Jesus made the disciples get into a boat
and precede him to the other side of the sea,
while he dismissed the crowds.
After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.
When it was evening he was there alone.
Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore,
was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night,
he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.
“It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear.
At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
This passage is so powerful for anyone who struggles with fear and anxiety from time to time, or perhaps all the time. The full passage goes as far as verse 36 in this chapter in Matthew’s Gospel, but this is as far as I made it this morning.
Spend a bit of time actually imagining this scene. See if you can enter into the boat with the disciples and be tossed around with them by the sea. It’s pretty scary. There is something about the waves and wind that can make it seem as though the sea has a mind of its own, a personality of its own. This personality of the sea – the sea god, we might say – is out to torture these men in the boat. The fear caused by this sea god can be crippling, even for these men who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ.
It’s almost as though this scene provides for the disciples a test of faith: Who is your God? Is your God Jesus, as you say he is, or do you believe this body of water has more power to control your life than the person of Jesus? If it weren’t for the storm, I’m certain the disciples would quickly and easily claim Jesus as Lord of their lives, but this storm seems so powerful here and now. It doesn’t seem to be such an easy decision anymore, even though they have encountered such powerful grace from Jesus Christ. This is something I think we can all relate to: Fear so easily distracts us from keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. We need so much more faith! When fear is not present, we know the decision is clear and obvious: Jesus Christ is Lord. Nothing and no one comes close. But when fear is present, things become cloudy. Yet look at what Jesus does.
Jesus comes to them in the middle of their fear and speaks to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” He allows the struggle to go on and then speaks his divine Word into the situation, his Word which brings new life and new faith in him. How often, when we are afraid, do we try to run from the fear? Yet Jesus wants to speak to us in the midst of the fear. He wants to build our faith in him by destroying the false god our fear has created. He doesn’t make the storm go away, but instead destroys the false god by revealing his overpowering presence in the midst of it.
This is powerful. Spend some time today praying in those areas of greatest fear; see if Jesus has any words of encouragement or consolation for you. Ask him to build your faith in his divine power by destroying any false gods your fear has built up.
A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
As we all know, Christmas is almost here. For almost everyone, Christmas is an extremely busy time of the year. Gifts need to be bought and wrapped, and kept within a tight budget. Homes need to be cleaned in preparation for family and friends. Food needs to be prepared. Cookies need to be baked. The intensity only seems to grow as Christmas Day approaches closer and closer. In fact, this time of the year can get so overwhelming that it becomes easy to think, “It would actually be kind of nice if I didn’t have to put up with all this busyness. It would actually be better if I didn’t have to celebrate Christmas.”
Yes, it seems we’ve gotten to a point in our world where Christmas is more about being busy with gifts, family, friends, and food than it is about celebrating the birthday of Jesus Christ. Certainly, giving gifts to family and friends, and celebrating the holidays with them, are great things, but we must avoid focusing on those things so much that we forget the reason for our celebration. We must avoid letting the stress completely overwhelm us to the point that we start to think about how great life would be without celebrating the birth of our Savior! We can’t let the darkness of the world overcome us, but instead must call upon the Light of the World! So, how do we fix this problem? How do we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus amid the holiday pressure?
The passage above gives a good clue. See, when we focus too much on our celebration and not on the reason for our celebration, it’s like we’re living as though it is the word of God that will wither and fade, and people (i.e. the grass and flowers) who will stand forever. It must be the other way around! We need to remember that all things will eventually wither and fade, except the Word of God, which will stand forever. What does that mean for our lives? For starters, it means that we can be refreshed by allowing the Word of God to transform our way of thinking, especially around the holidays.
It’s a good practice to take a few minutes each day and read something from the Word of God, the Bible, because it is there that God speaks to his people and reveals his love for them. If you don’t know where to start, begin by praying with the passages surrounding Christmas. This could even be a good practice for the whole family – the kids, too, can be reminded that the best gift of all was given to all of us 2000 years ago. All four Gospels have something about the birth/coming of the Messiah: Matthew 1:18-25, Mark 1:1-8; Luke 2:1-20; John 1:1-18. Read and pray through these in the upcoming days. Go to a place free of noise. Turn your phone off, turn the radio off, turn the TV off, turn everything off. Picture the scenes in your imagination. Prepare your mind and heart for the great celebration of Christmas. Remind yourself that all the busyness surrounding you will eventually wither and fade, but it is the Word of God that will stand forever.
Check out this sound clip taken from a sermon by Dr. S.M. Lockridge:
“He supplies strength to the weak. He’s available for the tempted and the tried. … He defends the feeble. He serves the unfortunate.”
