When the logs are blazing in the fireplace, the chair is deep and comfortable, and one is sipping a cup of one’s favorite evening tea, chocolate, coffee, or herb-tea, a wild wind howling around the house or moaning through the eaves can be a very pleasant sound, emphasizing the comfort and security of the snug little spot. And later, in a warm bed, with the prospect of deep and peaceful sleep ahead, the shriek of the wind, the rattle of the shutters can be a lullaby. The slash of rain against the windows makes the blankets feel cozier. If the wind seems to be blowing in two directions at once, it doesn’t matter; the feeling of being protected is only more vivid.
Strong wind frequently changing direction and driving rain are a different thing if one is in a boat that pitches and rocks with sickening creaks of the wood as if it were about to split in two. If it is a small, open boat and the waves are washing in, fear and not pleasure is a natural response to such a storm. The little ship in which the disciples were riding was being driven to and fro by a “contrary wind.” Can’t you imagine the chill of wet skin and clothing as the wind whirled around the men, destroying any possibility of directing the ship and threatening to overturn it? Then suddenly the men caught sight of a form coming toward them. Can something be going wrong with their eyes? No, it is a man—but it can’t be! It must be a ghost! Perhaps their teeth chattered with something more than cold as sudden terror was added to their natural fear, and their screams arose above the sound of the wind and sea. There was no other boat in sight, no place from which help could come.
“But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” I love the “straightway” because it indicates the gentleness and tenderness of Jesus, and of God the Father, for Jesus said he came to make known the Father. Jesus cared about quieting the fears immediately. Did he change the force of the waves and stop the wild wind right away? No, we know he didn’t at this time. What then was the meaning of “Be of good cheer … be not afraid” in that context?
It carries us back to the psalms (46:1–3): “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.” The reality of the presence of God with us. His tender love for us, his trustworthiness as our guide, is to dispel our natural fear even in the midst of storm and earthquake while the waters are still roaring, while the wind is still buffeting our faces, whipping our clothing around us. God is our refuge during the time no visible change has come in the circumstances. Our complete trust is to be in him, not even in what we suddenly see him doing for us. We are given moments of opportunity to demonstrate a steady trust.
Peter was the one who answered Jesus with an impulsive and sudden feeling of faith in the power of the One who had made heaven and earth. “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” If this is really the Lord, thought Peter, he can do anything. He can make me walk on the water, too. With faith Peter stepped out of the ship into the midst of those wild waves in response to Jesus’ command, “Come.” Jesus was responding to Peter’s requests based on faith. Peter had asked, requested, made known his desire to Jesus, and Jesus had answered, “Come.” In the midst of answered prayer, when we ask for guidance (“Shall I do this, Lord? If you want me to do this thing, let me know and I will do it. Please lead me, Lord; I promise I will follow if only I know. Guide me. Anywhere, Lord”), does the answer “Come” assure us of a smooth walk ahead?
When Peter stepped into the water we are told that he walked on it! Peter is walking on that deep, wild, crashing sea! We are told so: “And when Peter was come down out of the ship [do we think the ship held still? No, it pitched and tossed as much as ever] he walked on the water.” Yes, for a distance it was real walking on top of shifting water, huge waves piling under his feet with the motion you have felt if you have ever been swimming out in the sea. He believed Jesus could make it possible for him to do it.
“When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid.” It was the unchanging circumstance that caught his attention, and he shifted his weight, so to speak. He realized that nothing had changed about the wind and waves that he could see, and he shifted into thinking of the impossibility of it all. “It’s impossible. I can’t do it. I can’t, I can’t—I am going to drown! Help!” No, Peter, you can’t do it. Did you think you had been doing it for this distance you have already walked?
What is it that hits us when a scream arises within us and fear takes over, when we cry out in the silent cry no one hears but God, “I can’t. It is impossible. What am I doing? What have I gotten into?” If we have asked the Lord for his will, and he really has shown us, then what we have started to do is a double thing of looking at the waves, the unchanging circumstances and then taking a measure of credit for what we have already been doing, rather than dwelling on the wonder of the fact that he has been doing it for us or through us. There has to be a sustaining trust, a continuing trust, a moment-by-moment trust in the Lord in whom we have put our faith when we asked him to call us, to tell us to “come.” If the Lord has said, “Come, do this,” we have to remember that although we cannot do it, he can.
Peter began to sink when he concentrated on the fierceness of the unchanging storm of difficulties and realized he couldn’t continue by himself. But then he “cried saying, Lord, save me.” We are carried back to Psalm 34:6, “This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” Yes, Jesus heard and “immediately stretched forth his hand and caught him.” The help came, but there was a rebuke! Peter need not have cried for help that time if he had not faltered in his trust of the One in whom he had put his faith in stepping out. We can take comfort that the help came tenderly and immediately, but we must also listen to the rebuke, and pray for a longer time of walking on the waves with a sustained trust in the One who has told us to “come.”
We are in danger of sinking? Ah, but that is not the worst danger; we are in danger of spoiling the marvelous demonstration that God is able to do it. What a beautiful sight it would have been to see Peter walk longer, in answer to Jesus’ “Come.” Let us pray for one another and for ourselves that our trust falter not, that our faith be not so “little” as to last only a few steps. “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”
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