Today, we’re continuing on the Discipleship Path, as we talk about the step of Service. Jesus gave us such a great example of how to be a servant. So it’s only wise for us to examine exactly how Jesus was a servant while He walked this earth, and how we can reflect that servanthood in our own lives. By doing so, I’m sure we’ll find ways that we can each serve in our church and in our communities.
If I were to ask you what things has God used to really develop your faith, many of you would likely tell me about a time in your life when someone presented an opportunity for you to serve or told you about a need, and after that conversation, you just couldn’t get it off your mind. It might have been a ministry. It might have been a family in need. Whatever it was, you just felt this inner nudge to get involved with something that served and benefited other people. You’d likely tell about how scared you were, how unprepared you were, and that you went into it with fear thinking this was going to be a disaster and you were probably going to embarrass yourself. Yet once you got involved, you began to see God do amazing things which makes this moment a part of your faith story.
Today, I want to talk about that dynamic, that tension and fear that we all have in these kinds of moments. One reason I want to talk about it is because some of you could very well right now be in the middle of a tug-of-war with God over something just like this. There may be a need that God keeps bringing to your mind and to your heart; a ministry, something in this church, or maybe something in your community.
What I want you to understand today is that the issue in that wrestling match you’re having is not just that someone needs your help. That’s certainly part of it. But likely the bigger issue for you is that God wants to use you outside of your comfort zone in order to stretch and build your faith. That tension, that wrestling match that you’re having—and if you’re not having it now, you will—is something that God uses over and over again.
You may recall me saying in the past, faith building is like building a muscle. When you exercise a muscle, basically what you are doing is trying to wear it out. And once you wear out a muscle and you let it rest, it grows. That’s how you develop muscle. And the same is true of faith. There are times when God will bring you to places where He will almost exhaust your faith, because after exhausting it or stretching it, guess what it does…it grows. God wants to exhaust your faith muscle in order to build it up, and service is often how He does it.
Getting Outside Your Comfort Zone
One of the best examples of this in the Bible is also one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. It’s in Matthew 14, and as soon as I start reading this, some of you are going to know right off the bat the whole story. But in the middle of this familiar story, there is a statement that Jesus makes to His disciples that I think describes the idea of getting outside of our comfort zone and serving God better than anywhere else in the whole New Testament.
The story starts: Matthew 14:13-33 (NIV)
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.
Now what He had heard was that his cousin John had been put to death by Herod. Herod arrested John because John kept preaching against Herod’s marriage to his sister. Herod and his wife got tired of hearing about it, so they arrested the preacher and put him in jail and eventually beheaded him. That was Jesus’ cousin. And so when Jesus heard about this, He went away to be by Himself to mourn John’s death.
But that really didn’t work out too well because the crowds heard Jesus was heading across the lake to be by himself, and so desperate to hear or have a part of Jesus, they walked all the way around the edge of the lake to find Him.
14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy some food.”
So the disciples caught up with Jesus as well, either by boat or foot. I imagine by this point, it’s getting late, the disciples are likely getting tired and hungry themselves. They knew Jesus originally wanted to be by himself. And being in the middle of nowhere there’s no food for all these people, so they tell Jesus to send the people away so they get can get food and He can be alone. Now this is where the story gets really interesting as it relates to your experience and mine. Here is the statement that best describes getting outside of our comfort zone and serving God.
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
Again, they are out in the middle of nowhere, and Jesus knows that there’s no food for all these people out there. He knows it’s getting late and they’re hungry. Yet He tells the disciples it’s not necessary to send them away because you can feed them. Now, this is the tension, that if you’re not facing it now as a Christian, you are going to face it. It’s that tension of when you sense a need, and feel a nudge as if God is telling you to meet the need. It’s not a voice, but something you just can’t shake and get away from. God knows, and you know, they need help.
Yet, your reaction may be like the disciples’. They started making excuses. Now something to consider about the disciples making excuses to our making excuses is that it’s one thing for us today to kind of dodge those bullets. But when Jesus is standing physically in front of you and asks you to do something, you don’t go, Nah, we’re not going to do that, are we guys? We talked about it Jesus and decided we can’t do that. Instead, they come up with this excuse.
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
In other words, we can’t do it. We’re not prepared. We’re not equipped. You got the wrong guys. It’s just not going to happen. And then Jesus says, and I picture the disciples rolling their eyes…
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said.
It’s like Jesus says to them—and I think He says this to all of us—Just bring me what you have.
We say, But God, I hardly know the Bible.
Jesus says, Well, just bring me what you do know.
We say, well God, I don’t have that much time.
Jesus says, bring me however much time you have.
We say, but God, what if they ask me hard questions?
Jesus says, just bring me the answers that you have.
