If You Want To Walk On Water
by Dan Augsburger

Part A

General Youth Conference December 29, 2005


Getting on the wrong plane in LA.

Roy Riegels: Running to the wrong goal in the Rose Bowl.

Roy Riegels was a better-than-competent defensive lineman for the University of California's championship football team and had been elected captain by his teammates toward the end of the 1928 season. But history remembers him only as the man who blew the 1929 Rose Bowl for his team on New Year's Day by carrying the ball 70 yards in the wrong direction. It was a blunder of epic proportions, for it provided opposing Georgia Tech with the winning edge in a game that gridiron pundits had said would determine which team was the best in college football.

Seventy-two thousand people were on hand at Pasadena, cheering wildly as the Tech quarterback, Stumpy Thomason, fumbled on his own 36-yard line midway through the 2nd quarter. A mad scramble ensued, and Riegels, a lineman who rarely had the opportunity of getting his hands on the ball, grabbed the pig-skin and started running.

At this point, a confused Riegels who apparently lost his bearings in the blur of uniforms, spun around, and reversed field. A few startled Tech players made a stab at tackling him, but then thought better of it and let Riegels dig his own grave. Galloping off into the sunlight toward his own goal line, he evidently had no idea that he was in error; a lone California teammate, Ben Lom, renowned for his speed, chased after Riegels, screaming, "No, Roy, no--not that way!" but his pleas were drowned out in the roar of the crowd.

Lom caught up with Riegels on the California 10-yard line and dragged him to a halt on the 2; at that point he got the bewildered ball carrier to turn around momentarily, in the hope of blocking for him and gaining back some of the lost yardage, but Tech was already there and they hit Riegels with all they had, stopping him cold on the one-yard line. Dejected beyond words, Riegels sat on the ground. His teammates tried their best to console him.

On the next play, the kicker Lom dropped back into the end zone to punt, but the kick was blocked and Tech scored a 2-point safety. Tech went on to win 8-7.

Riegels took a sound drubbing in the nation's press for many days to come "BLUNDER DEFEATS CALIFORNIA: CAPTAIN ELECT RUNS 69 1/2 YARDS TO WRONG GOAL," was the headline on the story the Chicago Daily Tribune ran the next day), and his name became a household word

We laugh, but these things really happen.

Less Abundant Examples

It also happened in Christian history.

Judas Committed, but misunderstanding the goal; He crucified his Lord.

Saul before the Damascus road: Sincere, but persecuting God’s people

The Jewish People: Desperately needing deliverance, but refusing the deliverance that Jesus offered because it came in the wrong packaging.

Individuals persecuting God’s people down through history: Millions of sincere saints have lost their lives over the years at the hands of other sincere saints who thought they were working for God.
Rev 6:10 “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?

The Roman Empire after Constantine was converted in 312 AD: What's most interesting is when the heroic age stopped and when the Church itself converted into being a form of Roman imperial culture, after the conversion of Constantine in 312. That's where you get the incredible efflorescence of the cult of the martyrs. Martyrs' shrines, bits of martyrs' bodies, liturgies being written to the martyrs. There's an incredible energy involved in worshipping at the tombs of the martyrs after the age of martyrs have ... has stopped. And I think that's, in a way, Christianity's effort to reclaim its own heroic history after it had already become an arm of government, itself, and was, of course, persecuting other Christians. More Christians were persecuted by the Roman Government after the conversion of Constantine, than before. The difference is that's it's a Christian government who's persecuting the other Christians.

These people all died at the hands of individuals who thought they were working for God. Somehow they had missed the boat on where the goal line was.

It Still Happens In Our Day

S. D Gordon speaks of a similar dichotomy in his book Quiet Talks on Power.

He tells of asking a college student, “Are you a Christian, sir?” The young adult turned and gave him what he called an odd, surprised expression in his eye, then turned away and said, “Well, I’m a member of a church, but—I don’t believe I am very much of a Christian.”

A week later he was in another town speaking to young women who were attending a young ladies seminary, where he queried one of the teachers, “I suppose your young women here are all Christians.” Again came an odd, quizzical look, and the same, “I think they are all members of church, but I do not think they are all Christians with real power in their lives.”

A few weeks later he was visiting a medical school where one of the faculty members volunteered, “I’m a member of the church; I think I am a deacon in our church, but I am not very much of a Christian, sir.”

A month later he was speaking in a church where 5 or 600 people were present. Not being from the area and knowing little about the church, he asked one of the pastors what the congregation was like. The man thought a moment, then he said, “I think 2/3 of the people here would claim to be members of the church, but not half of them are Christians worth counting.”

Upon reflection, SD Gordon found it odd that there continued to be this odd distinction between what a person professed to be, and what they were on a practical basis.

We are confronted with the question: Is it possible to have a Christian experience where there is no gap between what we profess and what we practice?

If we answer “no” then we have to wonder why we bother wasting our time going to church and pretending to be Christians. If the answer is “yes” then we have to wonder why we don’t have a more consistent practical experience.

What is it like in your experience?

More Abundant Examples

CT Studd:
Born to wealthy parents, considered one of the greatest cricket players in all of England by the time he was 19, he was led to surrender his life to the Lord Jesus Christ by a friend of his father’s, and dedicated all his energy to serving God and encouraging other students at Cambridge to surrender their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ. He would later serve God as a missionary in China, India and in Africa. He was a child of privilege and ease, and society would have said that was the goal to run towards, but a personal acquaintance with the Lord Jesus Christ led him to make a change that endured for the rest of his life.

