My wife, Ellie, and I just returned from an extended trip to the continent of Africa. One of the highlights of our trip was to visit lifelong friends. They had moved to Kigoma, Tanzania, for what was supposed to be a one-year assignment to help start a training school for new pastors. That was back in 1983. Now, 35 years later, they are still there! The visit was truly inspirational.
Kigoma is a small village, about one thousand kilometers from Dar es Salaam, and the conditions are highly challenging. But the Lord has blessed their efforts. Our friends have helped start five separate training schools, graduating thousands of new pastors over the years.
While visiting, I had the opportunity to speak to the spring class of about one hundred young pastors in training. These young, Godly leaders have given up so much to enter into the pastorate. I thought about what to share for a long time, and my thoughts centred on the importance of staying focused on Jesus in all circumstances—something that’s important to every Christian leader, including me. And it is also what I want to share with you all, my brothers and sisters, in leadership at Prison Fellowship International.
In Matthew 14:22–32, we read the familiar story of Jesus walking on water in the midst of a horrendous storm. Peter calls out to Jesus in verse 28 (NIV) saying, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus answered with one word, “Come.” Notice that Jesus did not challenge Peter. He could have said, “What a crazy request!” or “You can’t walk on water!” But, no. Jesus didn’t say that at all. He simply said, “Come.” He welcomed Peter to join Him in an unbelievable event—walking on water.
Peter was not trying to outdo Jesus, he was trying to be with Him. Peter wanted to share Jesus’s blessed place on the water. He wanted to put himself beyond what one normally could dream of doing. I love this about Peter!
Notice also that Peter did not ask Jesus to protect him. He did not say “Lord, promise me I won’t sink.” But he did ask for permission to join Him. Peter already knew that when Jesus is behind any action done in faith, as crazy as it might seem, all things are possible. And so, in obedience to Jesus’s words, Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water towards Jesus. “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” (Matthew 14:29–30, NIV).
The trouble started when Peter felt the wind and the waves—just like we can in our ministry each day.And suddenly, Peter felt afraid—uncertain about the whole activity. I can just imagine him thinking,What am I doing here? I am going to fail and drown!
Our faith in what God has called us to do in our various roles at Prison Fellowship International should never be affected by fear. I have personally struggled with that issue my whole life in ministry. I am often overcome with anxiety regarding the fear of failure in my work at Prison Fellowship International.
I feardisappointing the board of directors, or key staff, or failing to fulfill promises I have made to our generous donors. Like Peter, these fears flood in when I take my eyes off Jesus. Both Peter and I get distracted by the fierce wind and waves—the challenges of this world.
The simple lesson I want to remind myself, and you all as well, is to always keep our full attention on Christ and never allow our circumstances to weaken our faith as we fulfill our mission at Prison Fellowship International. Our mistake is to allow the worldly situations to overtake the power of Jesus. And if we do, we become afraid and begin to sink. If Jesus had let Peter go at that moment, he surely would have sunk. But Peter turns to the Lord, and with great wisdom cries out, “Lord, save me!”
This is where we can learn a second simple lesson. Jesus will never leave us in our times of trouble. In this case, Jesus responded to this urgent cry instantly by reaching out His hand to Peter and lifting him out of the water. But notice the scripture does not say He carried Peter back to the boat. I personally believe they walked back together so Jesus’s faith lesson would have been fully completed, and, as verse 32 says, “when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.” Sudden peace.
My prayer for each one of us today is that God will bless us all as we continue to fix our eyes on Him.