With so much chaos and commotion around us we can easily become distracted or sidetracked from God’s calling and purpose in our lives. . Unless you live in a cave or on a mountaintop away from all cultural influences, the peace and tranquility that allow us to better focus are all but a distant memory.
The idea that we can be distracted, diverted, or deterred from God’s best for our lives should weigh heavy on our hearts when we take His Word seriously. One of my favorite teachings Jesus gave His disciples is about keeping focused on Him in times when trials threaten to capture our minds.
In Matthew 14 we read about the disciples having a tough night while on a fishing expedition. The wind and waves had carried them many yards from shore and the chill of the early morning hours was setting in. The “fourth watch” was from 3:00-6:00 AM when exhaustion can hang heavy. Deprived of sleep, the imagination wanders and fear can heighten. The dampness clung to and bit at the weariness of these fishermen.
There were no comforting shoreline beacons in sight. No lighted compasses aboard this old wooden boat. The hostile sea worked against any good fishing strategies. These tired fishermen were scared and disappointed. “Whose idea was this? Why didn’t we stick with Jesus? Their desperation drew them into childish accusations.
At the point of their greatest concern, they saw Jesus. “Jesus went out to them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” (verses 25-27)
In the original, the word for “ghost” is really “phantasm or phantom.” Our understanding of “fantastic” comes from this word. The disciples thought they were seeing a ghost, or spirit, not the God-man, Jesus. Jesus calmed the situation by announcing that it was He.
Peter was so impressed with this miracle (and the miracles he had already witnessed) that his immediate response was “Lord, if it’s you, …tell me to come to you on the water.” Peter is a lot like many of us—impulsively direct! Peter wanted to step out with faith-he had to be with Jesus. Often, we too want to undertake the works God is leading us to without first getting ourselves spiritually ready.
Peter fixed his gaze upon the Lord and stepped onto the water. Peter didn’t walk around the boat or head off to a better fishing hole; he came to Jesus. “Come,” Jesus said. Then Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus (verse 29).
What happened to Peter then is the same thing that happens to all of us when we take our gaze off the Master–we sink. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, Lord, save me!”
How quickly Peter asked for help! He didn’t wait until he was five fathoms deep to call for help. He knew that he had broken fellowship with Jesus when his gaze became fixated on the wind.
Aren’t we glad we have a merciful God? “Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ He said, why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:31) He is there always! As the Psalmist testifies, “He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me; God sends His love and His faithfulness.” (Psalms 57:3)
Peter had his gaze on Jesus. We define “gaze” as a look that is penetrating to the heart–looking inward–a concentrated focus. Peter had that look to Jesus. He was saved and aware that the God-man, Jesus not only saved him but calmed the waters of the sea. He realized that mere man could not have done this.
“And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshipped Him, saying, Truly, you are the Son of God.” (Matt. 14:32-33)
In life, we will find continual challenges in our work environments, recreational endeavors, and family life. The daily events that enter life continue to create stress on our ability to order our private world and balance life’s priorities. Many families are working through the backwash of brokenness and bitterness trying to piece things together. Others are facing illnesses that can erode their faith and peace of mind.
In speaking about gazing upon the Lord, we read about a man who was lame in Acts 3:3-8:
“And when he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. And Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze upon him and said, ‘Look at us’ And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.”
How often we fail to take the time to really know God. The distractions and encumbrances of life surround us, and we feel a smothering impact on our faith. We need the fresh spirit of Jesus that resuscitates us to eternal life. Psalm 27:4 states, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”
When we feel distracted by the circumstances of life; or the materialistic trappings of this world, keep your gaze (concentration) upon Him. To be effective disciples with relevant ministries we need to “fix our gaze and concentration on God.” Only then will we be free from the tangles of life.
In Proverbs 4:24-25 we find the counsel of the great king, Solomon. Despite his wealth, wisdom and fame, he reminds us of the most important thing–keeping focused on God. “Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.” How are you doing in this regard?
What does this verse say to you? “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes [gaze] on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews12:1-2)
Jim Grassi, D. Min.