We say, but God, I don’t have enough experience.
Jesus says, just bring me whatever experience you have. Just bring me that fear and whatever you have.
And so the disciples do.
19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks, he broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.
So this is how I imagine this. The disciples are all standing there facing Jesus in a line, and behind them is the crowd of 5,000+ people. Jesus takes these loaves and fish and He breaks it up and He hands it out to the twelve disciples. So they basically each have enough food in their hands just for themselves. Now they’re standing there looking at Him like, What are we supposed to do with this? Is this just my portion? Because Jesus basically just gives back to them what they handed to Him.
Then, they were like, I don’t know how this is going to work. People are very likely to be mad if only a few get the food, but Jesus said to do it, so I’m just going to turn around. They didn’t know how to feed 5,000 people with that little bit of food, but they knew how to turn around and start.
They did only what they knew how to do, turn around and trust that Jesus was going to do something unusual, trust that Jesus would do what only Jesus could do. You see your responsibility and my responsibility, every single time is real simple. You just do what you know how to do, and then trust your Heavenly Father to do the rest, to do what He knows how to do.
The tension you feel and the fear you feel is your faith and confidence muscle being stretched and worn out. That is God exercising and growing your faith. The tension isn’t just about your fear and insecurity. It’s bigger than that.
It’s also not just simply the needs that might go unmet if you don’t do something. The other issue is that God wants to do something in you. Your faith and future, the size and strength of your faith are at stake, which ultimately impacts your intimacy with your Heavenly Father. That’s why our responsibility is to say, Okay, I’ll do what I can do, and I’m going to trust God to do what only God can do.
In fact, if you look anywhere in history at the amazing things God has done—through missions, organizations, individuals, or churches that have impacted the world in some kind of spiritual way—every single time you will find someone who said okay to God and trusted Him to do what they couldn’t. Those are the people who give God all the credit.
That is the story of every major move of God in the world since the beginning of time.
The story continues.
20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about 5,000 men, besides women and children.
So it really could have been 10,000-15,000 or more people. The disciples were used to seeing Jesus do miracles, but I think the reason this one stands out and is so familiar is because this one was different. Jesus wasn’t simply doing this miracle because He’d run out of ideas and was just trying to come up with something creative to do. The purpose of this miracle is important to know.
As you read the New Testament Jesus had a very specific agenda. He knew He was going to hand the whole thing off to this group of people. He knew that if their faith and confidence in God wasn’t strong, it wouldn’t work. So this whole miracle was to simply teach the disciples to trust Him more than they ever thought possible.
As soon as that lesson was over, here comes lesson #2. Jesus wasn’t done. The Bible says immediately, which tells us these two stories are connected.
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.
This image is interesting to me. How do you dismiss 5,000+ people who followed you to the middle of nowhere, where you healed them and just fed them in an amazing way? I just don’t picture them wanting to leave, but somehow Jesus dismisses the crowd.
23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Now the disciples are in the boat heading back across the lake. They left as the sun went down, so it’s getting dark out. They row across and around this lake all the time since a bunch of these guys were fishermen, so rowing a boat is like second nature to them. Yet, they get a considerable distance out into the lake, it’s pitch-black dark, and they realize they’re not getting anywhere. Before they know it, they’ve been out there all night getting beat and battered by the wind.
25 About three o’clock in the morning 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.
One of the things that gives the Bible credibility is that the guys who wrote this made themselves look really, really bad. In church tradition, Matthew, Mark, James, John, and Peter are definitely the superheroes of the faith. But when you look at the way they describe themselves—because Matthew wrote this, he’s an eyewitness of all this—yet they never look good. I mean come on, if you were going to make this story up, and you’re in the story, you don’t write yourself into the story as a coward. You don’t write the whole group in as a coward. So in the story, they see Jesus and say, “It’s a ghost!” They cried out in fear! No great faith here, right?
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
And in that moment, Peter has an epiphany. Peter is like, Oh, I see what’s going on. He gives me a little handful of gooey fish and bread and says feed this crowd of 5,000+ people. I can’t feed these people. Yet I turn around, and there’s enough food to feed all of them with some left over. And then Jesus tells us to get in the boat and row across the lake, yet He knew what we would run into. He knew the whole time! We’re out here going nowhere, just working on our arm muscles. Sounds like lesson to me. I think we can do anything Jesus asks us to do, if we’ll just do what we know how to do and trust Him for the rest. So Peter decides to test his theory.
28 “Lord, if it’s you, (And I’m really hoping it’s you) Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
Now, this is so important. Please listen to this carefully. Peter didn’t just jump out of the boat and think, it’s okay, I trust Jesus. That’s not faith; that’s stupidity. You don’t just jump off a cliff and say, “It’s okay, Jesus will catch me.” Peter understood the lesson is that whenever the Savior asks me to do something I’m incapable of doing, whenever He invites me out of my comfort zone, whenever He invites me to do things that don’t make any sense, if I simply do what I know how to do, He does what only He can do.
