Running Out of Steam

Older readers will know exactly what I mean by this blog-post title: times when our energy levels take a sudden dip and everything, everything, becomes a huge effort. If you haven’t yet experienced this phenomenon, bless God and pass on. This post is not for you.

If you are still reading, then you know that you are, or have been, in the company of someone who has experienced exactly the same thing — our Lord Jesus Christ. Today’s gospel, Matthew 14. 22-36, describes the disciples battling heavy seas and Jesus walking towards them on the lake. Peter jumps into the sea in his enthusiasm, but fear and exhaustion take their toll and he begins to sink. Jesus stretches out his arm and saves him. According to Mark 4.35–41, something similar has happened before. The disciples have been on the lake when a storm has blown up and they have had to rouse Jesus ‘lying in the stern, with his head on a cushion, asleep’ to rebuke the winds and sea. Why was Jesus asleep in the stern? How did he manage to sleep through the storm? It can only have been sheer weariness. He too ran out of steam, just like us.

Being tired is not, of itself, a particularly holy state; but it has the potential to let holiness in. Scripture provides us with several instances of God’s speaking through dreams but also a few occasions when tiredness and exasperation do their work. Think of Naaman the Leper, incensed at being told, after all his trouble, to go and wash in the river seven times. He is ready to storm off but his slave-girl saves him from his folly. Somehow, his being at his wits’ end about his illness makes him receptive to God’s action in a way that all the blessings he has enjoyed hitherto have not. It is the same with us. Sometimes it is only because we have reached the whimpering stage that we can be open to God. We cannot; so God must.

There is one caveat to mention, however. Running out of steam is not the same as being exhausted. Exhaustion is a serious matter and cannot be put right by just a good night’s sleep. When we are exhausted our judgement goes, along with our energy. Our first care must be to rest and regain our balance. I don’t need to tell you how difficult that can be, but it is necessary. If, this morning, however, you are feeling out of sorts, tired, a little bit tetchy, you are not exhausted but you are, potentially, open to God. Your defences are down; you are vulnerable. Excellent! God may be able to gain your attention. Please let him do so.