Discipleship is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God. Walking on the water is easy to impulsive pluck, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is a different thing. Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he followed Him afar off on the land.
I often think of sacrifice for God at the moment the transaction actually takes place. When I’m confronted with The Big Choice between the Right Thing or the Wrong Thing, of course I will try to choose the Right Thing. The theoretical situation of someone pointing a gun to my head and threatening to shoot if I say I love Jesus. If I’m confronted with giving to God or to others over keeping my life, I hope I will make a wise choice to sacrifice. Looking back at the 38 years of my life so far, there are not many opportunities like that. And (shockingly) none of them include someone threatening to kill me for loving God. When they do happen, those moments tend to be significant, life-altering events. I was in a car accident three years ago, and I remember as the car went airborne, I looked death in the face and was not afraid of it. But that is probably the only moment in my life where I was able to truly let go of my life when given a choice between fear and freedom. And that was arguably not much of a choice—it’s not like I could have saved my own life if I wanted to. It was simply a matter of acceptance vs fear. These are the Peter walking to Jesus on the water moments—”Lord, if it is you, command me to come to You on the water.” Give me a choice with life or death consequences, and I will make the right decision.
But there are all the other moments of walking with Jesus on dry land that make up the rest of my life. As I come out of the crisis mode where I learned to truly lean on God, I am learning that walking with him is less about making the right choice in those big, transactional moments, and more about accepting the risk presented in my smaller choices. The 23rd Psalm says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” It doesn’t say, “Yea, tho I stare death in the face and laugh at it.” That may happen. I’m in the valley of the shadow of death, after all. He’s around every corner so I will probably run into him face to face from time to time. But it’s not going to happen frequently.
Most of the time I’m not facing death head-on. It is the Valley of the Shadow of Death, after all. Death is nearby, always lurking, always chilling the air, but it is not staring me in the face. I’m walking. Not running screaming out of the valley as fast as I can. Walking. That implies a minute-by-minute acceptance of the risk that I could die. It’s seeing glimpses of death behind a rock or tree, around the next bend, NOT KNOWING when it could jump out in front of me, and NOT FEARING anyway. Can you imagine someone with that kind of peace in a horror movie? I don’t know where the axe-wielding murderer is, Ima just walk through this creepy house. Maybe I’ll even whistle a happy tune. Maybe someone oblivious to the danger might do that, but has anyone ever done that knowing the murderer is somewhere in the house? Suspense is like the WORST PART of horror movies. It’s not the moment when they’re actually confronted with the axe murderer, it’s the horrible suspense of having to walk around, not knowing when he’ll jump out.
Walking with God through the Valley of the Shadow of Death is not about the cliffhanger moments of life when I say “I’d rather die than (fill in the blank)!” It is acceptance of the lack of control, acceptance of the suspense. Death really is coming. There are very few people who haven’t died. Even Christ died. I know the murderer is in my house. The destroyer is around a corner somewhere, one of these days he will jump out and my days will be done. But I have no idea when or where. If I’m going to whistle a happy tune in my life, I must do it with full awareness that it could be cut short in an instant. It is knowing the risk that this choice I make could lead me closer to death (or it could not) and making the right choice anyway. Walking down the scary alley. Eating the cancer-causing food. Giving money away when my retirement fund is skimpy. Hugging the homeless person who could give me lice. Loving a person who will almost certainly fail to love me back at some point and break my heart. Caring for someone who might very well take advantage of my generosity. Not carelessly, but doing it when the love of Christ draws me to do it. This is the freedom in God that changes my life from white-knuckled horror story suspense to exhilarating, free-falling abandon.