So Peter says, Jesus, invite me, invite me out of this boat. Isn’t this dramatic? You can’t make this up? So Jesus says….
29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
And you know what Peter did? He did the same thing he did when Jesus passed out the fish and the bread. Peter said, I don’t know how to walk on water, but I know how to get out of a boat, and I know how to walk. So now that Jesus has invited me, I’m going to trust Jesus to do His part.
Now folks, that is the Christian experience to a great degree. I dare you to start praying the Peter prayer: Lord, please me invite me out of my comfort zone. God, I want you to use me in the lives of other people, but I don’t want to come up with the idea. I want the assurance that you are inviting me to do this. And then God, I’m going to do what I know how to do, and I can’t wait to see what You are going to do.
For some of you, He’s inviting you right now. It might mean volunteering in one of our children’s ministry or youth ministry. And there’s a part of you that just can’t get the kids out of your mind. But you’re think you’re not cool enough to work with the teens or smart enough. What if they ask me tough questions? What if, what if, what if? And Jesus is saying, Come on. I’m inviting you. You know how to say yes. You know how to walk down the hall. I want you to do what you can do, and then I want you to watch and see what I’ll do on your behalf.
Listen to how this ends. This is so huge.
30 But when he (Peter) saw the wind, (He was reminded of what he couldn’t do, wasn’t he?) 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?”
Look, this is all about Jesus trying to teach us to trust Him for what we can’t do. Oh, you of little faith, he said, why did you doubt me? Peter began looking at his own ability and when he looked at his own ability, he forgot to trust Jesus.
I don’t know exactly Jesus’ tone here, but I don’t think Jesus was chastising Peter. There were eleven other guys in the boat, and none of them got out and tried to do what Peter did. At least Peter was bold enough to test the lesson. I think maybe this is the parent in me, but I think He grabs Peter’s hand and He’s going, Oh, you almost had it. You were so close. Why did you doubt me, Peter? And I love the way it ends.
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
I hear the disciples saying, We suspected it before, I mean that whole bread and fish thing, but I’m telling you, we are definitely in now. You are absolutely once and for all, the Son of God.
Say Yes to Jesus
So look, just as you sit in this building you should know that there were a group of people who experienced this is in their lives and said, We’re getting out of the boat. People who stepped out of their comfort zones, not knowing how this was all going to happen when Jesus called them to build this church building. If you are enjoying any small group or Sunday school class, there’s somebody leading that group that said, Okay Jesus I’ll get out of the boat. I’m telling you, anywhere you see God doing anything, you dig down far enough, and you are going to find someone with this same story where they said yes to Jesus. Not knowing how it would all work, but they trusted Jesus to do His part, if they did theirs.
Aren’t you glad someone stepped out of their comfort zone to do that for you? Aren’t you glad someone introduced you to Christ? Maybe they had an awkward conversation with you or invited you to church. They just felt God put you on their heart and mind. And instead of saying, “Well I’m just going to pray that God brings someone along that can fill the need,” they did what they knew how to do. They picked up the phone and called. They invited you into their group. You may look at them like they are a saint or something, but they’re going, No, no, no. I’m a coward. I’m insecure. I’m afraid. That’s why I give God all the glory.
So here’s the question: Where is God nudging you? What is God urging you to do? What keeps coming to your mind that you just can’t get rid of it? You try to make excuses, but it just won’t go away. Remember, the issue is faith. The issue is God wants to do something in you, and in your faith, and in your intimate relationship with Him.
This is one of the areas where you have a role to play. You’ve got to turn around and feed those people with what’s in your hands, even though you know it’s not enough. You’ve got to throw your legs over the side of that boat and take a step, even though you don’t know the first thing about walking on water. This is a part of everyone’s story.
Are you willing to do what you know how to do and trust God to do what only God can do? Are you willing to do what you know how to do in terms of serving other people where you feel God nudging you? Would you be willing to take that first step, not because you’re ready but because God has called you out of the boat?
Because if you do, you’re going to experience God in a brand-new way, and if you don’t you will never, ever know what God might have done through you. If you are willing, it will grow your faith so that each time from here on out when God calls you, you already know that you can trust Him. Just think, someone else will be better off because you said yes.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the people before us who said yes, the people who made a difference in our lives. And thank you for inviting us to be a part of your greater story and to make a difference in someone else’s life. Please guide us out of our comfort zones to wherever you are calling and nudge each of us until we say yes. Thank you for loving us enough to keep growing our faith. May we each serve you daily by faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.