One of my favorite Bible stories is when Jesus calls Peter out of the boat and Peter walks on the water (Matthew 14: 23-36). They’ve just finished feeding the 5,000 and Jesus sends the disciples out in the boat while he stays behind to pray.
The disciples start out across the Sea of Galilee, apparently expecting to meet up with Jesus on the other side. But a wind kicks up. A strong wind, strong enough to keep them making any headway. They keep pushing against the wind long into the night.
Sometime between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning, they look up to see a figure coming towards them, walking on top of the water. This would’ve been a sight even in daylight. But it’s dark, and they’re likely fatigued from serving the crowd and then battling the wind and waves. What else would a normal person think if they saw someone walking on the water?
“It’s a ghost!”
Jesus’ voice speaks to them out of the darkness, telling them not be afraid. Still, there must have been some doubt in their minds. They’d seen Jesus perform miracles but to walk on top of a choppy lake against a battering wind?
Peter puts him to the test. “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” (I like that. It’s not a simple invitation but a command.) Jesus gives the command and Peter steps out of the boat.
Until now, Peter’s gaze has focused on Jesus, trying to ascertain whether this apparition is truly the rabbi he’s left everything to follow. But now as Peter walks toward Jesus, the waves slap at his legs. The wind knocks him off balance. Maybe it blows his hair into his eyes, making it difficult to see Jesus. He looks away from his Command-er and notices the weather-war going on around him. Peter begins to sink and cries out to the Lord to save him.
“And immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him…” In the Greek, to stretch out one’s hand means ‘to exercise power.’ And “took hold” means to rescue from danger. Very likely, Peter wasn’t just starting to sink, but rather was underwater, in danger of drowning.
Jesus says to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” I’ve always read this as a rebuke, a put-down. But I wonder if Jesus’ voice carried more pity and disappointment. Did his words convey the message, “You started well with the little trust you possessed. How could you doubt me?”
As soon as they got back into the boat, the other disciples worshiped him. They fell on their knees, face to the deck. Or maybe even prostrate. They worshiped because of the demonstration they’d witnessed of His power and authority over creation.
But when they finally reached the other side, a crowd quickly gathered. The people had heard of His miracles and His ability to heal all kinds of illness and disease. The Bible says “they sent into all the surrounding district and brought to Him all who were sick, and they began to entreat Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were cured.”
How many times do we seek God for what He can do for us, rather than for who He is? Is that the way we treat our friends, always asking favors but never just enjoying their company? We’d have few friends if we did. Yet that’s how we treat God, our Creator, our Savior, the Lover of our souls. To develop a friendship with God that gets us through the nights when the wind is against us, we must seek the Lord’s company without ulterior motives. Seek His face, not his hand. When we do, we’ll find His hand is always there to rescue us.