Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But 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 heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me." Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." — Mt 14:22-33
I grew up going to summer camp. Some who knew me then might say I was a little, um, obsessed. When my parents would come pick me up, I was miserably depressed to see them (and I let them know it too; I was awful!). My dad actually sent me the photo (below) of us one summer with the caption "one of the rare times you smiled when we picked you up". I just loved it, and didn't want to leave! It was my favorite place on earth, I loved everything about it-- except the Treetops Challenge Course. Until a certain age, participation was optional, so I would gladly sit at the bottom, cheer on other campers, and look for friendship rocks safely on the ground. But one year, I decided I was going to be brave and do it. I psyched myself up, I found the most enthusiastic partner, and while i climbed the initial steps I felt fairly confident. How bad could it be? The first challenge felt easy. And the next. But the third challenge was a tightrope walk across, with nothing to hold onto. I made my partner go first. She did it swiftly, gracefully, and fast. She cheered me on from the other side. I hesitantly took my first step out, focusing my eyes on her encouragement. One foot in front of the other, I took a couple more steps. Then, I heard people yelling down below, and I looked down. I was immediately shaken by the space between me and my cabinmates on the ground, and before I knew it I had fallen off the rope and was dangling in my harness what felt like a million miles from safety.
I see myself so, so much in Peter in this story. I see hard things, and I want to do them. I write all over my walls (literally) things about courage and bravery and paint it on coffee mugs and canvases. I get a rush of adrenaline and think, "I can do this, I can handle it, I'll trust Jesus". But it doesn't take but the tiniest ounce of discouragement to knock me over and shake my trust. I think I trust Jesus, but the truth is, I trust myself more. What an awful thing to admit. I would like to tell you that I conquered my fears that summer, and after dangling from a cable wire I got back up and finished the course with courage.
The truth is, I crawled back to the platform, cried uncontrollably, and refused to finish.
My sweet partner finished the course alone, as I pouted and had someone finally come get me and take me down the tower. I let my confidence be shaken, and I didn't trust anyone. I heard my counselors saying, "it'll be fine, Nancy-Page! You can do it!" I heard the Ropes Guy tell me, "Everyone has to finish, it's the rules, you're 100% safe!" I saw my friends complete it and beam with joy when they finished. But I trusted my own feelings-- fear-- more than any word someone could speak to me.
You know Peter had to have some rush of adrenaline as he stepped out of the boat and started walking on the water. If I were Peter, I would have had some self-confidence in my bravery-- after all, no one else seems to be jumping at the chance to try. He was getting to live one of Jesus' miracles! But just as quickly as he had jumped to be called out, his nervousness overtook him and he was crying to rescue. He lost sight of Jesus, and his faith dissipated to his own feelings.
I was Peter that summer at camp, and I'm still Peter today. I say I want to trust Jesus with something, even things I know will be difficult, but when my confidence is shaken, then I see the real measure of my faith-- and usually, I immediately start to sink.
Jesus, in his abundant graciousness, has rescued me more times than I can or want to count. He is always faithful-- even when I am not. But He still says, "O you, of little faith,why did you doubt?" Why didn't you think I was going to be with you? Why didn't you trust that I had you, I have you, I will always have you?
It's so uncomfortable to be asked that. Yet if we deny it, we deny Jesus. He wants to grow our faith, He wants to stretch us and have us experience more than we can imagine through life with Him. But when we settle for sinking and a rescue instead of trust and faith in His faithfulness, what are we missing out on?
Dear God, You know more than anyone how weak and shaky my faith can be. I want to trust you. I believe, but help me in my unbelief. Thank you for your supreme graciousness to us, even in our doubt. But don't let us cling to doubt, but rather pursue faith in a way that we can truly say, "if not for God--". In Jesus' name, Amen.
Dig Deeper: Do you find yourself sinking at your own fears and feelings? Are you willing to answer Jesus when He asks, "why do you doubt?" What would life look like if you were willing to have faith in Jesus?