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Walking and Sinking

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But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”
-Matthew 14:30 (ESV)

I was thinking about this passage recently, and my mind kept coming back to this bit. I love this bit. Here it is in context, and then I’ll explain.

After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”
-Matthew 14:23-33 (NASB)

Do you see yet what it is I love about verse 30? It’s the phrase ‘beginning to sink’. Because it doesn’t make sense. How do you begin to sink in water? The answer, I think, is the same as the fact that he was walking on it in the first place.

I’ve heard it taught that Peter was able to walk on the water by faith. And that’s nice and all, but I think it misplaces the source of power here. Peter’s faith isn’t holding him up, faith isn’t magic. Christ is holding him up in response to his faith. And I think the fact that he begins to sink both proves that and tells us something briefly about how Christ holds us. See, because, Peter’s faith fails him in verse 30. His confidence and assurance vanishes and is replaced with the sudden realization that he’s standing in the middle of a rough sea with only water beneath him, and he gets afraid. If Peter was held up simply by faith, he’d have been underwater faster than he could react to it.

But he isn’t. He has time to start sinking, realize he’s sinking, cry out for help, and get caught by Jesus’ hand. Which means that, whatever power is holding him on the surface of the water didn’t go away just because his faith did. Peter was still being held up supernaturally, the power of Christ that allowed him to walk out of the boat was still active even though Peter didn’t, at that moment, recognize it. And I think this is important to remember, because I see a lot of people (and I feel it myself, at times; I suspect we all do) who get into phases where we don’t recognize God’s power on our lives and get concerned. That’s fine, we have those days, but let this be a reminder to you that, even if your faith isn’t holding up at the moment, His promises are.

"Okay," you may say, "but he was still sinking." You’re right. Christ let him sink, a little bit, and very slowly. Not enough, apparently, that he was actually in danger, but enough that it caught Peter’s attention, made him realize that he wasn’t walking on water by his own power, turned his focus back to Christ, and led him to cry out to Jesus. When Peter’s gaze turned away and his heart sank, Christ reminded him that it’s His power that sustains us, not our own, and not our circumstances. The question we need to ask ourselves, in seasons where we feel like we’re sinking, is how far down we go before we cry out.

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