Well the Lord answers prayer. As a very selfish teenager growing up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I had a very simple prayer as a teenager: Dear God, please make me rich. And God did answer that prayer. Not by making me rich, but by making my best friend rich. It’s nice to have a rich best friend when you’re a teenager. By today’s standards, he might not have been all that wealthy, but I’ll tell you folks in 1968, when Teddy turned 16, his dad took him to the Pennsylvania Dept. of Motor Vehicles to get his drivers license and immediately to the Pontiac dealership to get a brand new 1968 Pontiac GTO convertible. That was untold wealth to a guy like me. Teddy drove his dad home and then went out and picked up his best friends. That would be me and another friend Bobby. I guess I was Billy back then. We had kind of a Teddy, Billy, Bobby thing going back then.
So we immediately started driving around Philadelphia, enjoying the fruit of a brand new Pontiac GTO convertible. Now after awhile, when you’re a teenage boy, things start to click in and after awhile we realized you know there’s really no difference between a hard top and a convertible if you keep the top up. So let’s put the top down. So we decided to put the top down on the 1968 Pontiac GTO convertible. And by the way, this is probably a good time to let you know, Teddy turned 16 in February. In Philly. In a snow storm. So we’re driving around Philadelphia with the top down in a snow storm, three teenage boys. Teddy’s driving; I’m up in the passenger seat, Bobby’s in the back. Soon Bobby says “you know I think I’ve made a discovery. I realize why they refer to this piece of glass in front of you two the wind shield. I’m freezing back here. I’m coming up front.” Which we said “we’ll it’s not a bench seat, you’re going to have to straddle the console.”
“That’s not a problem, I can do it.” So now we have Bobby straddling the console, Teddy driving, I’m on the passenger side and we’re driving down the road, in a snow storm with the top down.
It’s at this point that Teddy comes up with an idea and I find it always fascinating that there are teenage boys who have nothing better to do than come up with contests for other teenage boys. He says “you know what? Bobby’s right, this wind shield is really blocking all the wind. We’re not really showing how tough we are.” Of course by now, we are completely numb because it’s so freezing. He says “I’d like to propose a contest. I suggest we all scoot forward on our seats, and lets put our chin up on the top of the windshield and I’ll drive as fast as I can and we’ll see who can stay up there the longest.” Now when you’re a 16 year old boy, you dare not say ‘I don’t want to do that. That sounds cold. That doesn’t sound like any fun.’ It’s like: oh I’m all for that. Let’s go for it. And isn’t it amazing the person who always thinks of the contest is the person who can’t compete. Because Teddy then says “you know what, I just made a discovery. If I put my chin up on the windshield, I can’t reach the gas pedal so you two better have the contest. I’ll just stay down here and drive.”
Well Bobby and I’d been through this before and we knew that if there was going to be a legitimate winner, you had to obey the rules and so we immediately decided to establish the rules of this contest. I said to Bobby, “can you wear a hat?” It was 1968, we were all wearing these wool ski cap kind of things. Bobby said “of course you can, but I don’t think you’re going to be able to keep it on because the winds going to blow it right off.”
I went to the glove box, even in a brand new car, glove box has man’s best friend. That would of course be a roll of duct tape. So I took the duct tape and proceeded to tape the ski cap to my head, around my face. Not to be outdone, Bobby did the same thing, and we both put our chins up on the windshield. Are you with me folks? It’s a snow storm in Philadelphia, we’re driving a convertible, two people are now with their chins on the top of the windshield, duct tape heads if you will, with their ski caps firmly in place. We start driving down the road and folks I never had a sensation like that in my whole life. The wind would make your eyes want to tear up but as soon as they would produce tears, they’d freeze and these little ice cube-lets would be blown back into your eyes, and I remember thinking this is the most bizarre experience I ever had. Nothing could make this more strange, to which I heard the sound. We have a law enforcement officer behind us, watching the entire event.
Teddy starts to pull over and I remember saying to him, “boy I feel sorry for you, man you’re in trouble.” I had no idea what the price to pay for speeding down the road with two duct tape heads, but I assumed we were going to find out. And Teddy says, “you have no idea the trouble I’m in.” I said “well what does that mean?”
