I’ve told stories about my trip to Israel and some of the amazing things that I was fortunate and blessed to have seen and experienced. But there is one story that I have not told very often before because it was not my…best moment. My tour group was staying at a hotel on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and sitting there and gazing out across the waters that Jesus walked across so long ago was a profound experience.
So I’m sitting there one beautiful evening, when myself and another friend on the trip notice that there is this little buoy way out in the distance, and we got the dumb idea to go out and swim to it. So we asked the life guard, and I’m pretty certain he actually didn’t understand what we were asking because he just kind of smiled and said “YA!”
So we strike out into the Sea of Galilee and swim and swim for quite a long time, and we reach the buoy and it was a beautiful night so the stars were out we thought “wow!” So we treaded water for a long while and looked at them, and talked about what we were thinking, what we were experiencing on the trip. But it was dark, so when we decided it was time to go back, we turned around and I said “Uh….where’s the shore?” And as we were floating out there completely lost without knowing which direction we had come from, I noticed my friend putting his ear to the water, and I said “What are you doing?” and he said “I’m listening for footsteps, history sometimes repeats itself.”
When we read this passage we often talk about how Peter failed, he is walking on the water and then he lets the waves and the wind take his sight off of his Lord, and he sinks…. He suddenly doubts, he fears the storm more than he trusts the One he is walking too, and so we see this story as a warning for ourselves when we are in the midst of storms in our own lives, to not lose sight and to remember and trust in the One who is the Lord and master of all storms. And it is well that we should.
But….but…I think that there is more to the story than just that, and that there is more to what Peter did, in fact, I would say there are a few things that Peter did in this situation that we should strive to follow.
There were 11 men in that boat, being battered by the storm when they saw the Lord walking towards them….but only one initially had the faith to get out of the perceived safety of the boat and walk to the One who said “Come.” We know that often the disciples felt baffled and terrified, and on that stormy night, for eleven out of twelve, they let that fear and confusion keep them from even stepping out of the boat, out of that which felt safe to them, secure to them.
But Peter stepped out. And I am not convinced that he stepped out because he had a reckless and stupid sense of adventure like my friend and I, and I don’t think he stepped out because he was eager to experience this supernatural phenomenon for himself. He stepped out because Jesus was not in the boat….Jesus was in the storm. And where Jesus was, is where Peter wanted to be, even if it meant stepping out from that which was safe, into that which was utterly not. Peter may have lost his nerve and begin to doubt as he walked, but he at least made the attempt to get out of the boat, he saw where His Master was, and he decided that’s where he needed to go.
I have shared before, stories of my cousin little cousin Julia in the past, this sweet short girl from suburbia Chicago, who looked and saw that Christ was calling her to missions work in Jordan amongst the refugees of Syria, just miles away from the Syrian border and all of the conflict happening there. And she wrestled with that, but ultimately decided that if this is where Jesus was, where the heart of God was yearning, then she must go. I will never forget her announcing it to the family, because this little, fragile girl was stepping into the storm of storms, and there were many who were calling for her not to get out of the boat, it’s not safe, you’re wasting your life….or, you can serve God in other ways. But she did not, she stepped out where she is now, giving hope to the hopeless, weeping with the broken and holding the lost. To me, she is one of the greatest examples I have ever seen of stepping into the storm because that is where the Lord is calling from.
And ever since, her example has been one to encourage and urge me to step out of my own comfortable little boat when my Lord beckons me. In stepping into ministries that I am nervous not to do, it talking to people I would rather avoid, in going to places where I would rather not go, I cannot help but see my little cousin stepping out despite all the people in the boat who are too anxious and can only see the raging storm ahead of her. Because often, He will beckon from a place that we do not want to go.
And it is challenging for us. Because as we know from the story, we are often indeed like Peter, and when Jesus calls us to places that are away from our place of comfort and our place of safety, we are often will be buffeted and afraid, and, like Peter, we may doubt and we may suddenly feel the despair of feeling like we are sinking.
But again, there is one other way that I feel that we perhaps can learn from Peter in this situation in that…when everything seemed to be going wrong, when he looked at the waves and the winds assaulting him and lost sight of the One who is greater than them, and he began to sink. He cried out “Lord, save me!” And Jesus, who had called him, crossed the rest of the distance that Peter should have walked, and took his hand. Peter doubted, he forgot, and things began to spiral out of control, but Jesus did not abandon him to the depths, he berated him and asked him why he doubted, but he never doubted him!
In our Old Testament reading today we read the prayer of Jonah as he was in the belly of the whale, and he got there because he ran from God! It’s almost as if when God called to Jonah from the storm, instead of staying in the safety of his comfortable boat, he practically got up and jumped off the other side. But even then, in such a hopeless situation, he calls out to God for help, and he knows that He will answer. In his own words:
“The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you.”
Jonah, and Peter, both learned that God may call us to places that we do not want to go, and to serve in ways that we do not want to serve, but He does not abandon those He calls into the storm — even when we have sunk due to our own lack of faith, or the choices that we make. When we cry out Jesus will cross the distance, He will reach out to us, because this is what He promised, because this is why He came, to save a world that was desperately drowning and needed to be saved.