Reflections on Car Church

“Time for car church!” The four boys in the front seats pulled out their Bibles, while the three of us girls, crammed in the backseat of a friend’s SUV, wiggled to grab our backpacks. We were a solid 10 hours into a 22 hour road trip for Spring Break. And it was time for car church.

Being in a car full of Wheaton students, the Bible major of the group read a passage for us in Greek. Our text for the morning was Matthew 14:22-33. A familiar passage. Yet as a car full of personalities, academic disciplines, and individual relationships with the Lord began talking through these verses, the Holy Spirit began to move in our hearts and reveal new truths about this story.

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, why did you doubt?And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

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at some gas station in Nebraska

As we began discussing, the first thing that came up about the passage was the context. This was Jesus’ third attempt at being alone in the chapter. The crowds are being a little more than demanding, to say the least. Yet Christ, in His perfect wisdom, cares for them without sacrificing His intimacy with the Father.

A little twinge of guilt was replaced by a wave of grace as I realized it had been days since I was alone with the Father. How often do I fight for time alone with my heavenly Daddy? Do I see my time with the discernment of Jesus, knowing when to love the people around me and knowing my limits when I need solitude and rest? Am I able to love people out of a place of fulfillment and refreshment from my communion with the Trinity?

•      •      •

As car church continued and we went on in the passage, we reached a Greek phrase that struck us all:

Ego eimai. 

Ego eimai is Greek for “it is I.” It is the same word used in the Septuagint when God names Himself as I AM to Moses. Jesus isn’t just reminding them that He’s still there, He’s reminding them who He is. He is is the Great I AM. The omnipotent, omniscient, Creator of the universe, sustainer of the world, Trinitarian God. The same I AM that parted the Red Sea was walking on the stormy waves of the lake. This the God who loves us. This is the God who knows, redeems, and upholds us. This the God who reaches out His hand and tells us to walk towards Him, in faith and in trust. The Great I Am of the universe, who silences waves and governs scientific principles, also calls us by name and tenderly carries our hearts.

As live in places of fear, looking at the circumstances and unknowns of my life, I hear Him graciously calling out to my heart: ego eimai. It is I. I Am.

•      •      •

With the clear presence of the Holy Spirit and excited to read on, we reached the phrase where Jesus chides Peter for his faith and asks why he doubted. However, the question Jesus asks, in the Greek, is a little different than we think of it. The question Jesus asks Peter, literally translated, isn’t merely “why do you doubt?,” but “in what are you doubting?”

Again washed in the weight of conviction, I realized this is the question that Jesus asks me as my heart wanders away from trusting Him. When my eyes see the waves beneath my feet and the wind beating at my back a little too clearly, He addresses my heart: Maddie, in what are you doubting? Am I doubting his goodness? His trustworthiness? His timing? His love for me?

•      •      •

How many times have I read this story? How many messages have I heard preached from this text? And yet, that afternoon in the backseat of a car, speeding through the cow populated fields of Nebraska, I met my God in a new way.

I pray it is the same for you, wherever you are, this Tuesday afternoon.

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