In walking with Jesus, often we walk through difficult experiences, or what some describe as a storm. Sometimes these storms occur in our relational life, spiritual life, or to our physical bodies. Sometimes these storms are the result of our own decisions and other times they occur simply as part of living in what Scripture describes as a "fallen world."
If you're reading this, my guess is you've experienced something resembling a storm in your life. In those seasons of life, my hope is that you've seen God step in and bring peace, comfort, and clarity. But maybe, as you're reading this, you haven't experienced God intervening in a real way in your life and maybe, to make matters worse, you had really hoped He would have. Maybe you're reading this and you're new this whole faith and Jesus thing. You heard that God would never leave you or give up on you but as soon as you hit a rough patch, it sort of feels like that's exactly what's happened.
If that's something you've recently experienced, consider the story in the Bible where Jesus walks on water, and rescues his friend Peter from drowning as he attempts to do the same. As I read this story the other week, I noticed some things I hadn't noticed before.
But let's first get some background on Peter: He had recently left his profession (something that was likely his only skill set) to follow Jesus. The ramifications of his decision were undoubtedly significant, potentially including the alienation of his closest family and friends, but these were yet to be seen. He probably had a lot of questions, and wondered if he had made the right decision. He had emerged as a natural leader in the group of Jesus' followers. And he was willing, eager, and prone to snap decisions, sometimes leading him off-track.
So, here we find Peter - Jesus' ardent follower - eager, yet undoubtedly unsure. Jesus performs a miracle and then sends his disciples on a boat so that he could get some time by himself for spiritual refreshment.
You may be familiar with the story: A storm comes. The disciples are afraid. They see Jesus walking toward them on the water. And, if that wasn't extraordinary enough, something weird happens. Here's what the scripture says in Matthew 14:
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (MATT 14:29-30)
I've read, heard, and thought about this interesting series of events many of times. In fact, growing up in and around church, I've heard a number of sermons and devotions on this passage - probably more than I can count. I've heard that Peter wasn't actually walking on water but that he was walking on faith and that it's important for us to step out of our comfort zones into the unknown to follow Jesus. And so on. Good, encouraging, and challenging thoughts I've heard over the years that have helped move the ball forward in my faith.
But, as I read this again, I thought of something I hadn't before. It actually involves a different story but a similar situation. Here's what Mark accounts in Mark 4:
That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (MARK 4:35-39)
I'm sure you noticed, like I did, a lot of similarities in both passages. However, something jumped out at me in Mark's account - something I hadn't noticed before. Jesus offered a solution. He gets in the boat, calms the storm, says a few words, and just like that the wind and the waves die down and his friends in the boat feel safe and secure. They're blown away. They're absolutely astounded. And, as the Gospel notes, they ask one another, "Who is this guy?"
There was something else I noticed as I read this passage: Jesus has the power to conquer storms! I know, it's nothing especially profound. Unless, however, you apply this idea to Peter's life.
Let me explain.
Going back to Peter's story, we find him watching as Jesus approaches from a distance and shouts out, "If its really you, tell me to walk out to you!" Behind Peter's statement, I believe, is the implicit doubt we all go through. Peter is saying, "God, are you really everything you say you are? Can I really trust you? Was this decision to follow you just a huge mistake?"
Its a series of questions that, inevitably, all followers of Jesus ask. More often we ask these questions at a point in our life and faith when things get a little rocky - at a point when things didn't quite turn out the way we thought. Perhaps this is Peter's experience and so he calls out to Jesus to prove himself. And Peter gets afraid, as do we, and has a moment of doubt and fear and takes his eyes off Jesus and begins to sink. And Jesus reaches down and pulls Peter up out of the water.
But here's where it gets interesting: Jesus could have calmed the storm.
In Mark's account, its clear that the wind and waves and the forces of nature obey Jesus. He could have spoken one word to calm the storm and maybe Peter would have been fine. But Jesus doesn't do this. Instead, he chooses to reach down right into Peter's situation - in the middle of his mess - and pull him out.
When I read this, it lined up with how God often works in my life. In seasons that could be described as a "storm," I've often asked, even begged God, to step in and calm the storm. But often he doesn't. And that's something that we may never understand. But what Jesus does in these seasons is engage us right where we're at and when we ask for help He always seems to pull us out.