Aug 10

White Knuckles

During my vacation time at Mammoth Cave in Southern KY, I decided to try something I had never done, ziplining. I was fitted with a harness and rope along with 11 other people and 3 guides. We then walked in single file over a rope bridge to a tree with a platform and one by one (led and followed by trained guides), attached to a pulley that rolled us across a steel cable to another tree.

The distances and heights varied during the 5 leg portion of the adventure. The first leg was only about 75 yards long and 25 feet in the air. The longest was 300 yards (the length of 3 football fields) and well over 100 feet high. When positioned the most efficiently (knees bent toward stomach), one could reach a speed of 34 mph.

I’ve never been a huge fan of heights. And on that first leg, I was the last person in our group to go, followed by the final guide. As I watched 11 people from ages 15-60 make that journey (most for the first time), my nerves quieted until I got to the cable. I looked down (gulp), looked at that thin cable going across to the next tree (double gulp), my knees shook, my stomach knotted up, I said a quick prayer, closed my eyes, and stepped off the platform into thin air. My stomach reached my throat for just a second until the harness safely tightened around my waste and the whizzing sound of the pulley assured me that I was moving horizontally instead of vertically. I stared at that rope without noticing anything else around me and grasped with white knuckles for those few seconds on the first leg. But with each ride, I began trusting the equipment and loosened up. My faith was definitely tested!

I wonder how Peter felt as he prepared to walk on water. The disciples were being tossed around in a fishing boat by high winds and rough waters. According to the original Greek language, they were far from shore (approx 600 feet) during the 4th watch of the night (around 3 am). The fishermen that were used to rough waters were concerned. Now add to that anxiety a view that doesn’t make sense to the human mind; a man walking on the turbulent water. The only rational explanation for this situation was that they saw a ghost.

Jesus walked toward them and said, “It’s me, don’t be afraid.” And now Peter begins moving toward his white knuckle experience. In this chaotic scene; wind blowing, waves beating against the boat, Jesus walking on water, Peter answered, “Lord if that is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Pay close attention to Peter’s request. He asked Jesus to call him onto the water. It wasn’t about irresponsible risk-taking behavior. It was an example of obedience. Peter wasn’t going to try walking on water without Jesus saying so. But if Jesus called, Peter trusted him.

Have you noticed the word TRUST? It was the same word that the guides repeated to us during our ziplining adventure. “Relax and trust the equipment.” Once I trusted the harness, the rope, the pulley, and the steel cable, fear dissipated.

Jesus said, “Come.” Can you imagine what the other disciples were thinking as he started getting out of the boat during that storm? Are you CRAZY!? I can imagine Peter staring intently at Jesus just like I stared at the rope that I grasped so tightly during my first ziplining ride. My eyes were so firmly focused on that rope that I didn’t see a thing around me.

That was Peter, eyes focused on his rope (Jesus) as he stepped out of the boat and walked on water toward him. But then the reality of what was going on sunk in. As he looked at the water below him, doubt crept in and he sank. Jesus grabbed him and said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Peter, you were doing fine! You were following my call.

In his book “If You Want To Walk On Water, You’ve Got To Get Out Of The Boat”, John Ortberg writes, “Put yourself in Peter’s place for a moment. You have a sudden insight into what Jesus is doing—the Lord is passing by. He’s inviting you to go on the adventure of your life. But at the same time, you’re scared to death. What would you choose—the water or the boat? The boat is safe, secure, and comfortable. On the other hand, the water is rough. The waves are high. The wind is strong. There’s a storm out there. And if you get out of the boat—whatever your boat might happen to be—there’s a good chance you might sink. But if you don’t get out of the boat, there’s a guaranteed certainty that you will never walk on the water.”

There are a lot of ropes in this life that we grasp with white knuckles. Without them we are afraid of falling, failing, losing, or being left alone. But there is no choice that we make that is risk-free. And there is no such thing as ‘I can’t.’ Rather we are saying, ‘I choose not to’.

Jesus has a calling for each of us. Those callings are not risk-free either but he will not call us to a purpose that we cannot complete. Our Guide is saying, ‘Relax, trust me, and trust your equipment.’ Instead of focusing on the turbulent waters below and grasping with white knuckles out of fear, we are called to step out in faith and follow our trustworthy and faithful Lord. Loosen the grip on your worldly ropes, whatever or whoever they may be, and enjoy the ride. Amen.