretly rode a freight elevator 104 stories up into the newly constructed twin towers of the World Trade Center. After stretching a ¾” metal cable across the 200 foot span between the towers, Petit illegally stepped out for a high wire act like no other. With the winds blowing, Philippe Petit was 110 stories—a quarter of a mile—above the sidewalks of Manhattan. 

Man on Wire

He walked the wire for 45 minutes, making eight crossings between the towers. He sat on the wire, gave knee salutes and, while lying on the wire, spoke with a gull circling above his head. After this spell-binding display, Petit was arrested, taken for psychological evaluation, and brought to jail before he was finally released.

Risky faith looks a bit like that. We hear a voice calling us to action. We respond. And then we step out. It may seem startling and risky, but we will do whatever Jesus says.

How Do We Hear Jesus? [Peter and Faith, part 3]

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“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat. (Matthew 14:28-29)

If faith sees Jesus and desires Jesus, how do we really hear from Jesus?

We see that Peters walk of faith comes after he hears Jesus’ invitation to join Him upon the waves. Now that is wondrous to read about but what does that mean for our own lives?

The first aspect of hearing from Jesus is that we ask and wait. Peter does not jump out of the boat before talking with Jesus. Yes, he is bold enough to take the initiative to ask Jesus but Peter is not so foolish to try and walk out there without first hearing Jesus’ invitation. Faith responds to God. Faith hears because God first speaks. Our framework for understanding the dynamics of a living interactive relationship with the Living God through Jesus Christ must always be shaped around the deep truth that God speaks first and our lives are always a response to Him. I had a friend in college who jokingly said that in prayer he told God what to do. Of course, prayer is not really like that, anymore than any important relationship in our life is like that. Prayer is an interaction with God based in a loving relationship of trust by which we hear Him first and respond.

Out of that place, we begin to develop a living relationship with God. Now, many will say that our life with Christ is not like Peter’s interaction here in Matthew 14. This is true in the sense that Peter is talking with the incarnate Jesus upon earth. But it is no less true that we, by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, can interact with the Living God through Jesus Christ. So, let me invite us to once again renew a living relationship of faith that listens for God. How do we do that? Well, the primary ways are through first and most importantly paying attention to the guidance of Holy Scripture. After that we also hear from God by attuning ourselves to the inward promptings of the Holy Spirit, listening to godly counsel, and paying attention to how God speaks through our circumstances. You may want to read more about this in my earlier post “How Do We Hear from God Today?”

Consider some questions with me about what this episode in Peter’s life means for us today:

  • What is God inviting you into these days? What steps of faith is God calling you into?
  • Are you listening for the inward promptings of the Holy Spirit?
  • Are you measuring those inward promptings against the Word of God – the Bible – which keeps us trustworthy and true?

May we be the sort of faith-filled disciples who not only fix our eyes on Jesus, but also open our ears to hear Jesus. As He said, “My sheep listen to my voice” (John 10:27).

Praying by the Book [Working the Angles with Eugene Peterson, part 5]

fullsizeoutput_ae1Following his reflections on the shortcomings of modern pastoral ministry in regard to prayer, Eugene Peterson turns his attention to how a pastor develops the life of prayer. In a world of quick fixes and shortcuts, Peterson’s starting advice on prayer is perhaps more necessary than ever: “Be slow to pray” (43). Why should we take it slow?

We want life on our conditions, not God’s conditions. Praying puts us at risk of getting involved in God’s conditions. Be slow to pray. Praying most often doesn’t get us what we want but what God wants, something quite at variance with what we conceive to be in our best interests. And when we realize what is going on, it is often too late to go back. Be slow to pray. (44)

How do we slow down? First of all, we must remember that we are not the initiator of prayer. Prayer is our response to the initiative of God. He is always the conversation starter, and we are always the conversation responder. This does not mean that God is not a listener, it simply means that before all – before we took our first breath or every thought to pray – God had already been speaking to us. “Prayer is answering speech” (45).

Because of this truth, the pastor’s approach to prayer must be rooted in the fundamental understanding of prayer as answering. Peterson goes into greater depth with this in another of his books, Answering God, but here he homes in on the work of the pastor to “develop within ourselves the means for a full and continues awareness of its [prayer’s] secondary quality, its answering character” (47). Turning to Genesis for of the initiating word of God in creation and John’s Gospel for the initiating word of God in redemption, Peterson reminds us that, as with learning to speak in childhood, someone else’s word is always previous to our own. In ministry – and in all of our spiritual life – that previous word is God’s word and God’s word alone. When entering into prayer, whether in worship services or at the bedside, at a school graduation or a family dinner, the pastor must always enter with a serious awareness of God’s previous word.

Along with this awareness about prayer as answering speech, Peterson encourages the pastor to enroll in “the great and sprawling university that Hebrews and Christians have attended to learn to answer God, to learn to pray…the Psalms” (50). Taking the psalms as our school in prayer, both as pastors for our own souls and as pastors leading congregations in prayer, helps us to send roots down deep into the richest soil of inspired prayer. The Psalms, often called “the prayerbook of the Bible,” are that rich soil from which our answer to God arises. Peterson masterfully outlines how the fivefold book division of the Psalms (1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, 107-150) answers the fivefold book division of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), thus visibly displaying how the Psalms exist as an ‘answer’ to the ‘previous’ word of God in the Torah. Here, Peterson urges the pastor toward the vital curriculum of prayer in the psalms:

Too much is at stake here—the maturity of the word of God, the integrity of pastoral ministry, the health of worship—to permit pastors to pick and choose a curriculum of prayer as they are more or less inclined….Prayer must not be fabricated out of emotional fragments or professional duties….Praying the Psalms, we find the fragments of soul and body, our own and all those with whom we have to do, spoke into adoration and love and faith (57-58).

As I read this I could not help but recall two statements I read in Tim Keller’s book, Prayer. “For help, we should turn first to the Psalms, the inspired prayer book of the Bible” (Keller, Prayer 3). Just a few pages later, Keller writes about his own changes in prayer after battling thyroid cancer.

I made four practical changes to my life of private devotion. First, I took several months to go through the Psalms, summarizing each one. That enabled me to begin praying through the Psalms regularly, getting through all of them several times a year. The second thing I did was always to put in a time of meditation as a transitional discipline between my Bible reading and my time of prayer. Third, I did all I could to pray morning and evening rather than only in the morning. Fourth, I began praying with greater expectation. (17)

When two great pastors agree on something, it is good to pay attention. When they agree about it because many great pastors from earlier eras agreed about it as well, then we must not merely pay attention, but drop everything and immediately do our best to learn from that in the practical rhythms of our lives.

Pastors, let us learn to pray with the Psalms as our curriculum. Let us not merely talk about it, but let us do it without delay.

[This post continues my reflections on Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, which began here. You can read all the posts here.]