To Walk on Water: A Meditation on Faith and Doubt

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. – Isaiah 43:2

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. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. – Matthew 14:25-32

Before a man can walk over the uncharted depth which separates him from Jesus, he must first have rejected the ordinary way of looking at life. What gave Peter the strength to walk over the billowing waves as though on firm sand? The desire to reach Jesus. And if you have this desire and inwardly demand of life this one thing, just this single thing, to reach Jesus, then you are captain of your life. – Albert Schweitzer, “The Life of Service”

Texts: Ps. 139:1-18; Mk 6:45-52; Jn 6:16-21
Hymn: He Leadeth Me: Oh, Blessed Thought, LWB 501

The story of Peter on the water has something to teach us about faith and doubt. Earlier in the day Jesus had fed five thousand people along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. As the day drew to a close, He dispersed the crowd and “made the disciples to get into the boat and go before Him to the other side” (Mt 14:22). He “made them” to get into the boat because what he was asking made no sense. If the disciples left Jesus behind and crossed the sea without Him, how exactly would they meet on the other side? And why would they cross the sea at night? At night the earth cools and the winds change, blowing off the land to disturb the sea. It was a bad idea; the disciples protested; but the Lord did not explain. Rather He constrained them to obey and depart.

Sure enough, night fell and the winds blew in and the sea got choppy. Although the gospels do not mention it, we might suppose the disciples were caught in a storm. The distance to the other side was short, but the boat made no headway. It was buffeted by waves hour after hour, all night long, until finally the disciples grew anxious. The Lord had sent them away for no clear reason, and now something really bad might happen. Suppose the boat turned over and they should die on account of this pointless errand?

Many times, caught up in the stormy confusion of life, we too can feel like disciples abandoned at sea. Jesus may be our Lord, but He is absent. We do not feel His presence. We do not experience the comfort, joy, and peace we’ve been told are His gifts. Our lives feel trivial and pointless. We hope that God will deliver us from our emptiness; we wait for Him to fill us with His presence, and yet he doesn’t come.

But here the gospel speaks. “In the fourth watch of the night,” that is to say, toward the end of the night, shortly before dawn, the disciples see a figure walking on the sea. He is hard to make out, hazy, distant, and unreal, as if an apparition. The figure is traveling in a direction that will soon pass them by (Mk. 6:48), when unexpectedly, over the howling wind and crashing waves, they hear a voice. “Take heart; it is I.” Peter calls out, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” Jesus answers, “Come.”

Come to me. I am here, Jesus says, but you must come to me. You will know and feel my presence only if you move. To believe in Christ you must follow Him. “Do you really want to believe in Jesus? Then you must do something for him,” say Albert Schweitzer. Do not wait for God to fill your emptiness, but go to Him across the water. Follow His call and you will discover He is already with you.  

Before his conversion, the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy had fallen into a suicidal depression. Looking out at the world, he was convinced that life was evil and meaningless. Then one day he had an insight. He realized that what he considered to be true of life in general was actually true of his life only. He believed life was meaningless because he was living in a meaningless way. To find meaning in life he needed to change who he was; he needed first to live in a meaningful way. Indeed, often when we are unhappy with the world and our surroundings, it is because we are unhappy with ourselves. But Tolstoy’s life contains an even deeper lesson.

The assurance of faith becomes real only through obedience to the call and command of God. The one who obeys disciplines the self and serves the neighbor. Has your faith dried up, such that you have trouble believing? Examine your heart and perhaps you will discover a grudge, a fear, a passion, or selfish ambition that is separating you from the love of Christ. Does your life feel empty, without direction? Consider what you have last done to serve your neighbor, and look for ways to help those around you who are in need. Listen for the voice of Jesus through the noisy distractions of life, and you will discover His presence leading you forward on the path of discipleship. 

Prayer for faith and obedience
Lord Jesus,
You have searched me and known me, and are acquainted with all my ways. I thank you for making me your own and confess that, distracted by the passing cares of the day, I have often forgotten you and doubted you were there. Help me to discern your will anew, dear Jesus, so that I may follow you more closely and know the joy of your presence now and in eternity.

Categories: Faith, Opinion

Tags: , ,

2 replies

  1. Thank you, David. The Tolstoy reference reminds me of Chesterton:

    What is wrong with the world?

    I am.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Beautiful devotion; thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: