Walking on Water

I grew up on Long Island with about a 15 minute walk to the North Shore beaches and a 45 minute drive to the ocean on the South Shore. I spent countless hours in the water, swimming, tubing, and sailing for most of my life. The beach was my happy place and summer was my favorite time of the year because I knew that I could count on being on or near the water most days out of the week.

However, as much as I loved the water, there was a considerable amount of fear and anxiety that I associated with it. A few too many times of being slammed into sand after taking a wave wrong, attempting to run away from home because I was too afraid of water skiing (it’s okay you can laugh at that), capsizing countless times during sailing regattas and enduring two hospital trips from boating accidents in which one ended in surgery, has been enough to make me wary of the water.

You see no matter how good you are at swimming, how comfortable you are being pulled by a boat, or your confidence in sailing, you are never the one truly in control. Everything is determined by the winds and the currents, both of which can be unpredictable. You have to learn to predict the wind, be aware of things around you, and adapt quickly to forces beyond your control.

This past week I spent the most time I have spent on a boat since my sailing accident seven years ago. I loved speeding around the lake with my family, taking in the sun and watching my siblings water ski. Amidst all of the joy, anxious thoughts kept creeping in of what could go wrong along with flashbacks to what had gone wrong previously. I felt out of control and by the end of our first day on the water, I had a full on anxiety attack.

While talking with my boyfriend, Brandon, later that night, he gently reminded me that I have a tendency to panic when I am not or cannot be in control. It is nothing new to me or to my family or to Brandon, and yet this incident on the water was just another reminder of how I struggle.

As I reflected again on my struggle with anxiety and desire to be in control, I was reminded of Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, and his fear and anxiety when Jesus called him out of the boat and to walk across the water to Him. We find this story of Jesus walking on water during a storm in Matthew 14:22-36.

22 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. 23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.

Jesus had just finished feeding the five thousand (vs. 13-21) and was exhausted, so he insisted that his disciples board a boat and head to the other side of the lake while he went to spend some much needed alone time with the Father. Jesus knew his limits, how to set boundaries, and that his Father was a place of solace for him.

24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” 27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”

A few things to note here:

  • Jesus knew when the disciples were in need.
  • The disciples were justifiably terrified.
  • Jesus instills courage with His presence.

Jesus was adamant that the disciples get in the boat and head to the other side of the lake, which allowed him to get some much needed rest, but it also seemingly allowed him to show up in the middle of their fear to remind them to take heart. Jesus knows when we are going to be in storms and feel out of control. He knows that it will make us anxious and afraid — but in the middle of the storm, that is where we find Jesus.

28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” 29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.

Peter is a challenger, always striving to prove himself. He is fiery and a little bit angsty, so it is no surprise that he wants to challenge the being walking across the water to him. Could this really be Jesus? Notice Jesus’ response to him — he does not respond back with angst or attitude, he just tells Peter to come! How refreshing is that?! Jesus does not just want us to come to him when we have it all together. He hears our doubts and frustrations and questions and says “Yes, come.”

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

It takes a lot of courage and trust to jump out of a boat in a storm and start walking, but when Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and everything went south. He let the storms around him distract him from the fact that the King of Kings was right in front of him inviting him forward. The most consistent, steadfast, caring person to ever exist was standing right in front of Peter, and yet he was overwhelmed by the circumstances around him.

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

Without shaming him, Jesus grabs Peter to keep him from sinking and simply asks, “Why did you doubt me?” We do not get an answer from Peter in Matthew’s account and I can’t help but wonder what was said or what wasn’t said. Did he answer Jesus? Was there silence?

I’m sure Peter felt terrible for doubting Jesus. I know I would’ve.

I know I do.

I doubt Jesus’ presence in the mundane moments of my week and I doubt His provision for me and the people that I love. I forget that even though I do not see him physically here with me, he is always present — even when I am panicking on a boat in the middle of a lake. Like Peter, I become overwhelmed by what is around me and forget to look to Jesus.

What I love most about this story of Peter and Jesus is that it does not end with Peter’s defeat or even Jesus’ goodness.

It ends with worship.

When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 Then the disciples worshiped him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed. 

The disciples praised Jesus for who he was and what he had done. They praised him for his faithfulness when they were lacking in trust. They praised him for his goodness to rescue them when they were helpless. They praised him because he really was the Son of God.

Peter, and the disciples, doubted Jesus throughout his ministry, but Jesus never shamed them or left them to be on their own. The same is true for you and me. We doubt Jesus and forget about his perfect character, but he never shames us or leaves us on our own.

He looks at us and tells us to come and we get to praise Him for it.

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