Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.
The story of the disciples in the storm on the Sea of Galilee, when Jesus comes walking on water towards them, is one of my favorites. But I especially love Peter. Bold, impetuous, fiery, passionate, fallible Peter. Yeah, he’s the kind of guy I can relate to. And, in this story, he shows the shooting from the hip kind of faith that gives me hope in my storms.
Setting Sail on Galilee
Here’s the set-up: Jesus has just fed the multitude, sent them off in one direction, put his disciples on a boat in another, and says to the Twelve, “see you on the other side, boys!” Then he heads up the mountain to have alone time with his Father in prayer.
That’s when the storm hits.
The ship [with the apostles] was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves:
for the wind was contrary.
The storm hit suddenly and powerfully. Luke 8 describes the wind and raging waves. Matthew calls it a furious storm without warning.
How does a small sea have big storms?
The Sea of Galilee lies 680 feet below sea level and is bounded by steep hills on all sides that bring abrupt temperature changes and winds funneling through. It’s small size (13 miles long x 7 miles wide, 200 feet deep) make this moody sea vulnerable to winds that descend directly to its center with violent churning results, blowing first in one direction, then shifting and blowing from another.
Peter and the apostles were in the boat without the Savior. They knew they were in trouble. What should have been a 60 minute sail across the lake became a nightlong battle in gale-force winds. The disciples fought the storm for nine cold, nauseating, skin-drenching hours. And then, at about 4am the unspeakable happened. They spotted something or someone on the water.
And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying,
It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
The disciples freaked out. “It’s a ghost!” they all screamed. But, immediately Jesus called back to them.
Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
“Don’t worry. I’m here!” Peter was certainly relieved because here is where his gutsy faith comes in.
And Peter answered him and said, Lord, If it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And [Jesus] said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship,
he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
Eyes wide with terrified determination, Peter made his move. He stepped out of the boat and onto the water and for a few heart-stilling moments, Peter did the impossible. He defied every law of gravity and nature: he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. Amazing!
But when [Peter] saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink,
he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
Swells rolled, rain howled, and the waves surged up and eclipsed Peter’s view. He shifted his attention away from Jesus toward the storm, became afraid, and when he did, he began to sink.
This was my experience at the Doctor’s office.
My body had been misbehaving. A barrage of pains and mysterious symptoms were mounting, so I decided it was time to see my doctor. After a couple of visits and a battery of tests, the doctor sent me to a specialist. After more tests, the rheumatologist nodded and told me to wait for her in the office. As I sat alone in the small room, I couldn’t help but notice a variety of framed diplomas. One degree from a university, another from a residency, another higher degree from somewhere else, and several awards. It was pretty impressive. The more I looked at her accomplishments, the better I felt. I’m in good hands, I thought to myself.
About the time I relaxed, the nurse came in with a paper and handed it to me. “Dr. Chu will be in shortly,” she said. “In the meantime, here is a printout of the test results. It summarizes your condition.”
I lowered my gaze from framed accomplishments to the summary of disorders. As I read, contrary winds began to blow. Lupus with Sjogren’s Syndrome, Chronic Pain, Autoimmune Diseases, and No Known Cure. The words caused me to sink into my own Sea of Galilee.
Just moments earlier, I was relaxed. I was fine. Now…well, the sky was black and I was trying to keep from going under. Before, I was calm and collected. Now, I had lost my footing. What was the difference?
So, I changed my gaze. Instead of staring at the bad news, I took a deep breath and looked back up at her accomplishments to remind myself of the good news.
Would that I were so prompt in shifting my gaze in all my storms. Most of the time, I’m not so quick and I spend too much wasted energy treading water and gasping for air, when all I need to do is look up.
Isn’t this what God wants us to do? Shift our gaze up? This isn’t to say that we should ignore difficulties. Nor is it to say that we brush-off or take lightly the overwhelming challenges that life brings. However, it is to say that we counterbalance them with reminding ourselves of the Lord’s accomplishments. Strengthening our faith is doing whatever it takes to keep our gaze on Jesus.
You’ve heard the saying: Feed your fears and faith will starve. Feed your faith and fear will cease. On the Sea of Galilee, the storm didn’t cease, but Peter’s fear did. He remembered Whom to turn to for safety. He called for Christ to help.
But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink,
he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
Immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him,
O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Jesus didn’t let Peter sink. As soon as Peter began to drop and he cried out, Jesus immediately responded.
Thou of Little Faith?
Now, when we read Jesus’ verbal response, we readily conclude that Jesus was displeased with Peter for taking his eyes off of Him and focusing on the storm. We hear “thou of little faith” and presume it to mean “your faith is really disappointing, Peter.” We assume the lesson from Galilee is to ‘Get out of the boat, stay focused, and have faith enough to never fall in the water.’ But, you wanna know something? I don’t believe that for one second.
Peter had crazy, audacious faith for even stepping out of the vessel onto raging seas. Are you kidding me?
In sharing this story, Matthew isn’t scrutinizing appropriate levels of faith. I believe this message is directed to all of us who get the wind knocked out of us and find ourselves beginning to sink under the squall of trials and testing. No one can live above the waves all of the time – not when the storm is raging and gale-force winds are blustering across our path.
When storms come, we’re going to get a little wet. It’s going to be slippery. Dark. It may even be tough to see.
But, to our utter amazement, we discover someone coming toward us. The Someone who commands the winds and waves. You see, it’s not up to us to conquer the storms on our own. It’s not up to us to get our act together so we can climb out of the mire on our own.
Max Lucado said something like, “Whether or not storms come, we can’t choose, but where we stare during the storm – that we can.” So, when we get knocked down or taken out (which we will), when the winds begin to blow contrary, we have the choice to come face to face with our Savior who stands ready to reach down, take hold, and pull us up. The Savior will never let us sink.
That’s the message I believe Jesus was telling our exuberant, determined Peter. I believe He took Peter’s hand, smiled, and said, “Peter, my friend, your faith is still growing. Just know that I love you. Some big storms are going to come, but I’ve always got you. I will never let you sink.”
This is what I learned at the doctor’s office. God is not surprised at our weakness. When we falter, He does not look away in disgust. He extends His hand. He lifts us up.
Have you ever felt like Peter or me – like you were beginning to sink? Shift your gaze. Change your focus. He has displayed His masterpieces in nature and in the universe. He’s recorded His accomplishments in scripture. He gives direction with his prophet. The best way to find safety and strengthen faith is to keep your eyes on Him.
The swells may be big, but your Savior is bigger. The winds may be strong, but the Commander of the elements is stronger. He’s got you. He will never let you sink!
Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul.
I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing:
I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.
I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried:
mine eyes fail while I wait for my God.
But…my prayer is unto thee, O Lord,
in an acceptable time: O God,
in the multitude of thy mercy hear me,
in the truth of thy salvation.
Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink…
let me be delivered…out of the deep waters.
Let not the waterflood overflow me,
neither let the deep swallow me up,
and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me.
Hear me, O Lord; for thy lovingkindness is good:
turn unto me according to the multitude of thy tender mercies.
Psalms 69:1-3, 13-16
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