There’s a story in the Bible that just about everyone knows. Everyone knows it to the point it’s jumped into worldly vernacular with the phrase “walking on water”. Obviously, I’m talking about Jesus strolling across Galilee to meet his disciples in their boat. There are not many other instances of walking on water that I know of…
The whole story is outlined in Matthew 14. In it, as Jesus approaches the (understandably) panicking disciples, he tries to calm them and Peter responds. Peter, that loyal, steadfast follower of Jesus calls out to Jesus and asks him to call him out onto the water and Jesus does. At first, it’s going well. Peter is walking on the water to Jesus which must have been mindboggling to see. Filled with faith and confidence in his Messiah, he’s walking on water in the middle of a fierce storm. But then things start to go wrong…
“But when he saw the strong] wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.” (verse 30) There’s no way around it other to say that Peter just panicked. All the faith he had in what he was doing and who was calling him vanished and the atmosphere immediately changed. Fortunately for Peter, Jesus has always been extraordinarily patient with our human leanings.
“Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. ‘You have so little faith,’ Jesus said. ‘Why did you doubt me?’ When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. Then the disciples worshiped him. ‘You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.” (verses 31-33)
I was reading this passage this week, and while the story ends there, my thoughts stayed firmly planted on what happened next. The Bible goes on to say they sailed to the other side where Jesus continued his ministry, but what I was thinking of was the rest of the time in the boat.
What was going through Peter’s mind?
What was the rest of that boat ride like for him, sitting down (probably still soaked from his sinking) with plenty of time to think about what had just happened. Here was a man who showed extraordinary faith time and time again in his walk with Jesus, but by all human standards, he had just failed miserably. If Peter was anything like me, he was feeling absolutely dejected, but failure was not destined to be part of the equation. I've had my times when I've been so gung ho and so confident in serving God, just to panic and sink beneath the waves when the going becomes tougher than I expected. I end up like Peter, rescued from danger, but feeling so small in my shortcomings it breaks my heart. How could I have messed up this much? I was so sure I had it! But in my times of sitting dripping wet in the boat next to Jesus, I've learned a couple of very valuable lessons on failing.
1. You are no less valuable to God.
If you’re at a point right now where you’re sitting in the metaphorical boat of rescue, you’re probably less than happy about where you are. There’s embarrassment. There’s shame. There’s fear. Most of all fear. It’s all too easy to worry that you’ve disappointed God so monumentally that there might not be a way to come back from it. You’re just the person who messed up when it seemingly mattered most.
God doesn’t judge your worth to him based on your failures.
God wants you because he wants you. He’s not after you because you have something to offer that he’s missing (everything comes from him anyway), and he’s not going to turn his back on you just because you’re not at 100%. He wants you because he loves you. Ask any parent, and they’ll tell you that their love for their children isn’t based on what their child can do for them. Where do you think that instinct comes from. Sitting in the boat across Galilee, soaked to the skin, Peter was no less valuable to Jesus than before he tried walking on water. Yes, Peter failed to hold tight to his faith in Jesus, but he wasn’t any less loved because of it.
2. You are still part of the mission
A moment of weakness or failure never disqualifies us from taking part in the mission of God. We see only our commitment to serving God and then our sudden trip up. God sees the whole picture from beginning to end. It’s not as if Jesus calls us to step out in faith and gets surprised when we panic and sink. When he called Peter out on the water, he did so knowing full well exactly what was going to happen next. He knew what was coming, and he still said to Peter: “Yes, come.”
God knows our limitations and failings and invites us to be part of His story regardless.
And when Jesus pulled Peter out of the water, he didn’t hit him with a “Thanks for trying to be a faithful follower, but due to your inability to keep it together I’ll be going with another applicant.” He corrected Peter and challenged him to be more and do better, but he pulled him out of the water and put him back in the boat. He kept Peter close to His story even after he sank.
Jesus wasn’t done with Peter and he’s not done with you.
No matter what trips you up in life, Jesus is more than ready to dust you off, show you how to correct the mistake, and keep you close. He wants what’s best for you and intends to see that you get it. And believe me, I get it. The time spent sitting soaked in the boat doesn’t feel great, but it’s never the end of the story for those chasing after Christ.
And by the way, Peter “failed” again. He went on to deny Jesus three times in a row on the same night he’d sworn he would die alongside Jesus if need be. It’s not exactly what we would model as a success. And yet, when Jesus rose again and returned to his disciples he charged Peter to keep up the work of pursuing people in his name.
We all have the capacity to be as fearful as Peter, but we are also able to bounce back as much as he did. Your failures are nothing compared to the deep and abiding love of God. May we live it.
Let’s find some joy,