August 15, 2023

Take Courage! It is I. Don’t be Afraid.

Prayer for Understanding

God of wisdom, as we gather to hear your Word this day, calm our spirits and still our minds so that we can receive your message with clarity and respond in faithfulness. Amen

I don't really like the open sea or deep water. When I was like 8 or 9 years old, I almost drowned or shall I say, I felt like I was drowning. It wasn’t even deep water. It was near the shore but I lost my balance and was swept by the big waves. For a few seconds, I was flailing in the water and couldn’t breathe. Of course, I swallowed a lot of salt water. Since then I have had a fear of the open waters.

Moreover, even after the experience, I had a few other scary experiences with the ocean. I shared a few weeks ago the storm I faced in Malaysia. Another storm I had to go through was in Papua New Guinea. I was on a summer short-term mission with three other people from the States. We had the great privilege to stay with a Bible translation missionary family.

After spending some time on the mainland, we had to cross the ocean from the main island to the small island where this missionary family was living while translating the Gospel of John into the Indigenous language. We used this tiny boat to cross the ocean. It was a beautiful and peaceful ride, and I almost fell asleep until… While we were in the middle of the ocean, the wind got stronger and the waves became steeper.

I was scared to death because even though I could swim, I wasn’t a good swimmer. I felt like I was on the Viking Ride in an amusement park. All I could do was hold on to the sides of the boat and pray. “Lord, save me.” I don’t remember how long we were in the storm, but by the time we arrived on the island, the weather was sunny again, like nothing happened.

In today’s text, the disciples had to fight against the wind and waves in the Sea of Galilee. Even though some of them were experienced fishermen, they were still struggling in the storm. Let us see what happened that day.

On that day, Jesus was told that John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod and was buried by his disciples. After hearing the news, Jesus withdrew to a solitary place, but a large crowd followed Him. Having compassion on them, He healed the sick and taught them all afternoon. As evening approached, they were all hungry. So, Jesus fed them with five loaves of bread and two fish.

After they were fed, Jesus immediately told the disciples to go on ahead of him to the other side of Galilee by boat. After they left, He dismissed the crowd and went up to a mountainside by Himself to pray.

The disciples, now in a food coma and tired, were checking when Jesus would come, while slowly rowing the boat to the other side. Suddenly, the wind got stronger and the waves became steeper.

In the Sea of Galilee, these kinds of sudden weather changes happened often due to how it was surrounded by hills and a high mountain. The disciples became alert and the seasoned fishermen among them told the other panicked friends not to worry and started rowing skillfully. Yet, the wind was against the boat and they were buffeted by the big waves.

We usually think that if we follow Jesus or obey His call, the journey is straightforward… no winds, no waves, no boat leaks. The missionary family I met in Papua New Guinea answered God’s call to go to the small island in the Pacific Ocean. They left the comfortable living in California behind and obeyed God’s call to translate the Gospel books into the local dialect.

Since they left their extended families, secure jobs, and wealth for the ministry of God, do you think they faced no difficulties as a missionary family? No sickness, no financial issues, no relationship problems, etc.?

They encountered so many challenges. One of the four children was almost killed in an accident; another kid was in critical condition because they couldn’t take her to the mainland due to a storm; some village people were not happy with what they were doing; and so on.

You can imagine all the difficulties the family with four young children had to go through on a tropical island. Just like the winds were against the disciples on the boat, the winds were against the missionary family who followed Jesus’ call.

We, too, encounter many huge waves, strong winds, and storms. Not only as an individual but as a church as we try to stand firm to be a Gospel-believing church. But you know what? As we struggle in life’s storms, Jesus never turns His eyes from us. His eyes are always on us and never leaves us alone.

When the disciples were in the storm in the Sea of Galilee, He was watching them from the mountain. Jesus waited, watching them from a distance… until the fourth watch of the night, which means, between 3 to 6 am, shortly before dawn. It was still dark.

When it was the time, in His time, He came down to them. The disciples were desperate and weary… weary from rowing against the winds all night, getting nowhere. It seemed like they were defeated. And that moment, Jesus came to them. Maybe He used teleportation power to go into the storm, and then He walked fast on the water towards them.

But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and cried out in fear, ‘It is a ghost!’ Then Jesus said to them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

We sometimes do not recognize Jesus while we are in a storm. Jesus comes to us in the midst of storms and many times He comes in different ways. We misunderstand that He is a part of the storm and we are disheartened. Then Jesus affirms to us that He comes in peace.

