The Christmas season is one of my favorite times of year, primarily of course, because of the joyous celebrations of Jesus’ birth. But there is something else that delights me about the season. Over the years, people tend to give me gifts that make me chuckle, smile, and sometimes guffaw. This year was no exception. Julie Ressler, our Administrative Director, gave me the red sweatshirt seen in the adjacent photo. It will be fun to wear in a variety of places.

While the words on the sweatshirt are humorous, “Jesus – My Lifeguard,” there is truth to this slogan as is the case with the scriptural reference of Matthew 14:22-32.

The story found in this part of Matthew’s Gospel is the well known description of Jesus walking on water. In it, Jesus had had a very long day having just fed well over 5,000 people with just a few loaves of bread and some fish. After having done so, he sends his disciples in a boat across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus needed some down time to pray alone.

As the story goes, a huge storm arises on the lake threatening the welfare of the disciples. Shortly before dawn, Jesus heads out to the imperiled boat across the water by foot. The disciples at first assume that what they see is a ghost. As Jesus nears the boat, they realize it is anything but a ghost who approached them. Peter said, “Jesus, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus asks Peter to step into the water and to walk toward him.

At first, Peter took a few steps on the water, but when he took his eyes off of Jesus, he immediately took a plunge into the water, but Jesus grabbed him.

As many have noted before, as long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, he was alright. But when he took his eyes off of Jesus and looked instead at the storm, that is when he sank. This story is a good reminder about something important to keep in mind as we enter a new year.

We can look at God through the lens of our problems or we can look at our challenges through the lens of God. Our primary focus can be what is troubling us or God. I know when I focus primarily on what is amiss and then God, I end up feeling upset, confused, and out of alignment. But when I pay most attention to God and ask God to help me see what is challenging as God sees it, how I live through and endure whatever it is, is completely altered for the better.

Saying all of this another way. Do we focus on God then our problems or do we pay attention first to our challenges and then look to God? Which of these options we take makes all the difference in the world and my hope is that this is a helpful thought as we enter a New Year, yes with all of its joys and blessings, but also its difficulties. Happy New Year.