(this post includes retelling of scripture and speculation of characters' thoughts/emotions/intentions - these may not be fully representative of scripture and I encourage you to read the full story in Matthew 14:22-36; Mark 6:45-56; John 6:16-24)
Jesus is walking on water in the middle of a storm. Peter, in the boat, asks Jesus to call him out. He calls him out of the boat to come to Him - Peter did, and joined Jesus in the miracle of water-walking. But then he saw the waves towering overhead. Then he saw his feet slip beneath the surface. Then he lost sight of the One who enabled him to walk in the first place. How does this story relate to the storm we're navigating together? Leaving your boat and walking on water might look like loving your family like you never thought possible, like confronting financial insecurity, like being entirely alone in silence and solitude with God, like giving up the work that has defined your identity, like relentlessly sewing face masks, like going out every day to your essential work, like serving in overburdened hospitals and being an entire community of love and support for your patients who can't have visitors, like what? Like what? And how can we, with as much zeal as we stepped into the water with in the first place, continue to look at Jesus? Can I go a little deeper? Peter slipped into the water. Suddenly, a flush of deep regret and doubt in Jesus washed over him as his entire body was soaked with the fear of what would happen next. He wondered why he stepped out, he wondered why he even asked, he wondered if it was really Jesus calling him or just his emotions/imagination/excitement, he regrets. Then the strong arm of his Lord, teacher, and friend pulls him up out of the water.
"You of little faith," Peter hears, wildly looking around as Jesus leads him back to the boat, "why did you doubt?" The wind dies, the storm clears, and as Peter's feet hit the solid surface of the boat he finally takes a new breath. All the disciples gather around and worship Jesus. "Truly you are the Son of God," echoes among them as they replay and replay the events that just happened. What is Peter doing, at that moment? The Word doesn't offer us the answer. But I wonder if he was also worshipping? I wonder if he was sitting down, collecting himself? Feeling thankful? Feeling fearful? Replaying the events, but with what kind of perspective on them? Did he regret? Did he feel foolish, weak, and like he let Jesus down? Often I hear this story taught and the final conclusion is that we ought to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus - that if we could just keep looking at Him, we won't fall into the water! Ignore the storm! Peter, you fool, Jesus is RIGHT THERE standing on water! You of little faith, why did you doubt? These words from Jesus may seem harsh, but I find them painfully simple and sweet. As a statement of fact: you of little faith. I imagine Peter remembered that one..."me, of little faith?" This is right after he ASKED Jesus to call him out into the water - right after he walked out in the middle of a storm - and Jesus simply says, "you of little faith."
How humbling. To have just tried to take the biggest step of faith, doing the most radical, brave, crazy thing you could for Jesus: only to fall down and realize just how small your faith really is.
"Why did you doubt?" God is great at asking questions. His questions cut to our core. In Genesis, as Adam and Eve hide from his presence and then proceed to treat Him like a scolding father, diverting blame and shame - God is only asking questions. He knows it already, but He's humble enough to ask us to freely admit anything we would say to Him.
And He says to Peter, "why did you doubt?" This is not a question to be answered right away. This may never be a question that is answered - but this will roll and tumble around Peter's heart for years. As he replays the entire story in his mind, "why did you doubt?" will repeat at every turn. Why did I doubt? Why did I doubt?
Here's the thing.
Jesus was glorified in this story. The final outcome of this story was Jesus being worshipped in the boat, and the disciples declaring that He was truly the Son of God.
Sure, Peter gave a fantastic display of faith. He asked to practice radical trust, he actually walked on water with Jesus, he showed us what walking to Jesus in the middle of a storm can look like.
And. That. Included. Falling.
Too many of us Christians are terrified of failure. We're so afraid of falling that we'd refuse to even leave the boat - or else, we'd ask to leave the boat year after year, bolding declaring, "I'll do anything for you, Lord!" But never actually step out because we're constantly calculating all the ways that we might fail.
This story teaches us that we can. We can fail. We can fall. And BECAUSE we can fail and fall, we can also step out, and we can also walk.
I don't think the lesson of this story is that Peter just needed to keep his eyes on Jesus better. Yes, we should always try to keep our eyes on Jesus - especially if we're walking on water in the middle of a raging storm - but also, this story teaches us that our failures are for His greater glory.
If Peter successfully walked all the way to Jesus, no issues or struggles with the storm, no falling - what might have happened?
They get back to the boat - the disciples gather around Peter and Jesus. They're awestruck and wondering why they didn't ask to walk on water, too - they might ask Peter what it was like, how he did it, what was he thinking/feeling? Peter might feel a little proud of himself. Peter might want to keep practicing this water-walking - maybe it could show more people how awesome Jesus is?
This is my mindset far too often. I think that I can just get it all perfect and show people, "Look, I can walk on water with Jesus! You can, too! It's awesome!" People might ask me questions about how to do it. People might want to be like me. I might feel a little proud of myself.
But that's not how this story goes. And thank God that it isn't - because if that kind of story were in the Bible, used on a cheap parlor trick of walking on water - my faith would be a lot shakier. No. Peter falls. This is our story.
And it is to the greater glory of Jesus.
As Christians, our goal isn't to get it 100% right and live a perfect life that shows how Jesus is perfect. Our goal is to say that we're incurably fallen, and the only One who can fix that is Jesus. You know what that means?
As a Christian, I'm gonna fall. I'm gonna lose sight of Jesus - get overwhelmed by storms - and sink. He's going to say about me, "you of little faith," and ask me, "why did you doubt?" And I'll cry about it and repent and doubt and regret - BUT, the final outcome will always be, "Wow, Jesus saved me."
Not, "Wow, I walked so well." Not, "Wow, that was a great experience." But, "I was drowning. I thought I had it all figured out and a perfect sight of who Jesus is. I thought I could go anywhere...do anything...I forgot how weak I can be...but Jesus still saved me. Jesus still saved me!? Jesus still saved me!"
That's our story. Peter models faith to walk on water, and he models faith to fall and fail.
And the result?
It all points back to Jesus.
"Truly he is the Son of God."
With thanks and love,
- to continue learning about sharing
- pray for Lou and Joseph battling COVID, and Heather awaiting her test results
- to love people well. To serve without holding back. To rest, also.