Sometimes Peter questioned his life as a fisherman. Sometimes it was bearable, yes – it put food on the table, put him in good standards with the wealthy men who lived along the coast, and allowed him to, less than two years earlier, meet a rabbi who would board his boat and change his life forever – but other times…other times it just didn’t seem worth it. The nights were long and often unfruitful. The pacing was slow and staring into the sea for hours on end could cause blaring headaches that would fade away just into time for his next shift to begin. Hours of waiting could produce a great catch, only for one sleight of hand to send the whole net tumbling back into the water, sending fish scrambling away in every which direction.
And then there were always nights like tonight: when there were storms.
Despite his thirty plus years as a fishermen (ever since learning the craft from his father in his youth), Peter had never quite encountered a storm as rough as this one. The Sea of Galilee was known for its sudden, violent tempests, but this one was of a whole new caliber. Waves lapped over the edges of their vessel and knocked it side to side, sending shocks reverberating through the arching beams that served as the boat’s main frame. As he and his friends scrambled across the deck trying to prevent the boat from totally capsizing, he couldn’t help but think of the story of Jonah, when the storm grew so bad that the ship itself considered breaking apart. When he had heard the story as a child, this had been Peter’s favorite aspect of the story, finding it funny and slightly ridiculous how an inanimate object like a boat could actually “consider breaking apart” as if it had a mind of its own. Now, it didn’t seem so funny. And to top it all off, that part of the story had ended with Jonah sinking down to the depths of the sea.
Peter shuddered at the thought.
“James!” Peter called across the deck, using all the power in his lungs to make his voice heard over the pelting rain and blasting wind. James turned just in time to see the object of Peter’s attention – an oar about to tumble over the side of the deck and into the sea. He dove for it and saved it at the last minute, a look of relief passing over his face.
The same emotion did not pass over Peter. His brow furrowed and he looked frantically around the boat, trying to come up with some way to prevent their untimely death – or at least prevent it for a little while longer, that is. The mast had been taken down to prevent the wind from catching it and his fellow fishermen were doing their best to keep the boat balanced against the random, non-rhythmic waves, but there was nothing else that could really be done. He closed his eyes and grasped the side of the boat with all of his might, as if perhaps white-knuckling the situation would save them in some manner. But he knew better. This was it. Another wave rocked the ship, nearly capsizing it once again.
For the second time in fifteen seconds, Peter found himself thinking about Jonah. How those men, like his own, had begun throwing cargo over the side of the boat to help lighten the load, to try and prevent the ship from breaking apart. How they had called out in fear and tried to determine what was the best course of action despite their fate being seemingly set in stone. How, despite all the chaos, the man of God, Jonah, had been…
Peter’s eyes flashed open. He rose to his feet once again and darted to the small crawl space at the back of the boat, where he found the man of God – the rabbi, Jesus – clad in dusty-white robes, reclined and resting peacefully despite the torrent raging just beyond the walls that surrounded him. The sight of the man’s shockingly still and peaceful slumber jarred Peter, making him suddenly question whether the tempest about them – whether the peril of the entire situation – was simply a figment of his entire imagination. Surely no man could sleep through a storm this bad, right?
The cold drops of water against his skin and a crack of lightning from up above snapped Peter back to the reality of it all and he leaned into the small inlet, grabbing a hold of Jesus’ shoulder and shaking him violently. The rabbi opened his eyes calmly, his face calm and non-reactive; he studied Peter’s face and a curious expression passed over his own, but for some reason, that peaceful resolution never left it. “What is it, Peter?” Jesus asked.
“Can you save us, Lord?” Peter asked through the rain, once again thinking of Jonah, the only man who had known the true way to calm the storm. Like Jonah, was Jesus not a man – a prophet – of God? Surely he would know what to do. “How can you sleep down here with this storm going on? Do you not care that we are all about to die?” Peter tried to hold back his anger – it had always been a problem of his, something Jesus had never failed to point out – but he could feel the slight lick of resentment found at the end of the final question. Here the rest of them were, fighting against this massive, life-threatening storm, yet the man whom all of them had chosen to follow was hiding below and sleeping as if nothing was going on, leaving them to do all the hard work. Peter tried to push the anger away, but the long day and terrifying situation made him too weary to fight it for long. If this was how he was meant to die – out on a boat in the midst of the sea, what was the point of following Jesus in the first place? The result would have been the same; he would have merely spared himself the stress.
Jesus rose to his feet slowly, his brow deepening as a look of a disappointment seemingly passed over his face. As Peter looked into his eyes, he saw along with the disappointment a hint of sadness, which made him feel instantly guilty for having raised his voice. Jesus steadied himself against the mast and began to make his way to the front of the boat, lifting his hood over his head to protect his face from the maelstrom, turning his head to protect his eyes from the sharp droplets of water that pounded down from above. Peter followed behind begrudgingly, chastising himself for his foul temper and accusatory tone.
Thunder crackled and lightning shot across the clouds, waves pounding into the boat so that they all stood ankle-deep in sloshing layers of water. Jesus made his way to the front of the boat without a word and looked up to the sky, no longer worried of the raindrops that struck his face. Muttering a prayer to himself and spreading his arms wide, Jesus looked just as at peace in the storm as he had when he had been in the stern, when he was utterly still and lost to his dreams. It was such an odd sight that all eyes were now on him. All twelve pairs of eyes, trained on one man at the front of the boat.
First the wind died down, a shift so sudden that it was almost as if God Himself was inhaling, sucking all the wind back into His lungs to leave the air serene and almost frighteningly still, a change so obvious and rapid that no person, even the greatest critic, could attribute it to natural causes. The waves leveled out and the clouds began to spread, giving way to bursting rays of sunlight which pulsed downwards, immediately replacing the cold pellets of rainwater with brilliant beams of intense, beautiful heat with no humidity found within them. The most furious of storms one second, then the most beautiful of days just a few later.
