in Your great love, O God,
answer me with Your sure salvation.
or the depths swallow me up
or the pit close its mouth over me.
I love the story of Jesus walking on the stormy waters of the sea. That’s the first place my heart and imagination go when I read these verses in Psalm 69. In Matthew 14:22-32, we discover that this Jesus who has been walking around in Israel is so much more than just a man, or even a prophet. A man can have courage in the storm and can try to swim the sea, but only God Himself, the Maker of both storm and sea, can actually walk upon the tempestuous waters and command the wind and waves.
I really love Peter in this story too. I always feel like I can relate to Peter. He has such a zealous and sincere love for Jesus, but Peter always shows us the weak and messy parts of love, which gives me courage here in the middle of my own beautiful mess.
Back to Matthew 14… Jesus has just fed the 5000. He makes the disciples get in the boat to head to the other side while He went up to the mountain alone to be with the Father in prayer. “When evening came, He was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. [The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing - John 6] And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” He said,“Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.”
Peter just wanted to be with Jesus where He was. His desire outweighed his fears and doubts just long enough to ask, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come,” and long enough to actually stand up and take that first step out of the boat. One step and then another, across the tumultuous sea, closer and closer to the One he loved. He was the only one who dared to get out of that boat. I can’t help but think about how much that must have moved Jesus’ heart! That Peter dared to step out onto the waters just because he had to go to Jesus – no matter where He was, despite the risk, no matter the cost – just to be with Him… don’t you just wonder how that made Jesus feel?
And then it happened. The winds blew. The waters roared. Peter’s eyes were set on Jesus one minute, and the next, he was under water with the wind and waves crashing overhead.
But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” (vs 30)
This is the place I found myself this last week. There is so much going on in our lives right now. In my life, especially with health, it has been an incredibly difficult year and circumstances have only intensified in the last few months. But somehow, despite some intensely painful flares and many sleepless nights of late, I was staying afloat. Though I felt the growing darkness of the night, I had stepped out of the boat. My gaze was locked on Jesus and I was clinging to Him regardless (and because) of the storm growing all around me. And then out of nowhere, something came along and knocked me into the raging waters. It wasn’t even a big thing, not in the scheme of things, and certainly not compared to all of the other things we have been facing lately. In following the analogy with Matthew 14, it was really just a big gust of wind that took me by surprise. But it was just the right thing at just the right time (the perfect storm so to speak) to distract me and take me under. As soon as I hit the water, the reality of what had been going on all along hit me. All of my circumstances flooded over me and wave after overwhelming wave of “this is too much” crashed in upon me. It really did seem like I might drown then and there, and it also seemed like it was never going to end. But the truth is that it was only a moment of submersion in the roaring seas that test the soul… just long enough for Jesus to prove once again that He is ever faithful and that His love never fails.
I absolutely love the next verse: “Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him…” Immediately. Jesus didn’t let Peter sink. Just as soon as Peter fell under and cried out, Jesus responded.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters. (Psalm 18:16)
We hear the story of Peter getting out of the boat and read Jesus’ response, and we readily (too readily) jump to the conclusion that Jesus was disappointed in Peter for taking his eyes off of Him, letting the wind distract him, and falling into the water. We hear “you of little faith” and we translate it into “your faith is pathetic and I’m so disappointed in you.” We think that the lesson of Matthew 14 is to ‘get out of the boat, stay focused, and have enough faith to NEVER fall in the water.’ But I don’t think that is the point of Matthew 14 at all. Rather than telling us a formula for faith, I believe this is a message from the Lord to all of us who get the wind knocked out of us and find ourselves beginning to sink under the weight of trials and testing and the momentary afflictions of this age. No one can live above the waves all of their days, not when the storm is raging and winds are blowing all around. But to our great surprise, we discover that it’s Jesus who commands the winds and waves. It’s not up to us to conquer them on our own and get ourselves together so that we can climb out of the mire and back into His embrace. He walks upon the waters of our stormy seas… with us… and He beckons us to Himself, even when we can’t quite make sense of what is happening and we don’t see Him as clearly as we should. And when we get knocked down or taken out (which we will), when the winds blow us over and we are beginning to sink, we come face to face with the extravagant mercies of God who immediately reaches down and takes hold of us.
Jesus will not let us sink.
And as my husband pointed out, Jesus followed that up with another “immediately.” John 6 says, “Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.” If you put the two Gospel accounts together, Jesus immediately rescued Peter from the storm, and then immediately got in the boat and transported His friends out of the winds and waves to dry land. They had been struggling across the sea for hours, and Mercy Incarnate brought them to the shore in an instant. Jesus sees the weariness of our souls during the long, hard night as we are tossed to and fro with our little boats on windy seas, and the Captain of our faith takes us up into His strong arms and lets us rest in His omnipotence. There is mercy in our ‘beginning to sink,’ and there is mercy when the night is long and we grow weary.
Peter climbed out of the safety of the boat because he just wanted to be with Jesus where He was. When the winds blew and Peter saw the waves and realized the overwhelming-ness of it all, he stumbled and started to sink. Some might hear Jesus’ response as though He is speaking with disapproval or rebuke, but I hear His words spoken with love and tenderness.
“Oh Peter, your faith might be little, but I am God, and I love you so. And just so you know, I will never let you sink.”
This is what I learned this week. Again. And I am quite sure there will be another stumble into the stormy waters down the road, followed by an invitation to discover the Hand of a Faithful God – the Hand that upholds me, sustains me, and keeps me even into eternity. He is not surprised by our weakness. When we falter, He does not look away in disgust… He extends His hand. He lifts us up and sets us in a broad place. He rescues us because He delights in us (Psalm 18:19). His right hand supports us. He gives us a wide place to take the next step so that we will not slip. His gentleness lifts us up and makes us great (Psalm 18:35-36). How do we respond to such kindness? Such mercy? His mercy wraps around us like a warm blanket on the frozen seas. Who is this King of glory who shows such compassion to His own?
I don’t know how it happened, and it’s a far cry from what I was feeling just 24 hours ago, but I am laying my head down on my pillow tonight with more gratitude in my heart than when this week began. I am grateful for the heralds of weighty mercies that came my way this week. I am grateful for a God who allows my faith to be shaken and refined, who doesn’t grow weary of my weakness and faltering, a God who isn’t content to leave me where I am but to always call me out upon the waters and to press the boundaries of my faith that I might know Him in the fullness of who He is. Even His discipline falls like drops of mercy upon my skin. Because like Job, I know that “my Redeemer lives” and He is working all things for the good of this weak, little soul who loves Him (Romans 8).
“Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.” There is no cry so good as that which comes from the bottom of the mountains; no prayer half so hearty as that which comes up from the depths of the soul, through deep trials and afflictions. Hence they bring us to God, and we are happier; for nearness to God is happiness. Come, troubled believer, fret not over your heavy troubles, for they are the heralds of weighty mercies.” (Spurgeon)
When we find ourselves in a little boat on the big sea in the midst of a roaring storm, and we turn to find the Master and Commander of the boat sleeping as we are tossed about in the tempest, we must not lose heart and give way to fear. His ways are not our ways, but His leadership is good. Let us remember who the Captain of our faith really is — Jesus: Master of the seas, Maker of the storms, Author of the boat that floats, and Commander of the winds and waves. And when we find Him walking upon the stormy waters in the darkness of the night and He says, “Come,” may our answer always be ‘yes.’ Though it might cost everything when our little hearts step out of the safety of the boat that floats and onto the waters that rage, let us cling to the One who will never let us sink — even if we get knocked around a bit in our reaching.