Tuesday, August 20, 2013

For Those Who Can't Walk on Water Either

Sarah Trimmer
Sarah Trimmer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

"Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

Was Jesus rebuking Peter for lacking the faith to keep walking on the water?

That's the way I've always heard it, but now I wonder.

You see, I've had a life full of sinkings.  So many sinkings that I rarely get out of the boat.  And I'm less likely to get out of it if I think that my next drubbing will be rebuked by Jesus because... terrible failure that I am... I can't do the impossible.

Is the Christian life a process of learning to walk on the water?

I wonder.

Years ago I wrote something that I knew I needed to read again this morning.  (I hope you'll read it too, and I'll link to it so you can.)  I said,  "What if 'arrival' has nothing to do with reaching a certain level of perfection, and everything to do with maintaining the kind of humble, childlike faith that expects nothing from itself and relies totally on God?"

I really believe that that's true.  Please do read the article I linked to above, for more reasons WHY I believe it.

Whole sermons have been written about Peter's lack of faith causing him to sink.  Because of that mindset, people strive to grow stronger faith, and when they're faced with stormy seas or risky situations, they can only see two options.
  • Proudly step out, believing their faith to be mighty enough
  • Stay in the boat, believing that they haven't yet achieved a strong enough faith.
What if neither of those options are right?  What if the "proudly stepping out" is just that...religious pride rather than true faith in Christ? And what if the "staying in the boat" is a sign of spiritual failure?  What if both are wrong, and neither is right?

UGH!  Before long you can start running in circles like a terrified rabbit, and you give up on this "faith thing" because it just drives you nuts.  You can't do it.  You can't figure out which is right!  You can't figure out your own motives!  You can't see any way to step out in faith or to stay in faith, because you can see sin in yourself either way.  So you get paralyzed.  

To that I say (both to you and to myself):


Right now, just STOP IT!

Jesus didn't say to any of the disciples, "Why did you stay in the boat?"  And I don't believe he said to Peter, "Why did you sink?"

For what doubt did Jesus rebuke Peter?

Will He rebuke you, too, if you step out of your safe place, and you start to sink?

No, that's not my Jesus.  More importantly, that's not the Biblical Jesus...the Jesus who is tender towards the weakest, the lowliest, the most helpless.  He does not break the bruised reed (Matt 12:20).

There are several accounts in the Bible of Jesus saving the disciples from stormy seas.  In the one we've been looking at, Jesus walked on the water to the boat, and Peter walked out to meet him.  In another case, Jesus was asleep in the boat, and they came and woke him up.  In both cases, they were terrified.

And in both cases, the rebuke was the same.  "Why did you doubt?  Where is your faith?"

Maybe we've been asking the wrong question.  Maybe the question isn't, "Why did Peter sink?"

What if the right question is, "Why did Peter fear that Jesus wouldn't save him when he sank?"

Remember, in both stormy situations, for the disciples both in and out of the boat, the question was the same. The gentle, loving rebuke was the same.  "Why did you doubt?"

Why do you and I doubt that He will save us when we are sinking?  Why are we making "in vs. out of the boat" the issue?  Why are we making "on top of the water vs. going under the water" the issue?

Are we to fear, in either location?

Was half-dunked Peter filled with less faith than the ones in the boat?  I don't think so.  All of them were afraid of going under, regardless of where they were when it happened.

Joyful, free faith doesn't have to examine its own perfection to see whether it should get out of the boat or stay there.  It doesn't say, "I'm disqualified from getting out of the boat, because I can spot sin remaining in myself and in my motives." It doesn't say, "Oh no, my sinking must mean that my faith wasn't strong enough!"

Joyful, free faith trusts Jesus no matter where we feel the water threatening to overwhelm us, even though we're not yet perfected, because HE is our Savior.

Why must we keep relearning that HE saves us?  Why do we keep thinking that we save ourselves by making our faith perfect enough, instead of believing that He saves people of little faith?

He is the Savior...not of the perfected, but of sinners (Luke 5:31-32)!  Why do we doubt?  He who saves those in the boat, will he not save those who walk out on the water and then start to sink?

Where are you in your walk?  Does Jesus want you to believe that you could be anywhere, anywhere where He cannot save you?

The life of faith is not a life of staying always on top of the waves.  It's a life of believing that you are free to walk with Him in humble-but-imperfect ways, without doubting that His love will pull you out of the water no matter where you are when you start to sink.

Because you WILL sink sometimes.  I guarantee it.  Life's billows WILL overwhelm you.

Cancer.  Loss of a loved one.  Betrayal.  Failure.  Injury.  Job loss.  Moving to an unfamiliar place.

You WILL sink sometimes.

The question from Jesus, I believe, is not, "Why did you sink?"

It is, "Why did you fear I would not be here to lift you up when you sank?"

So step out if you feel that's what God is calling you to do.  Don't question if you have enough faith to stay on the water.  Just believe that He will save you when you get wet.

And here's a final word of love to those who are currently under the waves, and have been there, perhaps, for a long time.  I am NOT preaching a despicable "prosperity gospel" (which I hate) here.  I am not saying that Jesus will always take the waves away.  His salvation is sometimes through the trials, not from the trials. Your pain does not mean He loves you less, or that you are a failure.  Trust Him, trust Him, that He will pull you out of the water when the time is right, when that part of your life's story has been written to perfection (even if that relief doesn't come in this lifetime).  Trust that He is your Savior, no matter where you are in relation to the boat, the water, or the other disciples. He will bring you to the right place because of your continued, trusting obedience.  Remember, as long as we're on this earth, it's a Christian walk, not a Christian arrival.

Trust Him, trust Him, trust Him, wherever you are, no matter how far you've gone under life's overwhelming forces.

That's a stronger faith than one which skips lightly across the waves.

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