How the Way Is Made by Walking (on Water)

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Colossians 2:6–7 NRSV

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

CONSIDER THIS

For the longest time I interpreted this text to mean something like, “Go to the gym.” It is hard to overestimate the depth of our formation (particularly as twenty-first-century Americans) in self-help thinking. Our inner mantra, whether we are conscious of it or not, is, “I think I can.” Love them or hate them, we tend to live by those ten most powerful two-letter words, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” And to be sure, in most of life the mantra holds true.

If I want to get in physical shape, it is up to me to stop eating Swiss cake rolls for breakfast and go to the gym instead. It stands to reason, does it not, that if I want to get in spiritual shape, I must wake up earlier, read more Scripture, pray longer, and fast more regularly?

No.

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord . . .” (v. 6a). So, how did we receive Christ Jesus as Lord? Was that by our effort and strength and willpower? No, it was by grace through faith. Yes, it was a decisive turning of our hearts, minds, strength, and wills to Jesus, but we didn’t bring anything to the table in any sort of quid pro quo arrangement. We freely received. So now what?

. . . continue to live your lives in him . . . (v. 6b)

The Greek word there is peripateo (per-ee-pat-eh-o). It is an ordinary, everyday kind of word that means “to walk around.” In researching this my attention was strangely drawn to Matthew 14:29, which says: “‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.”

How perfect is this? Peter could try walking on water for a thousand years. He could practice it, perfect his technique, and fail a thousand out of a thousand tries. And then Jesus says something like, “Come on!” and Peter steps out of the boat and it happens.

This way is made by walking, though it is a different kind of walking altogether. This way Jesus calls us to walk is not about our effort, technique, or spiritual work ethic. So often, in doing these things we unknowingly put our faith in these things. This walk is by grace through faith. It doesn’t begin with our activity but our receptivity.

What if we thought of our spiritual practice not like walking around a track but like walking on water? What if each morning we saw ourselves not as settling into our favorite chair to read the Bible but as standing up in the boat and preparing to walk over the edge, onto the water? (Honestly, that’s what it feels like to write the Daily Text. You can blame the misses on me, but every one that hits can be credited to Jesus.)

I think this is what it looks like for us to be “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (v. 7 NRSV).

We aren’t building ourselves up through our activity. We are being built up in the gift of receptivity, which always begins with the giver. I have waded around in the shallow end of my own activity enough to now know the difference. This is what grace through faith looks like.

THE PRAYER

Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who ever stands on the water and beckons us to “Come on!” Remind me that all of my activity while still in the boat is still just my activity. Come, Holy Spirit, and awaken faith in me to walk out onto the water. I can’t muster this up. I must receive it. I am ready. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

THE QUESTIONS

  1. How do you relate to this notion of walking on water as the everyday practice and experience of our faith versus sitting back in the boat, busy with activity but still in the boat?
  2. How deep does the self-help mentality go in you? Or, I should say, how deep is your awareness of this mentality in you?
  3. Do you ever feel like you must build yourself up with your spiritual activity in order for God to be with you? 

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.

5 COMMENTS

  1. JD, As I read today’s Daily Text the words of a familiar hymn came to my mind: Trust and Obey, for there’s no other way to be happy (blessed) in Jesus, than to trust and obey. As long as we keep in mind that it’s only through His grace that we’re enabled to trust and obey, I think we can commit to that strategy. As I see it, our real challenge is to empty ourselves of self sufficiency, not to try harder. And then to thank God for whatever progress is made towards our sanctification.

  2. LOVE THIS LOVE THIS LOVE THIS!!! Yes yes yes! Praise You, Lord, giver of these good words! I think of when I was little. Splashing in the kiddy pool was fun til I noticed all that was going on in the Big Pool! So I desired to go to the Big Pool, but I didn’t know how to swim yet, so I clung to my dad as he waded around. But he encouraged me til one day I stood at the end of the diving board, looking waaay down at my dad beneath me, waiting for me to jump w/open arms. When I got the nerve to take that step- o the exhilaration! And the relief when I felt my dad’s arms around me, holding me up! Thanking God today for that good man and all he did for me, and for YOU, Brother JD, for connecting these dots for me.

  3. JD: We’re on the same page. I posted this on Facebook 16 hours ago:
    16h
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    After a year or two of listening to Sunday sermons, it would be good if Christians would get up and begin to “walk in the Spirit.”

    To follow the New Testament commands of “walk in the Spirit,” “live in the Spirit,” and “be led by the Spirit” requires that we be like Peter and step out of the boat of our comfort zone and on to the water of hearing and obeying the living Jesus. We must obey Him instead of holding on to the comfort of our own analysis, excuses, and emotions.

    The “self-help” that Jesus wants us to focus on is to train ourselves to deny self, take up our cross, and follow Him in surrender and obedience. Just as Peter chose to deny His own desires, feelings, and evaluations by actively stepping out of the boat and moving his legs to walk on the water, we too must actively listen to Jesus and do what He says, especially when it goes against our perceived self-interest. The best way I can help myself is to moment-by-moment do what Jesus tells me to–to actively train myself to walk in the Spirit, not in my human nature or by pride in my own ability.

    Instead of building up our self-confidence, Christ-followers are called to humble ourselves. By being willing to sink and appear like a fool to his friends, Peter humbled himself and received the grace of God. As he sank in fear and unbelief, Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him above the water and they walked together on the surface. God spoke to me recently and said, “Stop trying and start trusting.” Now I’m experiencing a paradox. It’s an ongoing struggle to put the brakes on self-effort and instead to simply listen, trust, and obey.

  4. Based on something Oswald Chambers said, my own analogy is that I am no longer sitting in the backseat of the car being driven around–which is what church had become–when it got to the point that a new way to worship/do church became the new focus, I had had enough.

  5. “I do not come before you trusting in my own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. I am not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table, but you are the same Lord whose nature is to always have mercy.”

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