Roller Coaster Faith
I don’t like roller coasters.
Specifically, I don’t like the big, long, endless drops that are designed to leave your stomach on the top and pray that it somehow rejoins your body when the ride mercifully screeches to a halt! When I was younger, I could withstand the spin-me-around or flip-me-upside type of amusement park rides, just don’t hurtle me over a steep, metal hill.
I have another confession; my faith journey oftentimes feels like a roller coaster ride.
Just a few weeks ago, I felt like I was on the ascending side of a roller coaster. My faith was trending up. In a moment of inspiration, I declared that day, which only had a few agenda items and no pressing deadlines, would be a great day to give the “reigns” over to Jesus. “Hey Jesus, let’s have an adventure today! Will you show me where to go and who to talk to? Will you direct my steps and lead me to those I need to encounter, to encourage, to pray with?”
It was a great day! I ran into people I didn’t expect. I had multiple faith-filled and life-giving conversations with people, and I prayed with a few total strangers. My faith encouraged theirs and vice versa. It felt good!
As I went to sleep at night, I praised Jesus for such an awesome day! I told him how much fun it was to follow his lead, and I asked him if we could do it again tomorrow. But truthfully, I’m still waiting for tomorrow to come.
That next day my agenda was already planned. I had emails that needed to be answered and a short trip I needed to take that would consume most of the day. I had no room for spontaneity. Although there were moments of conversation about the Lord with others, it was definitely not on the same level of Holy Spirit-filled interactions I had experienced just the day before. I was on the downhill side of that roller coaster.
I know that coming down from the peak of the roller coaster track is the main point of that ride, but in my faith journey, I don’t want to plummet to the ground at an insanely high rate of speed! How can I stay on the ascent? Is there a pinnacle of total surrender and total dependence on the Lord? And if so, how can I linger in that place?
My favorite roller-coaster disciple might be able to help with this conundrum! Peter was the rock on which Jesus declared he would build his church and the pawn of Satan; the one who declared his undying loyalty to Jesus and just a few hours later denied any association to his Lord.
But Peter also walked on water!
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:22-33)
This story is so familiar. We immediately see that big lesson: Peter took his focus off Jesus and began to sink, therefore, we just need to keep our eyes on Jesus if we don’t want to drown. But that simple interpretation nullifies what Peter accomplished – he actually walked on water.
Take a closer look at the scene. The disciples have been in the boat by themselves all night. They probably weren’t sure if they were supposed to stay close to the shore and or really row to the other side. All they knew was that Jesus had put them in the boat and then disappeared. It was windy, the waves we're big and they could not make much progress one way or the other. All of a sudden of figure is walking towards them and they are terrified! Jesus answers them in their terror with the words, “take courage...” Here is where it gets interesting.
While the other disciples’ fears may have settled a little when Jesus spoke, Peter jumps on a roller coaster! He goes to the pinnacle of taking courage almost immediately: Lord if it is you, tell me to walk on water. I just have to wonder how big Jesus’ smile was when he said “come” to Peter.
In probably less than five minutes Peter took a roller coaster ride that no other disciple dared to even consider. Peter is famous for a lot of things, but he will always and only be the one person who walked on water with Jesus!* While there was a literal boatload of witnesses to this event, there is only one who truly experienced it.
While my faith journey does sometimes feel like an undulating series of highs and lows, I can say with confidence that the times I have obeyed, when I have taken the Lord at his word have been exhilarating. What joys I would miss out on if I never got on the roller coaster! Equally, those times that I have fallen, or felt like I have failed have served to re-focus my attention on him. He has faithfully met me in every single valley and at every low point.
Maybe that is the point: learning to trust the Lord and abide with him whether I am on the way up or the way down. Maybe roller coasters aren’t so bad after all.
*I HIGHLY recommend listening to Kristi McClelland’s podcast, Pearls, Episode 4 for a deeper and better examination of this event!