God has this incredible but often annoying tendency to set me right when I get a little full of myself.
My ability to puff up my own ego is usually done subconsciously. In fact, I don’t wake up every morning thinking, “how can build up my ego today?”
I don’t go about seeking ways to do so.
Ego-building is done more passively.
It comes to me, either via a compliment, or positive statement, or an acknowledgement of an achievement.
Now there is nothing wrong with a compliment or even a good review of my book. In many ways, we all need those. However, when I don’t deflect those praises up to God, then I kind of tuck those warm-fuzzies away into a giant Hefty bag in the back of my head.
Eventually, that bag gets bigger and bigger, stretches more and more, until every molecule of that bag has reached critical mass.
All that remains is the carcass of that garbage bag settling onto the floor.
Peter has always been one of the disciples with whom I most identify.
And not for the right reason.
Peter screwed up more openly—and dramatically—than the other disciples. Other than his open three-time betrayal of Jesus the night of the latter’s trial, Peter’s ego tended to fill up before the others. Impressing others with his spiritual acumen by saying the right thing at the right time would surely result in oooh’s and aaah’s from others around him.
Whenever I think of Peter, I think of his pattern in the Bible trying to show the others how spiritual he is only to have his ego popped by God’s divine pin of humility.
One infamous example, in Matthew 14, shows the disciples in a boat on the sea of Galilee during a particularly fierce storm (Matthew 14:25-32).
This situation is cause for alarm. Their boat is not one that typically is fitted for rough seas. It is not like a naval vessel or cruise ship which could generally survive a hurricane. No, you have to think of this in terms a large rowboat.
It is completely at the mercy of the waves.
If that wasn’t frightening enough, they were even more creeped out by the sight a figure coming toward them. It wasn’t another boat, which would make sense, but that of a man walking toward them.
On the open sea.
As if he was on his way home from work.
If there was any clearer sign that they already sank and have crossed over to the other side, this would have been it.
Then they remembered that lived with the holy I AM, a God who is not bound by the universe’s laws of physics and hydrology.
After first thinking they were seeing ghost—hence the thought they might have crossed over—Jesus’s calling out to “take courage” quickly brings home the point that they are still firmly planted on earth.
Kudos for the disciples picking up on that as quickly as they did.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Perhaps wanting to show the others how spiritual he is, Peter shouts an impressive request: “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water” (14:28).
Peter must have felt pretty good about himself. In front of the others, he put his faith on display before the others. Surely that would be enough. Surely that would be all that was required. Surely Jesus would be thrilled at my—
That response was not recorded in Scripture. I am guessing that was what Peter was thinking.
That is most certainly what I would think.
Words are easy when you are puffing yourself up. Anyone can say powerful things.
To impress others.
To impress yourself.
God, on the other hand, wants something else.
In John 1, the author introduces Jesus as God, the eternal Word (Logos). If there was a context where words matter, this would be it.
Even for God, however, being the Word is not enough. The Word took action, stepped from the throne, and became a human. Further, as a human, the Word lived, suffered, and experienced the one thing the eternal Word never could: death.
A brutal, horrible death.
The eternal Word became the ultimate sacrifice, reversing the curse of sin once and for all.
The Word took action.
Now, back to Peter.
Peter’s mortal words—“Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water”—might sound admirable, but they require action.
Peter had to put his money where his mouth is.
To his credit, Peter did.
Then he looked at the waves and sunk.
It only took a brief second for him to realize he can’t do it without Jesus.
For the Christ-follower, discipleship require actions more than words.
And actions require complete dependence upon him.
I get into that spiral where I am comfortable speaking words as opposed to actively living for Christ.
Words are enough.
Then God steps in to redirect me from myself to him.
Another Dan-ectomy.[i] I must have my ego ripped from God’s work. It is a spiritual surgery done by Dr. God, who doesn’t give me the option.
It’s not about me.
I receive constant reminders that I am not that great after all. Every time I speak words, I am reminded that I am not as great as I think I am. My mistakes become highlighted. For every victory of moment of praise that points at me, I get at least two reminders that people can get along just fine without me: an unfounded—or more frequently, founded—criticism, yet another example showing my that I am what could be considered a Jack-of-NO-traits, a copy of my book seen in a pile at a yard sale.
Whatever I do puffs me up.
Whatever God does through me shows it is all about him.
And for God to work through me requires that I take action.
I have to get out of the boat.
But like Peter, who cannot walk on water without Jesus, I can’t do anything without him either.
And when—not if— I sink, my only words should be “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30).
God can take it from there.
[i] This term is not my own. It actually was coined by Jeff Glover, a dear friend in my home community back in Portland several years ago. But it applies to me too.