Childlike Maturity: Fearlessness - Matthew 14:22-33
I guess I can thank Joshua’s meteorological abilities for this morning’s illustration. It has happened twice this summer. Joshua, out of the clear blue, has said, “It’s fixing to storm.” The second time was yesterday, while we were at the zoo. Anita, Natalie, and I had already seen the clouds, but they looked to be miles away and going around us. Joshua made his comment, and I looked at Anita and we said to Natalie, “Did you hear what Joshua said? Remember last time, we better get going if we’re going to see anything else.”
What was last time, it was July 6th at Wrightsville Beach. We had driven down to Wrightsville Beach for a simple day trip and had been enjoying a beautiful day and the beach. There had not been a cloud in the sky. We had taken our lunch so we didn’t have to worry about anything but sitting, swimming, and playing. A couple of us had gotten a little burnt on places that simply were missed with the sunscreen and we decided, maybe another hour, and we’d leave. Joshua, with not a cloud to be seen, said, “It’s fixing to storm.” We laughed it off and he and Natalie headed down to the water. I told Anita that I was going to gather a few things and take them on to the vehicle, and then go down to the water myself. We’d leave the chairs, towels, and umbrellas so we could dry off. About ten minutes later, as I was taking the ice chest to the Toyota, I heard the first rumble of thunder. By the time I got it loaded and was back on the beach, the rest of them were packing up. Before we could finish getting the chairs up, a light rain started in…twenty minutes after Joshua’s comment, Davey and I were standing out in the pouring rain, as wet as if we had just come out of the ocean…almost everything inside the Toyota was nearly as wet.
And just to let you know that sometimes it is important to listen to children, within twenty minutes of Joshua’s comment yesterday, a band of rain showers so heavy that it was like someone had overturned a full bucket in the clouds hit the zoo, followed by several rounds of thunder. You can’t ask him about the weather, but if Joshua tells you “it’s fixing to storm,” I’d seek some shelter.
Listening to children…well, for Jesus it was telling his followers that they must become like children if they wanted to have any shot at entering the Kingdom of Heaven. We’ve considered that statement for the last three weeks, and will conclude our series today.
We know already two traits of children that are involuntary for them, but that we must voluntarily take up as adults are that children, by their nature of children are growing and dependent.
We have to realize that while we may not be physically growing any more, at least not vertically, that we can never claim to be full-grown spiritually, that is, unless we can look in a spiritual mirror and say, “I look just like Jesus.” If we have not reached Jesus’ state of perfection, then we must still strive to grow in our relationship with God…to do anything else is to cut off our relationship with God.
We also have to realize that we are dependent. We cannot effectively go through life as a Christian claiming to be independent and not needing anything or anyone else. God created us to be in connection with others. When God looked at Adam in the Garden of Eden, despite how He had called everything to that point “good,” He saw Adam alone and said, “It is not good that man should be alone…I will create for man “a helper as his partner.”[i] God created woman to complete man, to keep man from being alone…we are created to be in relationship and dependent upon one another to remind us that ultimately, we are dependent upon God.
We have learned that we are called to be generous…to basically be willing to give over to God everything we have and all that we are, that He may do His ministry through us and gifts and abilities. Why should we not be willing to give to God our complete selves, from our purses and billfolds, to our very lives…for they come from Him and belong to Him anyway.
We have also learned that we are called to be forgiving. We are reminded that if we desire to be forgiven by God, then we must be willing to forgive those who have wronged us. We must have a playground type attitude that the past is just that, the past, and today presents a new beginning…just as God has offered that same thing to us through the blood of Christ…as we have freely received, we are to freely give.
All of these are ways that we grow into childlike maturity—becoming as children, allowing God to remake us and ready us for His Kingdom. Now I hear you asking, “what does Joshua’s ability to forecast the weather have to do with fearlessness or anything relating to our childlike maturity?” Well, actually, it only has an indirect relation. It was not his forecasting that was the key, it was while I was loading the vehicle at Wrightsville Beach that I saw it. There was a young girl, I’d say maybe seven-years-old, max. She was walking along the side of the beach access. When she had started on the wall, it was only a foot or less off the ground, her mom had no issue with that, but as we got to the point between the dunes, the picture changed. She was a good twenty feet or more above the ground as she continued to walk the wall. Her mom pleaded with her to get down, but she continued on, as if there was no danger whatsoever. A fall might not have killed her, but if she slipped or stumbled, a broken arm or leg was almost guaranteed. The young girl was fearless and kept telling her mom she would be alright.