My friend’s family visited us last week. They purchased flight tickets from Toronto to Abbotsford 3 years ago, just before Covid. But because of Covid, they couldn’t travel, and finally last week they used the flight tickets.

During Covid, they encountered a huge storm. Their immigration process was delayed. They had to pay a gigantic tuition as international students. Her husband didn’t get a promotion to a full-time position. Her daughter who was a teenager was struggling a lot with isolation. They had an enormous debt. And then she got cancer. As she was getting chemo, everything seemed hopeless and she cried out. And Jesus came and spoke to her, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

On the morning of the last registration day when she had to pay the full tuition, they received a letter that their immigration process was completed. She took the letter to her school and she didn’t have to pay the gigantic amount of tuition.

Her husband got promoted and now he gets paid vacation. Her daughter finished high school well and will go to U of T next month. She defeated cancer and her hair grew out. And for the first time, they drove to Banff and praised God as they were canoeing in Emerald Lake.

In the beginning, she couldn’t see Jesus in the storm but later realized how God made the family stronger as they went through the storm together. How Jesus came to them in their desperation and carried them above the storm.

While everyone in the boat was still in fear holding onto the boat, surprisingly, Peter asked, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to YOU on the water.” And Jesus replied, “Come.” Determined, Peter took one foot out of the boat, and then another. He tried to stand, watching Jesus. One step, another step, he started walking on the water towards Jesus. Peter was literally walking on the water like Jesus. He himself was astonished.

But then he saw the wind. When he turned his eyes from Jesus to the strong wind, he became frightened and began sinking. Paniced, Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught drowning Peter, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When Jesus and Peter got into the boat, the wind died down.

Peter started drowning when his focus shifted from Jesus to his circumstances. If we look at the storm around us, fear, worry, self-pity, and depression will engulf us.

We also need to fix our eyes on Jesus, not our circumstances. Do not let your life’s problems drag you down to the bottom of the sea. Trust in Jesus who is the Lord of both physical storms and life’s storms.

People easily judge Peter, shaking their heads, “Peter… he had little faith.” Did he really? He had much bigger faith than the rest of the disciples in the boat. Peter was taking the risk. He was scared but got out of the boat.

Sometimes we need to get out of the boat. As we take a risk, we might get scared, start sinking, and get wet, but then Jesus will immediately reach out His hand and catch us. If we don’t want to be drowned, all we need to do is fix our eyes on Jesus.

Where do you feel God is leading you to get out of the boat now? In regard to your future plans… in your spiritual life… in your job… your relationships… or even in our church ministry?

I always tell my daughters to get out of their comfort zone and take a risk instead of staying in a greenhouse or taking a safe path all the time. I want them to be adventurous. Peter was the only one who experienced walking on waters like Jesus while the rest of the disciples were safely staying on the boat.

What might keep you in the boat? Fear of failure… sense of inadequacy…uncertainty… spiritual or intellectual doubts… financial issues… fear of being judged by others… health problems? Maybe it is better to regret what you’ve done than what you haven’t.

Brothers and sisters, we all encounter life’s storms. Some might have survived a huge storm; some of you are in the middle of the storm now. No matter how healthy you are; how rich you are; how intellectual you are; how faithful you are; as long as you live in this world, you go through life’s storms.

By the way, on the boat to the island in Papua New Guinea, when the sea was still and quiet, I fell asleep. But when the waves became big and our boat was battered, I started praying and memorizing the Scripture passages in desperation.

When everything seems peaceful, we tend to forget Jesus, we don’t pray as much as we should. We pray when we are desperate. Sometimes, a little hardship becomes a blessing. And then we realize who God is and worship Him, just like the disciples worshiped Jesus, saying, “Truly, You are the Son of God.”

Brothers and sisters, when you encounter a storm, do not be afraid. Jesus, who is bigger than the storms, who is more powerful than any storms, who can calm the storms, who walks over the storms, is with you, saying, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” And He will lead us all the way.

If God is for us, who is against us? Simply put your trust in Jesus when you go through a stormy way, when your faith is small. Just trust Him. That is all you need.


Let us pray.

Lord of sea and storm, Help us see YOU walking towards us in our life’s storms. Help us give our life’s storms to You… with our future, with our disappointment, with our grief, with our discouragement, with our pain, with our health. Jesus, we decide to cast our cares upon You and fix our eyes on You. Thank You for the deliverance. In the name of Jesus. Amen.