I was in a group setting this week, and we were discussing Romans 1. When we got to the verse about God displaying His wrath on the continued unrighteous choices of mankind, the discussion stalled a little. Because how does anyone explain the wrath of God? Someone asked a good question – are natural disasters part of God’s wrath on the sins of the world?
And it got me thinking. What if it is ALL a distraction?
What if every natural disaster is a distraction?
What if every loss is a distraction?
What if every shame is a distraction?
What if every addiction is a distraction?
What if every pain is a distraction?
What if every illness and sickness is a distraction?
What if all of the bad things that happen to us and around us are all designed to distract us? From God’s love.
From God’s grace.
From God’s goodness.
From God’s forgiveness.
From God’s justice.
From God’s mercy.
From God’s peace.
From God’s presence.
What if all of it is just an outrageous ploy of the enemy to keep us from drawing closer to God?
Peter proves it. He’s on a boat in the middle of the sea, “tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary” (Matthew 14:24). He’s probably exhausted, having spent all day listening to Jesus teach a large crowd. And now he may be emotionally overwrought, wondering if the boat was going to fill with water or capsize. And piercing the darkness comes a figure they mistake for a ghost. So many emotions stemming from so many factors. And then a loving voice speaks out to him – “It is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27). And one by one Peter and the disciples realize it is Jesus. Walking on water. And Peter wants in on the miracle. So he tells Jesus “command me to come to You on the water” (Matthew 14:28) – and Jesus does. And what happens to Peter? “He walked on the water to go to Jesus” (Matthew 14:29).
And the miracle lasts only as long as Peter’s undivided attention on Jesus.
Because what happens? Peter got distracted – quickly – by everything going on around him. Peter gazed intently at Jesus until he took a second to think about where he was and what he was doing. And in that moment, “he saw that the wind was boisterous” (Matthew 14:30). He realized he was in the middle of the storm, so he is overwhelmed by fear and panicked. He allowed himself to be distracted from focusing on Jesus, and he finds himself “beginning to sink” (Matthew 14:30). He cries out desperately to his Teacher, who quickly saves him.
And then Jesus shows him where he went wrong. “Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31) that you were OK? Why did you allow yourself to be distracted from Me? Why did you allow yourself to be distracted from My protection? Why did you allow yourself to be distracted from My grace? Peter, you were walking on water. Think about it – You. Were. Walking. On. Water. With Me. Without problems. Until, in a split second, you decided I wasn’t bigger or more powerful than the storm. Even after seeing Me feed 5000 people (Matthew 14:13-21). Even after seeing Me just walk calmly and unharmed through the storm on the water to you (Matthew 14:25). You allowed yourself to get distracted from all these good things, so you lost your sure footing. So you lost your ability to command the water – and instead it possessed you. So you lost your ability to ignore the storm and all the bad things that could happen – things that were not happening yet you worried about all the possibilities.
And we are all Peter. We all allow ourselves to get distracted. We all choose to focus on the bad or negative things instead of focusing on God. We all choose to look at the hopeless possibilities instead of holding onto hope. We all choose to forget that this is how Jesus always is with us:
So what if all the bad things are just a distraction to keep us from loving and trusting God? What if the purpose of the storm is to make us doubt God’s goodness? It makes sense to me.
And then I think it through a little more and realize how good God is. Because these distractions can overwhelm us and overpower us, destroy us and devastate us. But God, in His amazing mercy, wants to protect us from all of it. He wants to persuade us to stay focused instead of being distracted. He wants to encourage us to stay our heart on the truth of His love and grace. He wants to give us the strength to be faithful in all we go through.
Sometimes we’ll get distracted. Sometimes we’ll stop looking at the blessings and security and focus instead on the burdens and storms. But God, in His infinite mercy, will still love us. He will still persuade back to Him. He will still encourage us to turn toward Him and His awaiting open arms.
He doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He doesn’t expect us to get everything right. He understands we’ll have days when we allow ourselves to be distracted. But He has already planned for these speed bumps and made a way for us to overcome such times. We can be confident of this because “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). He’ll take our distracted moments and cover them with His grace. And our faith will grow, so that the next time we encounter a distraction we are (at minimum a little) stronger, bolder, and wiser.
Distractions do not have to be disasters. They can be a great turning point. They can be a great teaching tool. They can be the place where our faith is defined or strengthened.
They will always be a place where God meets us to help us.
Peter actually walked on the water before he got distracted. Think of the possibilities when you stay focused on God!
Marie Fremin. 9/3-4/16