Jesus is Not a Life Coach
People say there are only two things that are certain in life: death and taxes. But this is certainly wrong. There are other things that are as sure as the daily rising and setting of the sun. And one of those certainties is that life itself has a kind of rising and setting as well. It has its times when the sun of hope rises, when our life seems bathed in light. Perhaps it’s our wedding day, or the birth of our children, or the day we land that dream job. Things go well for a while. We’re healthy. Our family is happy. We make sweet memories that, years later, still make us laugh like they were yesterday. Those are days of sunshine, with blue skies smiling at me.
But, as certain as death and taxes, life also has its times when the sun of hope sets, when our life seems drowned in darkness. Perhaps it’s the day we look down into the casket that holds the body of the one we held in our arms for so many years; or the day we drive away from the house that the bank just foreclosed on because we couldn’t make the mortgage payments anymore after losing our job. During such times, nothing seems to go right. The domino effect of this loss tipping over to that loss, this grief giving way to that grief, makes us wonder if and when we’re ever going to catch a break. And worst of all, in the midst of these dark times, we begin to wonder where God is, if He’s left us all alone to suffer through this like men caught in a storm on the sea, tossed here and there by the waves, rowing and rowing but getting nowhere fast.
During those times, we’re not much different from the disciples, on that night when they were alone on the Sea of Galilee, miles from land, waves battering their boat, winds howling like hungry wolves all about them, struggling to stay afloat in their own sea of suffering. The day before everything was as fine as fine could be. Jesus had made a meal for thousands out of only five loaves of bread and two fish. Everybody ate to their heart’s content. Then, a few hours later, this: oppressed by darkness, attacked by wind and waves, and Jesus nowhere to be seen. And just when they think it couldn’t get any worse, it does. As if they’re not already scared enough by the raging sea, chills go down their backs as they spy a ghost walking on the water toward them.
Isn’t that how it goes? That figure they thought was a ghost was actually Jesus, trampling down the waves as He walked toward them. But it was like their eyes were so full of fear that everything they saw was fearful, including the very one who came to save them. So where there was God, they saw a ghost; where there was approaching light, they beheld yet deeper darkness; the one who came to bring them relief, caused only more terror.
So are we in those bad times. We are like the Israelites at the Red Sea shore: all we see are the chariots of Egypt, bearing down upon us, and the watery grave that will soon liquidate our life. We are like the sailors with Jonah, their hopes dwindling as the waves around them grow more furious by the moment. We are of little faith. Or rather, we have big faith, but it’s in something else. Our faith is in our ability to control situations, manipulate them to our advantage. Or our faith is in the castle-like world we have built around us. Then when we inevitably lose that control, when our self-constructed world deconstructs, these false gods in whom we had such great faith leave us fat with fear and skinny with hope.
But still there comes Jesus, his feet flattening out the sea like it’s nothing more than a wet sidewalk. He doesn’t stand on the shore and shout instructions to us, “Row a little harder! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Get your act together! Think positive! You can do it!” No, a thousand times, no. Jesus is not a life coach. He is not a personal trainer. He is not a cheerleader on the sidelines of life. He is the Lord of the storms of life, who comes to us in the midst of our fear and hopelessness and despair, to say, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
“Take courage, it is I who rescued the frightened Israelites when they were trapped between the chariots of Egypt and the Red Sea. I peeled back those waters to let my people pass through, then made the sea the watery grave of their enemy. So I will do for you. So I have done for you on the day I baptized you as my own. I washed you into my body, drowned your sins and doubts in this forgiving sea that’s red with my crucifixion blood. Do not be afraid. I am with you always.”
He says, “Take courage, it is I who calmed the sea for the sailors with Jonah when they cast him into the waters to be swallowed by the fish. It is I who was cast into the sea of suffering for you, for atop the cross the waves of the world’s iniquities washed over me. Like Jonah, I spent three days in the belly of death for you. And like Jonah, I came forth from that tomb alive again. Alive for you, alive to bring you my own life. Do not be afraid. I am with you always.”
The one who walks on water to save us, to be with us in the storms of life, is not a ghost. He is the flesh-and-blood God of our salvation. He doesn’t tread upon the waves to wow us but to rescue us, to forgive us, to be our light when all about is darkness. Take courage, for more certain than death is the life of Christ; more certain that taxes is that Jesus has paid all our debts; more certain than anything else in all creation, is that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.
If you’d like to read more reflections like this one, check out my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. If you’re looking for feel-good, saccharine devotional material, you’d better keep looking because you’re not going to find it here. If you’re looking for moralistic guides to the victorious Christian life, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed by all the Gospel in this book. But if you’re looking for reflections drenched in the Scriptures, focused through and through on the saving work of Jesus Christ, and guided by a law-and-Gospel approach to proclamation, then I daresay you’ll be pleased with this book. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!