He peered over the rim at the churning waves below. Gripping the side of the boat, Peter steadied himself as it fiercely rocked to and fro.
Violent winds had stirred the waters into a foaming frenzy. Despite their rowing efforts, the disciples had made little headway. Six hours of unrelenting stress, exhaustion and willpower had produced only a few miles at best. Their finite strength had paled in comparison to the unpredictable power of nature.
Thunder rippled across the sea and echoed off the mountains in the distance. Peter wiped the salty water from his eyes as he squinted to see the man on the waves. Exhaustion and excitement quickened his heart as he mulled over what he had just heard above the raging wind.
Standing before him was their God of old, Elohim, the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth. He was Yahweh, the God of the covenant who rescued and redeemed His people. He was Jesus, Emmanuel, their God who was with them.
And He had just invited Peter to join him.
Believing he was seeing God in the flesh, Peter climbed out onto the billows below.
How alarming that must have been for those in the boat. Did they hold their breath? Beg him not to go? Wait to see what would become of his fate?
Peter fixed his eyes on Jesus’ face as his feet met stable ground. One step at a time, he participated in the miraculous, making his way over the waves toward his Master.
Suddenly, a spray of sea water drenched Peter’s face. A wild gust whipped around his cloak. The howling cry of the sea sent a chill down his spine. Fear split his attention as the memory of his frailty sunk back in. Overwhelmed by the commotion, Peter turned. Seeing the storm, his trust faltered as the reality of his circumstances set in. He was a weary man in a life-threatening windstorm, standing in the middle of a lake.
Peter’s legs toppled as he became engulfed in the very thing he feared.
“As he began to sink, he yelled, ‘Lord! Save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and took hold of [Peter]” (Matt 14:31).
In the midst of a miracle, Peter’s trust faltered.
Peter was literally walking on water when he became afraid. His scary circumstances led to fear and his fear led him to doubt the One he was trusting. Yet even more astounding is the fact that Peter doubted Jesus while he was literally standing right next to him.
Peter wasn’t alone in the middle of the lake. When Peter cried for help, Jesus was only an arm’s length away. Peter still succumbed to fear even in the midst of a miracle.
How did Jesus respond?
Upon hearing his cry for help, Jesus took immediate action. He pulled him out of deep waters. Jesus responded according to who He was and what He had come to do: He saved.
Only after Jesus responded to Peter’s fear and delivered him from drowning did he then address his faith.
“You [who are trusting too little], why did you doubt?”
Jesus asks Peter a question. One that cuts straight to the heart. Why did you doubt (Me)? As if to say, What reason have I given you to not trust me?
Storms can split our attention. The word worry in the New Testament actually means “divided mind”. When we become fearful of our circumstances, we can lose sight of God. Trust falters. And in those moments, Jesus gently asks us the same question: Why did you doubt (Me)?
In the midst of his fear, Peter experienced grace.
Peter started out well. He believed Jesus and put his faith into action by climbing out of the boat. But after awhile, he allowed the fear of his circumstances to overwhelm his faith. Yet Peter did not try to rescue himself. Instead, he called on the only One who could save him in the storm.
Following Jesus doesn’t mean that you will never be afraid, doubt or feel overwhelmed. It means that in whatever circumstances you find yourself, you turn to God for his help and deliverance. In every storm, Jesus is faithful. He is trustworthy and true.
In the midst of his failure, Peter was given another chance.
Jesus did not dismiss Peter for his doubt and fear. He did not dismantle his discipleship. After fearing, failing and almost drowning, Jesus offers Peter another opportunity to walk by faith. Not on smooth waves, but stormy ones. Once again Peter is encouraged to make his way across the water in the same environment that originally caused him to fear.
But this time, he walked with Jesus.
Only after Peter and Jesus climb into the boat does the storm finally cease. Not when the disciples were terrified. Not after they recognized Jesus. Not after Peter stepped out in faith. Not after Peter was saved. But only after Peter learned how to walk with Jesus through the storm (Matt 14:32).
The disciples’ terrifying experience that day resulted in joyful worship (Matt 14:33). The storm was life-changing. They had encountered the Living God in turbulent waters. They had witnessed the miraculous. They had experienced God’s saving grace. And they had grown exponentially in their understanding of Him and in faith.
If you feel overwhelmed or anxious today, then take heart, dear friend. The One who calls you is present, powerful and near. He understands your fear and your weaknesses. He invites us to participate in his miraculous Kingdom work even in difficult times. Jesus gives us countless opportunities to turn to him, trust him and live by faith.
And He will be with us through every mighty storm.
Did you miss part 1 of this devotional on Matthew 14:24-33? Click here to read the first half!