“Death couldn’t handle him and grave couldn’t hold him!”
Jesus must reign in our hearts! He is our only hope against the devil! Give him complete authority over your life. Place him on the throne of your heart! Call upon him at every moment of trial, give him glory in every moment of joy, and thank him for the life he has given you. Imitate his righteousness by reaching out in love to the poor, the imprisoned, the hungry, the homeless, and the unfortunate among us. Imitate his mercy by forgiving all who have sinned against you.
See how he humbled himself by placing aside his crown of jewels for a crown of thorns. See how he stepped down from his glorious throne in Heaven to be hung on the Cross as a criminal, all so that we may enter into his Heavenly Kingdom at the time of our passing from this life to the next. Without this King, our lives are left to be empty of meaning and purpose. Without this King, we will never know true peace and joy. Without this King, we will not know what it means to truly live:
“I came that they might have life, and have it in abundance.” (John 10:10)
That’s my king!
I’m grateful to share my story with you. It’s a story of grace and deep moments of conversion – many moments of conversion.
Every disciple of Jesus Christ has a story. Some may think their story is unexciting or even boring, but this is not the case. Jesus Christ has worked good things in the lives of his disciples – this is not a boring fact!
Prayer is one of those basic activities every Christian disciple longs for, even if not knowing how to do it. After all, Jesus invites his disciples to be his friends:
No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)
Now, to be a friend with someone comes with some demands, though the friendship makes the demands seem easy to fulfill. Who doesn’t want to spend time with their friends?? The best way for friends to communicate with each other is by spending time with each other and having a conversation.
Many people, desiring to be disciples of Jesus Christ, do not know how to spend time with their Friend. This must be corrected! I’m turning to the wisdom of St. Francis de Sales, who lived in the 16th and 17th centuries and was well-known for his spiritual advice. He wrote a great book, Introduction to the Devout Life, which was meant for the average person living in the world. (You can find it here.) St. Francis was known to be a great spiritual guide and his wisdom is quite expansive.
My next few posts, prefaced by “Prayer Workshop,” will highlight a few of his chapters concerning briefer periods of prayer that a disciple may take throughout the day. For the most part, these times of prayer do not require deep spiritual knowledge, nor do they require heaping amounts of time, since our spiritual master knows how busy are the people of God. Still, friends of Jesus want to spend time with Jesus and must learn how to do so.
It’s also worth noting that these next few posts will not cover the entirety of the spiritual life and are not meant to. Instead they are simply showing ways which will allow all disciples, no matter how busy, to spend more time with their Lord and Friend.
Most of us have heard by now of the horrendous persecution of Christians in Iraq. We’ve seen recordings of murder and suffering. We’ve heard that the Christians are given this ultimatum: convert or be killed. Truly horrible things.
We might think to ourselves, “If this was happening in America, there’s no way it would last. If this was happening in America, I would do something about it! As it is, I can’t do anything because it’s halfway around the world from me. Besides, I’m just one person – I can’t do anything on my own anyways.” Then we go on watching our favorite TV shows and talk about how excited we are that it’s football season. I know this because I’ve done the same thing. We must avoid this mentality! We can actually help, even here and now!
We too often forget how powerful prayer can be! Beg the Lord for an end to the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ! Beg him also for great graces of perseverance for those same brothers and sisters, that they might remain strong in their belief in Jesus Christ and not sway from the Way, the Truth, and the Life!
There is still yet a more powerful way we can help: solidarity. Now, before we go any further, let’s take a minute and consider the horrible conditions these Christians are going through: hiding throughout the land without enough food and water, without shelters and beds, never sure if they’ll live another day.
Solidarity: “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). We can unite ourselves to our brothers and sisters in Iraq by joining with them in the struggle. Doing this will help us remember that Christ came to save all people and not only those of us living in America. Obviously, our lives are not being threatened as theirs are, but we can choose to suffer with them. We can choose to eat less food and hear our stomachs grumble, since their stomachs grumble constantly. We can avoid the luxury of hot water, since they have no hot water. We can sleep on the floor, since they can’t rest in the comforts of their own home. We can turn off our phones, radios, computers, or TVs for a day or two, since they have no forms of communication or entertainment beyond their own basic interaction among the people next to them. There are countless ways we can enter into the suffering with them and so turn that into our prayer for them. We choose to suffer with them and then unite that suffering with the suffering of Jesus. Our suffering, then, can redeem the world because it has become the suffering of Jesus.
Fellow disciples of Jesus Christ, come to the aid of your brothers and sisters, who are being persecuted because of their belief in Jesus! Do not let them suffer alone! Even halfway around the world, we must help them remain strong in their faith!