Sunday, May 30, 2010

Walking on Water

When I was little, I was fascinated with the story of Jesus walking on the water. I always wished that I had the power to do that too. Sometimes when I would go to the pool, I would place my flip-flop covered foot on the very top of the water. The water tension against my shoe felt like I could almost step down and stay afloat, but whenever I attempted it I would somehow end up at the bottom of the pool. This only intrigued me more and I've continued to think about the story throughout my life.

Matthew 14:22-31 relates how Jesus stayed ashore teaching while the disciples went out to sea. Verse 25 says, "And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea." The fourth watch refers to the time between about 3 and 6 am. So when in verse 26 it says, "And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear" I can understand why they would be afraid. If I was still awake at 3 am, my first thought would be that I was seeing something, and then I would probably wonder what kind of ghost was coming to get me.

But Christ, seeing their obvious fear, responds in verse 27-"straightway, Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid." Christ knew His desciples and understood their fears, and He sought to bring peace to His frightened followers. This is followed by one of my favorite stories in verses 28-31 as Peter attempts to walk to Christ, but falls short of his goals and must then be rescued by the Savior.

When I was little, walking on water was just a cool idea, something I thought would be fun. But now I recognize it for the powerful symbol it is of faith and trust in the Lord. Christ had faith enough to actually walk on water. Peter had the beginnings of faith enough to trust that when the Lord told him to "Come" he came down out of the ship and began walking toward the Lord. This same invitation is extended to everyone. Christ's entire ministry is the message of Come. Come to the Lord. (see Matthew 11:28-30, 2 Nephi 26:33 Moroni 10:32-33) The Sermon on the Mount begins with an invitation to come to God and be like He is. (Matthew 5:3-16) Only in and through Christ can we come back to our Father in Heaven and live with Him forever. (Alma 16:13+15)

In Matthew 14:28-29, Peter desires to come to Christ, He tells Peter to come, and Peter proceeds to leave the ship and begins to walk on water toward Christ. Whenever I read this, I think about my own life. Sometimes I'm surrounded by storms, like the apostles in the ship, but then I see the Savior walking toward me telling me to "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid." Those moments of assurance help me have the faith enough to start walking toward the Savior- my safety and refuge from the storm.

But, like Peter, I soon realize that I'm trying to walk on water. The thought crosses my mind that what I'm trying to do should be impossible, and I begin to sink. Whether through peers, the media, or other sources, Satan is constantly telling us that we are attempting the impossible in walking toward Christ. He would have us believe that it cannot be done. That we are defying the natural laws of the world and that we will fail in our attempts. We can easily become discouraged by the storms surrounding us, and instead of peace and trust we experience fear. We being to sink.

However, the most reassuring verses in this story follow after Peter begins to falter. Peter "saw the wind boisterous, [and] he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying Lord, save me. Immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him." (verses 30-31) Christ kept His eye on Peter and immediately reached to help him when he began to sink and called for help. Christ will do the same for all of us. We each have moments of doubt in our lives, and we can often become overwhelmed by that fear. But Christ is always there, watching and waiting to be our personal Savior. All we have to do is have have and call on His name. We read further about how Christ is our personal Savior in the Book of Mormon as Alma testifies about the life and mission of Christ (see Alma 7:11-13) and also in Isaiah's prophecies about the Lamb of God (see Isaiah 53:3-5)
I love the message of Christ to come unto Him. I know He's always walking toward us and, as we have faith, we can overcome the storms in our lives and walk on water.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Peace Be Still

I've always been enamored with the ocean. Ever since I was little, I enjoyed the sound of the waves hitting the beach as seagulls squawked nosily overhead. However, growing up in land-locked Arizona, I haven't had many chances to spend much day to day time around the sea. That changed for 3 weeks last summer when I worked on a hospital ship that was providing medical care to central american countries. The ship docked a few miles off the coast, so I lived each day surrounded by water. I finally started to understand the awesome power of the ocean and why it is held, especially by seamen, in a place of such respect, awe, and fear. We didn't encounter any major storms, but we had our share of rough water, and I saw how much effort it took to steer in those pounding waves.

During His earthly ministry, Christ also spent time with the sea, specifically the Sea of Galilee. His disciples, who were fishermen by trade and thus familiar with sailing, often took Him across the sea as He ministered in different cities. Mark 4:36-40 relates the story of one of these voyages and tells how Jesus was asleep in the back of the ship when a great tempest arose. Verse 37 states, "And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full", meaning the storm was so huge it threatened to capsize the ship. Now, the disciples were not novice sailors and had probably been through storms before, but even they were afraid "and they awake [Jesus], and said unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?"(verse 38) The power of the waves had frightened the apostles into believing that they were going to die.

However in verses 39-40 we read "And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?" Christ brought peace to the raging waves and billowing winds and then asked that simple question "Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?". The apostles had witnessed miracles and testified that Jesus was the Christ, and yet when their faith was tested in the storm that threatened to destroy them, they forsook their faith and thought that Christ would allow them to sink.

Often in life we are surrounded by waves and winds that obscure our destination and leave us to feel that we are directionless in a sea of doubt and despair. But Christ asks just one thing of us "Be not afraid, only believe." (Mark 5:36). Faith is the easiest and the most difficult component in learning to become like our Heavenly Father and Christ. They have perfect faith and desire us to have it too. But how do we obtain faith? How can we even start?

Alma gives us guidance on planting the seed of faith in our hearts during his discourse to the Zoramites. He beings in Alma 32:20-21 "And now as I said concerning faith-faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true. And now, behold, I say unto you, and I would that ye should remember that God is merciful unto all who believe on his name; therefore he desireth, in the first place, that ye should believe, yea, even on his word." So what we learn from this is that faith doesn't mean believing something because we've seen it, but it is believing in those things which the spirit can testify to us are true. It's like the quote from the Santa Claus "Believing isn't seeing, seeing is believing." We don't have to see everything physically if we have faith in those things that are true. Secondly, God is merciful and He wants us to understand! He has given us scriptures and doctrine so that we can grow closer to Him and become more like him. And when we have faith to believe that, then we will grow toward God.

So how do we start? Alma 32:26-27 tells us that we must first have a desire to believe. Desire gives us direction. Most people don't just wake up one day and decide they want to run a marathon. It usually starts with a desire to be physically active, to run, and then the idea comes. Faith is the same way. It's not common for someone to wake up and suddenly believe in everything the gospel teaches. They must first have a desire to believe and understand.

Alma 32:28, 33-34, 37, 41-42 then counsels to compare the word (which symbolizes many things, including different aspects of the gospel-like faith) to a seed, plant the seed, nurture the seed, and encourage it's growth. As the seed grows into a fruitful tree, we can see that it is a good seed. In this way our faith has grown from the potential of the seed (a desire to grow) into a fruitful tree. As we plant the desire for faith in Christ in our heart, nourish it, and allow it to grow, then we will find that we can believe in the words of Christ, believe that He is our Savior, and know that He will always be with us in the trials of our lives.

Looking out my sunny window, it's sometimes hard to remember that storms can arise suddenly and obscure the sun that lightens my day, but I know that the true Son can pierce the clouds and tempests in life and with faith nothing is impossible. Just as Christ saved His apostles on the Sea of Galilee, He will lead us safely home if we have faith in Him.

Further reading:
Matthew 14:25-33
Luke 17:5-6
James 1:5-6
3 Nephi 17:7-8
Ether 12:6-22, 28-31
Articles of Faith #4