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Worry and Walking on Water

Matthew 14 says: 

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

This is one of my favourite Bible stories. Like I'm sure it is for many others.

We benefit greatly from the association of the choppy water and the waves that shook Peter's faith as symbolic of the turbulent circumstances we often face in our own lives. Illness, financial insecurity, uncertainty, fear, persecution, our own sin, etc, are all things that can shake our own faith. Like with Peter, what we often call suffering, can throw us and our faith can become small and we can begin to sink under the weight of those situations.

The usual lesson from this passage is that, even though suffering will occur, even though Jesus himself might call us into what might seem like suffering or difficulty, if we respond in faith with obedience, we will find that we get through situations we thought we might not. We will find that we do not indeed sink and our faith, in turn, will be strengthened and we will grow in confidence that Jesus is indeed Lord and saviour. And this indeed is a story that helps us not to worry about life and how to respond rightly when  (or wrongly as Peter did) when things are tough and circumstances seem overwhelming.

However, inspired by recent conversations, I wanted to write a little bit about the fact that Jesus is not just our help when the waves are big, but that we are equally reliant on him in our most peaceful moments of existence.

The problem with Peter in these verses is that his faith shifted to the condition of the waves and away from Jesus. As soon as Peter saw the power of the water and how big the wind had made those waves, he began to sink. The inference is that had the water been calm, Peter wouldn't have been so scared and would happily have trotted out onto the surface of a gently bobbing surface. And we are so often like Peter in this regard, right? When life is easy and we have nothing to shake us, we take our eyes off Christ, having faith in our natural ability to cope well when life is easy. For example, not having a serious illness, I'm not currently worried about whether I'll get better or not and what the implications for my family might be depending on my recovery. Like Peter, we often only call out to Jesus when we sense the danger of our circumstances overwhelming us. We are less prone to an awareness of our need for him when things are going well.

Yet consider this, especially for those who do worry: it was just as much of a miracle for Peter to walk on stormy waves as it would have been for him to walk on calm, still waters. I think it's important for us to remember, that it is just as much a miracle for Christ to deliver us from a serious illness or financial insecurity or the depths of a certain sin, as it is for him to sustain us through normal, easy-going life. The doctrine of God's sovereignty tells us that God is as much in control of our circumstances when they 'feel' easy and pleasant, as he is when things are hard. From God's perspective, it takes just as much power and intent to produce a storm as it does to calm one. What this account of Jesus and Peter walking on the water reveals to us, is that it doesn't actually make sense for us to worry when circumstances are bad if we don't worry when circumstances are fair. Because God is equally in control of the calm and the storm. What is suggested to us in these verses is that strong faith in Jesus will entail peace in all circumstances.

I know this is all easier said that done. I know we can't switch worry on and of like a light switch. But these verses are here to lead us away from worry based on faith in circumstances to a strong and robust faith in Jesus that will eventually lead us to a steady temperament during trials. Think about it - none of us ever worry about the oxygen supply in our atmosphere diminishing to such a degree that we would be unable to breathe. None of us walk around tentatively fearing that gravity will suddenly stop working and we'll all float off into space. None of us live in fear that the sun will burn out and life on earth will come to an abrupt end. There are so many things that God is constantly overseeing that we'd never ever be concerned about, because of how consistently they do work.

Yet all of those things I've mentioned - oxygen, gravity, the sun - the consistency of their function requires God to be just as consciously choosing to empower their sustained existence and function as the things we do worry about. If we're going to worry about finance or health or anything else, we might as well worry about gravity and oxygen. Because it's the same God in control. And the reason Jesus did indeed call Peter onto the water is that he wanted Peter to have such lofty ambitions for his faith as did the great cloud of witnesses who walked before him. Consider Elijah, for instance. He wandered into the wilderness with nothing but simple clothing, content that the Lord would supply his food and water. Which he did through the ravens and the brook. Elijah has always struck me as one of the most confident men of faith in all of scripture.

There is a sincere and genuine call here for us to be truly at peace when the waves look big. Jesus was standing in the midst of the same waves as Peter and had no concern for his own safety whatsoever. Jesus trusted Jesus. So in control was Jesus that even when Peter's faith failed, believing only in the natural rather than the supernatural, Peter only began to sink. Think about that. Peter is on the surface of the water and we're told that he began to sink. As if slowly. If Peter is on water, he shouldn't begin to sink, he should quickly fall right through the surface down to the bottom. The fact that he begins to sink suggests Jesus' control over the effect of gravity on Peter at that time to slow his progress toward the bottom of the lake. People don't begin to sink in water. They just sink. The Lord Jesus is indeed well capable of complete control over the elements. Even when our faith fails, he is there to save us. Because it's not even the quality of our faith that is most important, it's the object of our faith. And if Jesus is going to our saviour in times of trouble, he must also be our Lord in times of peace. Why did Peter doubt Jesus in the storm on the water? Because he still doubted Jesus when he was safe on dry land as Jesus was feeding the 5000 - the previous account told to us by Matthew in chapter 14 of his gospel.

I just love this beautifully true story. It's such a clear demonstration of what a strong faith looks like; a firm gaze at Jesus, the one who is in control of all things. Faith simply believes. Faith reasons and says, yes those waves are big, but Jesus can help me walk on them as if they were solid ground. Faith also means we don't take the easy-going for granted. We are joyfully, gratefully conscious of God's sustaining our very existence. Every atom in our body requires God's power and will to remain arranged in the usual fashion, and we should therefore be as dependent on God when things are going well as when they are going less well. And I just want to suggest that this passage is trying to get ut to understand that it really doesn't make much sense to worry about the waves when we don't worry about calm. Because if we worry about the waves, Jesus tells us, like he told Peter, we have a little faith. If you worry about money, for instance, and the thought of a large inheritance or increase in salary relieves your fears, you are not trusting in the right thing and Jesus still won't make a difference to you when you have gained materially. The salary can be lost as easily as it came and your fears will rise right back up. But if we trust in Jesus, we see things differently. We don't see a loss of income or an unwelcome diagnosis as a cause for anxiety and panic and sadness, we are able to 'count it all joy' as James tells us to. Instead of seeing ourselves the victims of suffering we see ourselves as the benefactors of 'trials' that test the genuineness of our faith as Peter tells us. Waves, then, are opportunities to grow in grace and be sanctified. Not a cause for concern or panic. So let's remember: it was just as much of a miracle for Peter to walk on stormy waves as it would have been for him to walk on calm, still waters.

Scarlett wanted to do some accompanying art to this blog post. Hopefully, you can read her images.


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