There is a story from Jesus’s life that is so remarkable that it is recorded in three of the Gospel accounts. Matthew, Mark and John all tell the story of how, after feeding the 5,000, Jesus sent the disciples ahead of him to Bethsaida by crossing the Sea of Galilee. Jesus came to them much later after spending some time in solitary prayer by walking on the water. Only one of the Gospels, that of Matthew, records the story of Peter being called out onto the water by Jesus. That story says:
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?” (Matthew 14:28-31)
To set the scene, bear in mind that this was not a peaceful lake; the winds had likely whipped the waves to a height of around three feet. It was still night, so they were in the dark. The disciples were all scared because of the storm that had arisen, and had been frightened even more by seeing Jesus walking to them on the water.
Peter doesn’t wait for Jesus to get in the boat with him. Instead he says, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Peter isn’t trying to show off for the other disciples and he isn’t trying to experience a cool parlor trick; he just wants to get to Jesus as quickly as possible in the middle of the storm. He shows remarkable courage and a strength of faith as he takes the risky step of getting out of the boat and trusts Jesus to keep him safe in the storm. He believes that Jesus can do the impossible by helping him to walk to Jesus on the water. He is rewarded for his faith by taking some steps across the water towards Jesus.
However, Peter’s faith wasn’t yet fully developed and he became afraid. He started looking at the wind and the waves. I would imagine that he started to consider the impossibility of walking on water. As a result, he begins to sink. Even while sinking, however, he knew to cry out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” Jesus indeed reaches out and catches Peter – and He does it immediately. He doesn’t wait for Peter to sink below the waves to teach him a lesson or to make the rescue look more dramatic, but out of His great love, He reaches immediately for Peter.
After catching Peter, Jesus gives him a rebuke: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” I believe that Jesus said this tenderly, not sharply. I think it’s as if He were saying, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you?” (Galatians 5:7) The question is designed to help Peter see his weakness and to realize his complete dependence on God.
I’ve had my share of storms, and I believe that we are to navigate storms the way that Peter did – by fixing our eyes on Jesus and walking on the water. Here are five key things I’ve learned on this journey:
- The first thing I’ve learned is that when a storm arises, I have to anticipate the enemy’s attack. I have found in my walk that, like the disciples, sometimes I can be doing exactly what Jesus said to do, and the next thing I know, a storm has arisen. It may come out of nowhere, with no advance warning to prepare me for it. It is at that very moment that the enemy will come and sow seeds of doubt: Did I not hear Him correctly? Did I step off the path? Why is this happening to me? These doubts grow in the darkness if I don’t go immediately to God. They weaken my faith. I begin to sink in the storm.
- I’ve learned that I have to go straight to Jesus with my questions and doubts. If I go straight to Jesus with my fears and the seeds of doubt, He can strengthen my faith and uproot the doubts before they take hold in my heart. He can remind me that He is with me always (Matthew 28:20). He can show me that the storm is part of His plan, designed to test and strengthen my faith so that I’ll be ready for the next test, the next step in His plan (James 1:3).
- I’ve learned to reach out to trusted friends at the first sign of a storm. I get to Jesus through solitary prayer, but my friends walk with me through the storm and lift me up in prayer. It is often the perspective of someone who has been through a similar circumstance that helps me to see the bigger picture of what God is doing in my situation. My friends help me to keep my eyes on Jesus, not on the circumstance.
- I’ve learned that I have to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. To fix my eyes means to direct my eyes, attention and mind steadily or unwaveringly toward Him. Worship and praise are key to navigating the storm. When I worship and praise God for who He is, there is no room for the enemy to sow seeds of doubt about God’s goodness. I also can’t focus on the wind and the waves if I’m looking at Him.
- Praying for faith and courage is key when I’m hit by a sudden storm. Faith and courage will sustain me when I’m being buffeted by wind and waves. I remember that God has seen me through other storms before this one. I draw courage from the fact that He didn’t let me go under then, and He won’t let me go under now if I continue to call out to Him.
I am not saying that I have fully mastered this and that I have no difficulty navigating the storms in my life. That would be FAR from the truth! However, I’m learning. I hope that what I’ve learned so far may be useful to you as well. Please share your thoughts and ideas for how to navigate life’s storms in the comments.
If you’re in a storm now, take heart, friend – you are not alone. Message me and I will pray for you.