He said “well my driver’s license says I’m supposed to be wearing glasses and as you can see, I’m not wearing my glasses. They’re going to write me up for that, as well.” And I remember saying to him, “boy Teddy, I wish I could help you.” And he looked at me and in a split second, he ripped my glasses off and by the way the key word is ripped, because I still have duct tape on my face, he rips my glasses off and he puts them on. Now if you’re not an eye glass wearer, I need to give you a little tutorial here. If you can drive a car without your eye glasses, and you take my eye glasses off, me, a person born needing glasses, I can only see about four inches in front of my face without my glasses. Teddy puts my glasses on, he can see nothing, I have my glasses off, I can see nothing, we are now at the mercy of Bobby, the seeing eye boy, who is going to help us navigate this conversation with this law enforcement officer.
The policeman says “I need your license and registration.” I hear Teddy fumbling around. It’s remarkable how your other senses are heightened when you lose one, but none the less, I hear all this and then I hear the officer say “son this is a Sears card, what are you trying to do?” And I’m thinking that’s it, we’re not even going to jail. We’re going to straight to prison, hard time, you know. And I think the policeman at this point realizes what’s going on. So he starts engaging us in conversation. He’ll say “son, does your mother know you’re out tonight?” And of course that would be met with dead silence, because none of us knew who he was addressing, except for Bobby the seeing eye boy. Who would finally nudge one of us, “oh, oh no officer, please, please don’t tell her.” So he writes us up and he says at the end, “I think I’m going to follow you guys while you drive off just to make sure everything’s okay.” And that was probably the most frightening part of the whole story, Teddy driving with my glasses on listening to Bobby say “a little to the left, a little to the left, a little to the right, a little to the right, we’re on the speed bumps, we’re on the speed bumps, little to the left, little to the left.”
Now what in the world does this have to do with victory over fear and God answering prayer? You stay with me for a couple minutes and you’re going to see how this works. Because throughout the annals of history, all the way back to the pages of scripture, God has been answering prayer. And even the people who lived in bible times understood that they had fears that were real, that they had to live with and they wanted victory over them. My favorite character in the New Testament is the apostle Peter. I had a professor in seminary who used to call Peter the foot shaped mouthed disciple. If there were a Greek word that could be translated “oh” that would have been uttered by Peter. He was always kind of getting himself in trouble. And there is a wonderful record of a miracle by our Lord in Matthew, Mark and John. We know it simply as the miracle where Jesus walked on the water. But because of Peter’s dialogue with the Lord, it really is a story of prayer and it really is a story of victory over fear.
I’d like to read to you the Matthew account. It has the most detail. Many of us know this story but maybe this will help review it and put you in the proper mode to listen to how the Lord answers our prayers and gives us victory over our fears. It’s the paragraph that begins in verse 22.
“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.” You may remember this takes place right after Jesus fed the 5,000. So He’s essentially saying to the disciples, you better go away, because I’m going to have to disperse this crowd. They may feel like I’m going to continue to feed them for free indefinitely. So you go to the other side of the sea and I’ll catch up with you later on.
“After Jesus sent the multitudes away, He went up to the mountain by Himself to pray and it was evening and He was there all alone. But now the boat was already many miles away from the land and it became battered by the waves for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night,” which is about three in the morning, “in the fourth watch of the night Jesus came to them, walking upon the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were frightened, saying it’s a ghost and they cried out for fear. Immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying take courage, it is I, do not be afraid. Peter answered Him and said Lord, if that’s You, command me to come to You on the water, and Jesus said come. Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus. But seeing the wind, Peter became afraid and he began to sink and he cried out Lord, save me! And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand, took hold of Peter and said to him oh you of little faith. Why did you doubt? And they got into the boat, the winds stopped and those who were in the boat worshipped the Lord, saying You are certainly God’s Son.”