Adinirum Judson:
He also had everything going for him. Early in life he showed his potential when he was learning to read by the age of 3, studying navigation by the age of 10 and theology as a child. He went to Providence College with dreams of fame and fortune. There an acquaintance convinced him that there wasn’t such a thing as a God, and he became a thorough going skeptic. Through amazing circumstances he became a Christian and his great passion was to plan his life to please the Lord. He did. Adinirum and his wife would go to Burma as missionaries eventually where there wasn’t a single other Christian. At the end of his life, at the age of 62, a census of the Burmese government revealed 210,000 people claimed to be Christians. Society would have said pursue education and learning; take advantage of your skills; don’t waste all of that ability and potential on an unknown people across the seas where you may be endangering your life and will certainly fall short of your dreams of fame and fortune.

Francis Havergal
I think of Francis Havergale who was also an overachiever. By the age of 4 she was memorizing the Bible. By the time she died, she had memorized most of the New Testament, the book of Psalms and Isaiah. With a lovely voice and wonderful abilities at the piano, she was in demand as a soloist and a concert pianist. She could also speak multiple modern languages and Greek and Hebrew. But she loved Jesus more than anything else. Society would have said use your talents and abilities for yourself. Get ahead. But the only agenda she was interested in was serving Jesus. On one occasion she was visiting a place where there were ten people in the house, some of which were Christians but not rejoicing Christians, others who were not Christians. She asked God to give her the entire house. By the end of her stay she had prayed for, and reached out to all of those people, and all had surrendered their lives to Jesus. She was so happy the last night that she couldn’t sleep. It was at that time that she wrote the hymn, take by life and let it be, consecrated, Lord to Thee. In her love to Jesus and her desire to devote all to him, at one point she felt lead to take all of her ornaments and take them to the mission to be used to support the missionaries. She died at a relatively young age, in her forties, but to the end her great joy was the Lord Jesus. This is how she put it, “God’s will is delicious; He makes no mistakes.”

So, on the one hand we have people who thought they were serving God, but were actually working against him, and I believe for the most thought they were doing the right thing, while others sacrificed fame and fortune to obey God.


How did one group come to run towards the “wrong goal post” and the other group to the correct one?

I believe these individuals made a conscious decision for the Lord Jesus and kept following him through the rest of their lives. They made plans—and planning is wonderful and crucial to arriving at the right destination—however, all the planning in the world won’t help if you are not willing to follow God’s leading, and if you are unwilling to walk with Him in the practical realization of His plan for your life.

This is far from a cake walk, for when it comes down to actually obeying His leading—walking happily with Him on a day-to-day basis, it is so easy to begin questioning the way that He is working and draw back at crucial moments in their experience.

The Disciples’ Experience

This dilemma is seen in the disciples who happily followed the events unfolding around the Lord Jesus and eventually responded to His call to follow. In responding they assumed He was going to shortly set up a new kingdom, and rejoiced as He healed the sick and the lame, and fed the hungry crowds. Was this not the Messiah they had been hoping for all of their lives? At some point they began to realize that He was initiating a spiritual kingdom and began to experience the reality of what it meant to be one of His followers.

One of the disciples that was affected by all of this was Peter. Initially Peter wasn’t thrilled about what Jesus was saying and doing, but eventually a great transformation took place, which took him from being a brash, rough, impetuous fisherman, to a humble, obedient, fully devoted follower of Jesus.

How did this take place? Did he have advantages that we don’t?

Want To Walk on Water?

Sometime back a Christian book was published that it entitled: “If you want to walk on water, get out of the boat.” There are a lot of people who would say, “That’s what happened with Peter. He was willing to take chances. He was willing to seize opportunities.”

But I want to respectfully disagree. For you see the day that Peter walked on water started with thousands of people being fed by Jesus and the disciples getting all excited about the Messianic Kingdom being set up.

Jesus sensed the changing, Messianic-driven, drift of the crowd, dismissed and sent the crowd home, and told the disciples to get in the boat and cross over to the other side. Then he went up on the mountain.

Notice what was written concerning them:

“To His followers this seemed the golden opportunity to establish their beloved Master on the throne of Israel. In the glow of this new ambition it was hard for them to go away by themselves, and leave Jesus alone upon that desolate shore. They protested against the arrangement; but… they knew that further opposition on their part would be useless, and in silence they turned toward the sea.” Desire of Ages, 378

But the storm brought on by God gave them something else to think about.

“Their thoughts were stormy and unreasonable, and the Lord gave them something else to afflict their souls and occupy their minds.” Desire of Ages, p. 380

The disciples were anything but happy, and instead of obeying Jesus, sulked and complained at the edge of the lake as the darkening skies increasingly mirrored their dark and disappointed moods. Finally they sufficiently got over their pity party and headed across the lake as Jesus had told them.

Because of their disobedience God allowed a real storm to come, and soon they forgot everything else in their efforts to save their physical lives. It was then that a figure was noticed walking across the water. At first they thought it was a ghost, then recognized it to be Jesus, and Peter called out asking to come to Jesus walking on water?

Was this a moment of great victory for Peter? Was this a moment when Peter was truly in the center of God’s will and working in the power of God? Well, obviously, it was a moment where God’s power was being exercised, but it was a moment of weakness, for Peter hadn’t spent much time walking towards Jesus before he looked back at his friends. And he started sinking immediately.

He cried out for Jesus to save him, and Jesus did. But instead of taking Peter for a walk on the water, He took his hand and led him back into the boat.

There are those who would say, “If you want to walk on water, get out of the boat. But it doesn’t work that way, and countless people are trying to walk on water and are failing miserably!

Transition: I would like to suggest that if we want to experience the transformation that Peter experienced, we are going to have to let Jesus take us by the hand and let Him take us back into the boat!

Part B