Most Christian believers are familiar with the Biblical account of Peter walking on the water. The appropriate response to this might seem to be, "What a heroic accomplishment, but I do not have that kind of faith!" But, was Peter's faith really any stronger than yours or mine? Let's take a closer look and consider how each of us might reach out for a miracle, or shy back from one, in our most challenging circumstances.
The disciples had just witnessed Jesus miraculously feeding over 5,000 people. One would think their faith was ready for anything. What a high time it must have been! Imagine their eagerness to bask in the afterglow of all they had seen in the presence of the Master. But, that's not what happened. Jesus sent them on ahead of him, to cross the great lake without him. So, they go, probably exhausted and suddenly bereft of Jesus' visible presence, sailing into darkness.
Not only was it dark, but in the deep of the night, they were far from land, being buffeted by a strong wind. They were in crisis, struggling to keep the boat afloat, their boat being beaten by the waves. The "wind was against them." Things were not looking good. How much faith could they have mustered by this time? Jesus was not there.
Finally, Jesus showed up - late by their estimation. The boat had probably already suffered damage. They may have lost possessions trying to lighten the boat. Sick with fatigue and fear, they were probably only hanging on because humans are geared to do that. It certainly seemed pointless.
When Jesus did show up it was in a spooky, unexpected form. As they saw his glowing figure advancing toward them across the water, they thought he was a ghost. "Here we are about to die, and now, on top of everything else, here comes a ghost!" they thought. "Surely we are about to be escorted out of this world!" They exclaimed aloud, "It's a ghost!"
Hearing their exclamation of fear, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." Jesus did show up, but only after they been exposed to a trying situation, and saw him revealed in a form they had not previously seen. They had to learn to recognize him in unexpected forms and unexpected places.
It is so easy to lock God into our cultural boundaries that we do not recognize His magnitude and the many ways he is both capable of and willing to express himself. He was not only stretching their faith in his ability to care for them in his visible absence or in circumstances that seemed hopeless. He was increasing their understanding of him as a God who refuses to be limited by human traditions and expectations; a God who sometimes seems unfamiliar; a God who is Spirit and Power, not just the companionable, familiar Jesus we've come to know. Jesus became bigger in their eyes that night, which was very important for the future missions with which God would entrust them.
Encouraged by Jesus' assurance, Peter took a step of faith. "Jesus, if that's you, command me to come to you on the water." Jesus said, "Come." So Peter makes his famous steps of faith. But then, Peter is overcome by the enormity of the waves, panics, and starts to sink. Even with Jesus standing right there, Peter freaked out and lost faith. Perhaps he wondered, "What if it was just a ghost of a hope, a hallucination, not really Jesus? What if it's something false, evil or occult?" Still Peter took the risk and Jesus honored the risk instead of condemning the fear and failure. Jesus reached out and took Peter's hand and immediately they were back in the boat and the storm ceased.
Jesus is so loving He could have berated Peter, but he only gave His frequent, rather tame comment, "Oh ye of little faith." Perhaps he even chuckled. Still, knowing all the ways Peter ever had or ever would fail, he still lifted him up and accepted him as he was. What a Savior!
Overcoming fear is so much easier once we learn God does not condemn our fragile efforts to grow and learn to walk in faith. Spiritual growth is a process, not an overnight accomplishment. Once we learn that, we start to understand that miracles are participatory activities, not just spectator events.
Pause to consider:
- In what areas of your life is God showing up in mysterious ways or guises?
- How has God stretched your personal concept of who he is?
- How have you limited God by your own preconceived ideas?
- Are there circumstances in which you know you need to "step out of the boat," but are letting fear hold you back?
- Looking back, can you see times it was your own fears that kept you from having the blessing that was waiting for you?
Prayer: Father, help me not to let my own narrow experiences blind me to the ways you choose to show up in my life. Give me courage to step out of the boat, and know that when I start to sink, if I just look to you, your hand will always be extended to life me up.
Feel free to share you thoughts in the comment section below. Your ideas might encourage others.