Having been brought up in church, I am afraid I suffer from a malady that many of us deal with and that is when we hear about characters in the bible, we don’t see them as real live people. That somehow bible people walked twelve inches off the ground and didn’t have the struggles that you and I have and didn’t deal with stress and didn’t have anxiety and didn’t have fear and didn’t have pressure. But nothing could be further from the truth. When the scriptures speak about the humans in the Old Testament and the New Testament, they struggled with issues just like you and me. The focus of this text is of course Jesus and His amazing power over nature that He could walk on water. And I want to come back to that when we conclude our comments, but for just a few minutes, I want to look at Peter’s response because Peter is just like you and me. He’s a person who has real live human emotion. And what I see here is what I call Peter’s pattern for dealing with difficulties. When you and I are faced with difficulty, with stress, with trial, with brokenness, with heartache, we need to understand that the disciples felt the same way. As a matter of fact, as the disciples were out there at three in the morning, rowing this boat, Jesus came upon them and of course having never seen anything like this before, the text says “when they saw Him, they were afraid” and they cried out for fear because they were frightened. So do you see where we begin this story? Exactly where many of us live today. We begin with the word fear.
What’s your fear today? I find it so significant that the fear in this story raises its ugly head at three a.m. What wakes you up in the middle of the night? How am I going to pay this bill? How am I going to put myself forward in this new resume, now that I’ve been downsized so that I look head and shoulders above all those who compete for the same job? How am I going to beat this medical condition that the doctor has told me I have contracted? What am I going to do? How can I heal the brokenness in my marriage? How can I reconnect with my child? How can I help my parents as they age? What am I going to do? And it wakes you up and for some us we never fall back to sleep. What is it that wakes us up at three in the morning?
The disciples knew, Peter knew because it’s characterized by fear. They were frightened, they were afraid, just like you, just like me. Fear knows no bounds. Fear affects affluent people, fear affects the poor. Fear affects those that are healthy, fear affects those that are ill. Fear knows no tense. Many of us have fear because of our past, our secrets, our baggage, our stuff. Some of us have fears about our present because we just don’t know how it’s all going to work out based on what’s going on right now. Many of us have fears about our future. I used to be so well taken care of for the future, many say, and now it looks like I’m starting all over again. How do we have hope when we face fears?
Well it’s important to realize that Peter and the disciples were up against the same problem. They saw Jesus, they thought He was a ghost, they were frightened and cried out for fear. Listen to how Jesus responds. In verse 27, Jesus says to them “take courage, it is I. Do not be afraid.” Jesus replaces fear with fortitude. Fortitude. A synonym for courage. Any of us who have ever done any work with a therapist understand that this is the common prescription for facing fear. Be courageous. Have the fortitude. Don’t let that fear be the bully that’s still chasing you around the school yard. You can face your fears.
And yet Jesus goes further than that. Beyond just facing fear with fortitude, He adds another ingredient that is probably the most significant in the whole text. It’s the word I call focus. Focus. Think about it. Jesus is out there on the water, and the disciples have seen Him. By the way, they’re rowing, it’s three in the morning, stroke, stroke, stroke. They see Jesus, think He’s a ghost. What happens? Adrenaline kicks up; stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke. We’ve got a speed boat in the New Testament times. And Jesus somehow not only walks but He walks fast enough to come upon them. And He says it’s Me, don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. And Peter answers. I love that passage in the text. Peter answers. Read this carefully sometime. Jesus didn’t ask a question. It didn’t need an answer. You ever had someone like that in your life? And Peter answered Lord if that’s You, invite me to come out on the water with You. I love that. Reminds me of people; I know them all the time. It’s like we’ll be sitting around after church in the lobby, where are we going to go for lunch? And someone will say oh let’s go to the XYZ Café cause that’s great. And you think to yourself, I just had lunch there yesterday. And it’s not that great. But everybody goes to the XYZ Café cause that’s what the little self appointed leader said we should do. You think who put this person in charge?
Jesus tells twelve people it is I, don’t be afraid. And Peter says well Lord I’m sure I’m speaking on behalf of the other eleven when I ask the following question. No you’re not. But Peter says Lord if its You invite me to come out with You. And I can almost see in my mind’s eye Peter turning around and looking at the eleven going ah, ah, ah, listen to what I just said to Jesus. That put Him in a real pickle didn’t it? And Jesus, the master of the one word reply says, come. And of course now I see eleven other guys looking at Peter, going ah, ah, ah, you’re as dumb as you look, Peter. You don’t do that to Jesus.