After staring around for nearly a full minute, Peter caught on to the fact that his jaw hung open in complete awe and quickly fixed himself, closing it quickly and glancing around to the stunned faces of his fellow men. He turned to Jesus, about to spew out his thanks and gratitude – his awe and wonder of the power within the man who stood before him – but his words caught in his throat as he saw the look on Jesus’ face.
Tears dropped down the rabbi’s face, shockingly apparent despite the rain that covered the rest of it. His face was downcast and dark, his appearance distraught by the event that had just occurred. At long last, he glanced around the deck, staring from one of his disciples to the other, then the next and the next. At last, his eyes met with Peter’s and they seemed to look into his soul, causing Peter to immediately avert his eyes in shame.
“Why were you afraid?” Jesus asked, his voice uncharacteristically breaking as he did so. “You put your trust – you put your faith – in the boat that you travel in rather than in the Lord. Rather than in me. Oh, you of little faith, when will you learn?”
(Inspired by Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25)
To me, the message in this story is one so plain and simple that it consistently blows my mind how often we, as humans, manage to blot its truth from our minds and forget the consistency behind God’s promises to us. In fact, I was (and still am) reading Ted Dekker’s The Forgotten Way, and within it, he mentions how quick Christians are to pray to God for help, yet how stubborn we are when it comes to actually putting our faith in Him. Our prayers are meaningful and sincere, yet often empty and lacking in faith. The idea of putting our faith in God sounds good on paper, but when you turn words into action, it becomes a whole lot harder.
You see, we all face storms in our lives. Rejection, abuse, fear, failure. Divorce, bankruptcy, illness, death. These are just some of the storms we face, sometimes on a daily basis, and each and every one of them serve as places of stress and mental strain in our lives, freaking us out and causing us sleepless night upon sleepless night. The rain is pounding down us, blasts of wind push us in every which direction, and to top it all off, the water has begun to poor onto the deck as waves threaten to topple us into the sea, where surely the current will overtake us and plunge us into its depths. Your boat is sinking and you come to recognize that you have absolutely no control over what comes next. This is a position we have all found ourselves in quite frequently throughout the course of life.
So, like the disciples within the passage, we get frustrated with God and ask Him how He can be so calm and collected and seemingly oblivious while our lives are tearing at the hinges, breaking apart before our very eyes. Here we are screaming in fear for our lives, yet He suddenly awakens from some apparent sleep and glances around calmly, totally unconcerned with the situation at hand. For a moment, you begin to wonder if God is blind to the pain you face. Does He not see the things you are facing, the trials you are trying to overcome? We get mad at Him, angry that He fails to empathize with us. Angry that his fear and his concern do not match our own.
But then comes the unexpected. All of a sudden, in the seeming twinkle of an eye, God makes His presence known by calming the storm in our lives; just like that, He reminds you that yes, His plans are still to prosper (Jeremiah 29:11). One moment your boat is sinking and the rain hurls itself upon you, the next you find yourself on the calm sea on a sun-shining day, not a raindrop in site. It’s weird, it’s inexplicable, and it’s slightly ridiculous, but it’s how God works. Every. Time. When we are at our lowest lows, He always has a trick up His divine sleeve.
So what’s the main message here?
In another shockingly similar story to the expanded one above, Jesus' disciples are once again riding across the Sea of Galilee when – surprise surprise – another storm hits (Matthew 14:22-33). The only problem is…this time Jesus isn’t there to save the day. No, this time he stayed back, going off to pray by himself, as was a frequent habit of his. So, once again, the disciples totally freak out, realizing they might very well die. And this time, there’s no Jesus to calm the storm.
Then they see a ghost standing in the water. The ghost walks across the choppy waves, making its way closer and closer to their boat and freaking them out that much more. Is this Death? they begin to wonder. Is this Death itself coming out to meet them? But no…no, they soon realize it is Jesus, and this time he is walking on the water! No invisible bridge, no hidden water skis. Jesus, by himself, is walking on the water. He calls Peter to come out and meet him, and to everyone’s shock, Peter does, his faith in Jesus affirmed by the display of Christ’s mighty power. Yet all of a sudden, Peter once again takes notice of the storm around him and begins to sink.
But Jesus catches him.
“You of little faith,” Jesus chastises him (Matt. 14:31), echoing his words from the previous incident. The same message, put in two different scenarios.
Sometimes, you’ll be facing something tough and God will seem quiet, like a teacher during an exam. He’ll seem asleep, as if He doesn’t care. He’ll seem totally absent, as if He let you go on with your life – as if He let you sail across the sea alone – while He stayed behind to go about His own business. And sometimes, you’ll freak out. Sometimes, you’ll go berserk with worry and stress and all-out fear. But there’s a lesson to be learned here: God is always there (Deut. 31:6, Isa. 41:10). Even whenever He seems absent, silent, or asleep, He’s ready to take care of you. All He wants is for you put your faith in Him instead of the boat (Psalm 146:3, Prov. 3:5-6, 2 Cor. 5:7). Here you are believing that that boat will prevent you from drowning, but if that boat breaks apart, you’re a goner. God, on the other hand, will never break apart. He created the storm, so how could it break Him? He created you, so why would He leave you behind? So, as a final encouragement, I leave you with a challenge: Next time you find your boat sinking…
Face the storm.
Be brave enough to step out onto the water and not look down or around.
Keep your face directed forward, towards the one Foundation which will never break.
Keep your face looking forward, towards the One who walks on water.