Last Friday was my day to share a devotion for the training program where I’m currently serving. As I prayed about what to share, I was reminded of a teaching I did earlier this year. You may have guessed the topic from the title of this post – Peter’s walk on the waves with Jesus, found in Matthew 14:22-33.
I’ve heard people tell this story and teach about it almost since infancy. Peter and the other disciples are in a boat, battling to stay afloat in the midst of a major storm. At some point between 3 – 6 A.M., a figure comes strolling along in the midst of the darkness, wind, and waves. The disciples are terrified, and I’m thinking the terror is justified. It’s not every day someone strolls along on the waves of a storm while you’re trying to keep your boat above the water…
Jesus calls out that they needn’t fear, that it is Him. As usual, Peter is the first to speak up. “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” I can just see the other eleven guys in the boat rolling their eyes. I picture at least a couple of them trying to stop Peter from getting out of the boat, trying to reason with him about how stupid this idea is. I imagine others still trying to keep the boat afloat, and one trying to ready a net so that they can fish Peter’s body out of the sea.
In thinking over all the times I’ve heard this story, it seems that many people often focus on the end of the story. Yes, Peter started to sink and had to be rescued by Jesus, but let’s not skip the part of the story I find most impressive… Peter got out of the boat! Out of twelve men, only one can say he walked on the water with Jesus.
As I thought about this story, God showed me several things that have challenged my own walk with Him – whether on a seemingly safe stretch of land or the roaring waves of a storm…
1. Peter initiated this adventure. Jesus didn’t call Peter out of the boat; He responded to Peter’s request to come to Him. The Bible points out twice that when Peter got out of the boat his intention was to get to Jesus. He wasn’t content to wait in the boat until Jesus drew near to him. I think Jesus honored Peter’s request because He knew the motivation was to reach Him, not for Peter to have a cool story to tell about how he walked on water. When was the last time you asked God to allow you to do something crazy because you were so desperate to draw closer to Him?
2. Peter’s problem was one of focus. As long as his eyes remained on Jesus, he had no problem, but when he lost focus… uh oh! God showed me that there are two things that tend to cause this problem in my life: pride and fear. Too often when I am “out of the boat” with Jesus, I start feeling pretty proud of myself. “Look at me! I’m walking on water! How cool am I?” Bam! The moment my focus moves from Jesus to myself, I’m going down.
My other tendency looks more like Peter’s. I start looking around me and become fearful. Peter saw the waves and freaked out. Sometimes my circumstances start to scare me, and I focus on them and lose my view of Jesus. More often though, I find myself looking toward Jesus, but trying to sneak a look over his shoulder to see what’s ahead on the path. The waves at my feet wouldn’t be so worrying if I could just see a glassy surface to walk on just ahead… My fear of the unknown gets the best of me more often than I would like to admit. The thing is, though, that looking in Jesus’ direction is not enough. My vision must be fixed on Him and Him alone, or I’m sinking.
3. Jesus didn’t make the journey easy. The last time these thirteen men were in a storm together, Jesus spoke three words, and the wind and waves calmed. “Peace, be still.” Jesus could have easily said that again, and given Peter a smooth surface to practice walking on before the waves started up again. The thing is, though, Jesus isn’t concerned with our comfort zone. He doesn’t always make it easy to get to Him or to where He is taking us. Jesus didn’t even calm the waves when Peter started to fear. It wasn’t until they were back in the boat that the wind stopped. Jesus sustained and saved Peter in the midst of the storm, but He didn’t just fix the circumstances that caused Peter’s fear. Our faith is a muscle that is strengthened with use. Peter’s faith failed in the latter part of the story, but I’ll bet it was stronger as they got back into the boat than it was when the disciples first saw the figure walking toward them on the sea.
4. The final thing I noticed is that Peter didn’t just reach back and grab the boat when he became afraid. I don’t know how far away from the boat Jesus was when Peter took his first steps on the water, but Peter had walked far enough that Jesus was his only hope. As I prayed one day last year, I felt like God said He was proud of me for taking this journey of faith with Him and “getting out of the boat.” And then He asked some questions… How far out of the boat am I willing to go with Him? Will I go far enough that I can’t reach out and grab hold of the boat if I get scared? Will I go far enough that I can’t even turn around and see it anymore?
And you? How far are you willing to go with Him?