So it’s while Peter is getting out of the boat that I find this word focus so crucial. Put yourself in his shoes, in his sandals, in his wet suit. He’s getting out of the boat and he realizes people just don’t do this. We sink like a stone. But interestingly enough, right out there in the water, there is someone who is making this work. I don’t know how He’s doing it, but you know what? I’m going to focus in on Him. Whatever He’s doing, I’m going to do exactly the same thing. And see that’s where you and I often times find ourselves with our fears. This is what brings us to prayer. Dear Lord, I need help. And Jesus’ answer is essentially focus on me.
And by the way, focus is different than vision. Vision is just your normal eye sight. Let me go back to the 1968 Pontiac GTO. When I took my glasses off, or when they were ripped off me, I should more accurately say, for those of you that don’t wear glasses, the room doesn’t go black for me, it just goes blurry. I still have vision but the glasses are what give me focus. I find that when fear rises up in my life, I need focus, not just Jesus you’re in my vision or God I have the occasion to glance at You occasionally, no, Lord You are exactly what I need to focus upon. The writer of Hebrews says “fix your eyes on Jesus.” Stay focused on Him. And when Peter does that, he’s all set. He stays above the water. He is walking on the water. Now in the little church I grew up in, that would be it. We got three points, they all begin with the same word: Fear, Fortitude, Focus. Let’s have a little poem and we’ll be dismissed, right? I think I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree. Good night, God bless you. And then we’re driving home and we say but why doesn’t this work?
And Peter was in the same situation. Because listen to how the story continues. In verse 30 it says “but seeing the wind, Peter became afraid.” Seeing the wind, what was he doing looking at the wind? I thought the key to this whole thing was focus. Ah ha. He forgot what kept him above the water. I mean I hate to say it but there’s a fourth point. It’s forgetting. Anybody ever been there? We’re great prayer warriors when life is tough, right? Dear God, just get me out of this. I’ll do whatever You want. I’ll go to a third world country, I’ll live in a grass hut, I’ll eat monkey meat, just get me out of this. And God delivers us, right? And where are we? Still here. We forget and look what happens when we forget.
Seeing the wind, He became afraid. We have to add another point. It’s fear. And if you’re paying attention, you say isn’t that where we started? And you’re absolutely right. We’re right back where we began afraid because we have lost our focus. So seeing the wind, he became afraid and he began to sink. And he cried out Lord, save me. By the way we’d call that today prayer. Lord, save me, glub, glub, glub, glub. And God stretched out His hand and took him and said oh Peter, why is your faith so weak? Why are you so faith less? Peter, you know better than this. We’ve been together for all these years. Have I ever let you down? And I must say personally, as my wife and I look at our lives, we say you know God has never let us down. Now I often add in my humanity, He’s never let us down but have you noticed He’s never necessarily been early. He just always seems to sneak right in at the finish line and cover all the bases for us. But He does cover all the bases for us.
God is never late. I love that. God is never early. If I were giving Him counsel, I’d say maybe He could work on that but He’s not listening to my suggestions. He’s saying no, no, no blonde boy, you listen to Me. You realize that I will take care of you and that’s where the story ends, with the great testimony of faith. The disciples saw Jesus and said this is truly the Son of God. Why? Not because they simply prayed, not because they simply had faith, but it all goes back to who they were praying to and the object of their faith. I pray to Jesus, I have faith in Jesus, He has power over things that I would never have power over. Power over nature. He walked on water. Power over distance. He healed the nobleman’s son when the nobleman’s son was far away. Power over quantity. He fed 5,000 people out of a little boy’s lunch bag. Power over quality. You can take the nothingness of water at a wedding reception and turn it into a fine wine. The power of Jesus. That is what gives me victory over my fears and that’s why He will answer my prayers when I pray to Him. My goal is to stay focused on Him. Focus on Jesus the answer to your prayers for victory over your fears.
Let’s pray: Lord for my friends who listen to these words who are just over wrought with fear in their life, I pray this morning that You would just reach out to them and help them to know You care about them beyond what they could even comprehend. Give us the kind of faith that we need to stay focused on You. Help us not to just glance at You occasionally or have You in our vision, make us men and women who stay focused, absolutely glued to You. Thank You for all that You do in our lives, and that You’re never early and You’re never late. We love You, in Jesus’ dear name, Amen.