I saw that fearless attitude in Joshua this summer when we were on vacation. We were at the pool and Joshua’s favorite pool activity was to jump in, feet first, into water that was a good foot over his head, regardless of the fact that when he first started, he had never swam a lick. In fact he had never been in water over his head without a life-jacket or his “floaties” on his arms. However, just as fearless as that little girl walking the wall, Joshua would stand, get ready, and jump.
What was the key? Why were they able to act without fear? The little girl’s mom was holding her hand…Joshua was jumping towards me in the pool. They both knew that someone was there that would catch hold of them if they fell, and would pull them up if they were drowning. They acted without fear because their faith and focus was on the one who could save them.
In the Gospel of Matthew we see Peter act with childlike maturity to begin with. Jesus had been teaching, and it was time for He and the disciples to have a moment of rest. Jesus wanted to be alone so He actually sent the disciples on ahead in the boat. Jesus dismissed the crowds and went up the mountain to pray. While Jesus was praying, it had grown dark, evening had set upon them and a storm was tossing the boat to and fro. As dawn approached, Jesus decided to make His way to the disciples, and began walking across the lake. One of the disciples must have noticed and then got the others to look, and they were terrified. Through the storm, there was a figure making its way toward them. They huddled together in fear, afraid their end was near, for a ghost was about to get them.
Then Jesus spoke into their fear, trying to calm their emotional and spiritual storm, and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter responded, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus told him to come, and Peter stood up, stepped on to the water, and to everyone’s (save Jesus’) amazement, Peter did not sink, but began walking on the water, heading straight toward Jesus. Peter acted in unbelievable faith with his focus upon Jesus. With his focus on Jesus, the One he knew could save him. Peter did the unbelievable and incredibly dangerous…walking on the water—not on smooth as glass water, but on water in the midst of a raging storm. Like a child, he focused not on the danger, but on the One who could save him.
Suddenly, though, Peter did what too many of us grown-ups do…he took his eyes off of the his safety net, and instead focused on the threat. We do not know what caused Peter to look away, maybe it was a strong gust of wind that blew his hair across his face, maybe it was one of the other disciples hollering “look out,” but Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and looked toward the storm, and that is when he began to fear, his trust no longer in Jesus, but overwhelmed at how much greater the storm was than himself.
Childlike maturity when it comes to fear rests on having that spoken or unspoken connection to the person who can save you. Remember the story of David and Goliath, how that little boy faced off against this giant of a man…author Max Lucado says it was because David’s eyes were not fixed on Goliath, but instead fixed upon the almighty power of God.[ii]
My friends, that is how we live with David, Peter, Joshua, the little girl’s kind of fearlessness…focusing our attention not on the danger around us, but instead focusing our attention on God.
We are going to face some things that will terrify many folks. We are going to face things that have some folks cowering in fear, being a nervous wreck, or afraid for their lives. We will face giants, we will face deep water, we will face walls that seem to drop off to far below. We will face folks more powerful than us that exert their control over our lives or the lives of those we love. We will face bosses that threaten to fire us. We will face actual job loss. We will face financial loss. We will face humiliation. We will face threats. We will face illness. We will face death. The question becomes, “where is our focus?” Are we going to fall or drown in fear because we are looking at the storm and hear “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” or are we going to keep our eyes upon Jesus, upon our Savior, and go straight into the storm, not a “it’s fixing to storm” situation, but a storm that is raging around us, and step out on the water without fear…knowing that the One calling us into the storm is the One who can save us.
It is that kind of childlike maturity that I believe prompted Paul to write, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? … Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who first loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[iii]
My friends, the greatest threat against us is death…that is the tallest giant, the deepest water, the fieriest storm, the highest wall…and, my brothers and sisters, God has already defeated that enemy. With our greatest enemy defeated, there is nothing left to fear, God has claimed the victory, and called us to keep our eyes fixed upon Him, letting the storms fall from sight, jump into the water, and walk, as He holds our hand.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.