We hope you will enjoy our “Prayer Note” — an internal communication here at The Cove, created each month to remind and encourage our staff to pray. We share these with you at the beginning of each month in hopes that you, too, will be encouraged.
By Donna Riesen
PRAYER IN HARD PLACES
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:22-33, ESV)
If you are of a certain age and grew up attending Sunday School, you probably saw this story illustrated with flannelgraph. You watched as the story progressed and the teacher slowly placed a few paper cutouts of dark, menacing clouds, explaining how a big storm was gathering over the Sea of Galilee. Then, in a dramatic flourish, she slapped on a couple of huge waves and perilously tilted the paper boat sideways. The only thing holding it afloat was a few dots of fuzzy lint clinging precariously to the dark blue flannel. Your eyes grew big as saucers. Your stomach dropped as you put yourself in the place of the frightened disciples, alone on a troubled sea, rowing furiously and bracing yourself against the wind and the sharp spray of the cold waves. You held on for dear life as the teacher continued reading Matthew’s account…“The boat was a long way from land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.” (v. 24)
The Apostle John tells us, “The sea became rough, because a strong wind was blowing” (John 6:18, ESV). How could this be? The disciples were right where Jesus had told them to be. He had sent them into the boat and out onto the sea, yet “the wind was against them.”
Matthew’s account tells us the event occurred “in the fourth watch of the night” (v. 25)—somewhere between 3:00
and 6:00 a.m. As the exhausted disciples summoned all their strength, rowing furiously against the gales, their minds must have swirled with questions. Hours earlier they had been with Jesus and watched as He performed a jaw-dropping miracle, feeding a crowd of more than 5,000 with a boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fish. They’d had the privilege of being the distributors as well as the clean-up crew, and boy did they clean-up! The people had gone home satisfied, leaving behind twelve baskets full of “broken pieces.” (See Matthew 6:1-13.) Now here the disciples sat, afraid and confused, needing a miracle of their own…but where was Jesus?
Ever been there? Right where you believe God led you, yet facing a strong wind blowing against you or a rough sea that threatens to overwhelm you? Whether it’s a sudden storm of traumatic injury or the gathering clouds of worry over an uncertain future, you’re exhausted and confused. And the same Lord who fed the five thousand seems distant, remote, and unreachable.
Overwhelmed, the disciples continued their losing fight with the waves. As they stared into the darkness seeking for a glimpse of the shore, their eyes began to focus on a barely discernable figure in the distance. Did they drop the oars in alarm as they saw the figure approaching, walking on the choppy surface of the sea? The ESV version describes them as being “frightened” in John 6:19, but Matthew and Mark’s accounts are even more direct: they tell us they were “terrified” (Matthew 14:26 and Mark 6:50, ESV).
The Bible tells us that “Immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid’” (v. 27). Praise God for His calming presence and reassuring voice in the midst of a storm!
Most of us would have collapsed with relief, thankful for the chance to lay down our oars and steady our nerves—but not Peter! Ready to step out of the boat and onto the still-churning waves, he knew the safest place to be was the place nearest to Jesus. “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to you on the water.” (v. 28) At the Lord’s command, “Come,” Peter was overboard but upright, walking on the water toward Jesus.
We Sunday School kids marveled at Flannelgraph Peter: standing upright and full of faith, headed straight for Jesus. Then the teacher reached into the basket for the next illustration. Placing a cutout of the desperate, flailing disciple on the board, she slowly and dramatically proclaimed the Scripture, “But when He saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (v. 30)
We’ve been there too. We’ve heard His voice. He’s calmed our fears and assured us of His presence. At His command we’ve stepped out of the boat in obedience and faith. And then it happens. We take our eyes off Jesus and start looking around us. When this happens, we’re sunk (or so it seems).
The flannelgraph lesson continued, as in a rapid motion the teacher reached up and removed the illustration of a drowning, desperate Peter, replacing it with an image of Jesus reaching out with a firm grip on Peter’s hand. The small classroom echoed with our collective sigh of relief. Flannelgraph notwithstanding, no virtual reality experience available today could elicit a more dramatic reaction from a roomful of children.
I was privileged to be one of those Sunday School kids, and I’m grateful for the committed Christian teachers who taught me the Word of God and helped make the stories of Jesus come alive for me. All grown up now, I realize it wasn’t the one-dimensional flannelgraph retelling that gripped my heart, it was the Holy Spirit working in me to draw me and reveal His truth.
Like the disciples, we’ve seen our share of storms and been emboldened like Peter to step out in faith to follow the Lord. And like Peter, there have been times when we’ve taken our eyes off Jesus, looked around us and begun to sink.
In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis wrote that “Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.” As the harsh winds of reality raged around them, Peter and the disciples experienced a faith-shaking test; but in the end, it was Peter’s bold step of faith that resulted in their recognition of Jesus’ divine Sonship. “And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” (Matthew 14:32-33, ESV)
In the reality of our personal lives and in our work at The Cove this year, we may find ourselves in some hard places, facing some faith-testing storms. Let’s pray that our response at these times will be to fix our eyes on Christ and cry out to Him, “Lord, save me!” Praise God that He will not relax His hold on us and He will reveal more of Himself to us and to others, even in the hard places.
As you pray for the ministry of The Cove during the month of February, please pray especially for those who will be attending the Pastors’ Institute and Military Marriage Retreat. Many of these pastors and military personnel (and their spouses) have found themselves in hard places in the previous year. Pray that the Lord will reveal Himself to them, reassure them of His presence and strengthen their faith for the days ahead. Pray that marriages will be strengthened and ministry commitments renewed and revitalized.
Thank you for praying!
Women’s Bible Study — Morning: January 10-February 28
(Teacher: Jane Derrick; Worship Leader/Emcee: Carole James)
Living Under the Wings of the Almighty: The Place of Peace and Safety
Women’s Bible Study — Evening: January 12-February 21
(Teacher: Kendra Graham; Emcee: Jill Gottenstrater)
Delivered: The Book of Esther
An Evening at The Cove with Brandon Heath — February 12
(Emcee: Michelle Bachelor)
Don Wilton —February 16-17
(Emcee: Glynn Bachelor; Worship Leader: Lucas Jack)
Pastors’ Institute—Reigniting Your Call
John Cook — February 24-26
(Emcee: Bill Wolfe; Worship Leader: Giles Blankenship; Pastor-in-Residence: Ed Graham)
Military Marriage Retreat—Each for the Other, Both for God: The Bible’s Design for a Resilient Marriage
Thank your for praying!