Nothing happens until you step out of the boat
That most practical of apostles, James, tells us that faith is an act. It’s not thinking, it’s not intending, it’s not speaking; it is doing. “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works … faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead … I will show you my faith by my works … faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made complete …” (James 2:14-24).
R.F. Weymouth translates the word ‘works’ as corresponding actions. That’s precisely what faith is: acting on a strong conviction or a firm belief; fulfilling a passionate desire or pursuing an important goal. And God is looking for people throughout the earth who are just like this – people of action-oriented faith (Luke 18:8; 2 Chron. 16:9).
In the gospel of Matthew we read the story of Jesus walking on the water, which essentially, demonstrates the pre-eminence of Spirit over matter.
Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there.
But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.
But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.
But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshipped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:22-33).
According to Matthew, Jesus ‘strongly urged’ his disciples to get into the boat and sail to the other side of the lake. Apparently, they weren’t particularly keen on the idea and no doubt did their share of grumbling and complaining once Jesus was out of earshot. To make matters worse, when they were approximately half way across, the capricious wind changed direction and the boat began to flounder in the tempestuous sea.
Suddenly, in the pitch darkness, they saw a ghostly form walking on the water. After Jesus had identified himself, Peter audaciously called out, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water!” Something had stirred in Peter’s heart – a desire to rise to a new level of spiritual authority; a desire to join Jesus in a dimension of supernatural power that was unprecedented in human experience. And to his eternal credit, when he heard the summons from the lips of the Master, Peter stepped out of the boat and began to walk on the water.
Much has been made of the fact that after a few steps of faith, Peter was distracted by the howling wind and the raging sea, and fear gripped his heart. He forgot about Jesus, the One who was empowering him to walk on the water, and as a result, began to sink.
However, if Peter only had ‘little faith’, then the other eleven disciples had no faith at all! After all, Peter was the only one who was willing to take a risk, step out of his comfort zone (literally), and attempt something new and unprecedented. And for this he should be applauded, not criticised.
There are several lessons for us to learn from this story:
You cannot look to the circumstances and to Jesus at the same time
For example, consider the book of Hebrews:
Hebrews is a letter to Christians under pressure – Jewish believers with their backs against the wall. They were suffering persecution and discrimination at the hands of their religious brethren and the Roman authorities because of their newfound faith. Hence, they were tempted to take the easy way out: to renounce Christ and return to the legalism and bondage of rabbinical Judaism. But as the writer of the letter demonstrates, the short-term benefits of compromise are quickly converted into huge losses in the light of eternal judgement.
Hebrews utilizes the imagery of Greek athleticism, and in particular, the Marathon, to depict a life of faith and discipleship to Christ. Hebrews is, as it were, the instructions of an athletic trainer to a runner competing in the Olympic games, urging him to keep going, to not lose heart, to never give up, to maintain a right mental and spiritual attitude, to keep his eyes on the goal, and to divest himself of every unnecessary encumbrance.
The pivotal verse is Hebrews 12:2; “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”. The Greek word ‘aphorao’, translated ‘looking’, means to look away from other distractions and to fix one’s gaze solely on one object. It denotes focus, discipline and concentration.
In essence, the writer is saying: “Forget your problems; forget your trials.” Or, in Peter’s case, “Forget the wind and the waves.” “Focus on Jesus, and he will enable you to finish what you’ve started.”
As you look to Jesus, faith grows in your heart and you are empowered to move forward
For example, consider the book of Revelation:
The book of Revelation is a letter to seven major city-churches in the Roman province of Asia, written by the aged apostle John during a period of extremely violent persecution.
It is an exhortation to endure suffering, to overcome adversity, and to continue proclaiming the gospel until ‘the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ’. It is primarily a revelation or ‘unveiling’ of Jesus Christ, not of end-time events. Exiled on the Isle of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and heard behind him a loud voice, like a trumpet, saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last; what you see, write in a book and send it to the churches …”
Turning around, John saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, and his eye like a flame of fire; his feet were like fine brass, and his voice was as the sound of many waters. And when John saw him, he was overwhelmed by the glory of his presence, and fell at his feet as one who is dead.
From that point on, Jesus is revealed in vision after vision as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; the One who lives and was dead, and is alive forevermore; the One who possesses all authority in heaven and on earth; the Lamb of God who was slain and has redeemed us to God by his blood; the One who is worthy to receive all power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing; and finally, the One who judges and makes war, and who rules the nations with a rod of iron!
And for John and the churches in Asia, the revelation of Jesus Christ was an inspiration to press on in faith and glorify God on the earth, regardless of the cost.
Nothing supernatural happens until you take the first step
For example, consider the book of Joshua:
The book of Joshua charts the transition of Israel from the wilderness to the promised land. As they approached the strategic Jordan river, Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over before the people … And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap” (Josh. 3:6,13).
Sure enough, as the priests stood in the water, the river banked up and the people crossed over on dry ground. However, notice that nothing supernatural happened until the priests actually stepped into the water, which in itself was a tremendous act of faith. It was clearly a case of ‘calling those things which do not exist as though they did’, or ‘acting as if’ (Rom. 4:17). And for a couple of tense moments, those priests looked like the biggest fools on earth … until the miracle happened.
Acting in faith is like jumping out of a plane and waiting for the parachute to open. Between the security of the plane and the gentle descent of the parachute, there is the exhilarating (or terrifying) experience of free-falling through space. However, as any skydiver will testify, you cannot open a parachute inside the plane and expect to make a successful jump. It has to involve an element of risk … a time lapse … a brief period in which your life is in the balance.
And such is the nature of walking in the Spirit. Sometimes you have to step out of the boat, put it all on the line, and expect a miracle! Needless to say, if the Lord has told you to ‘Come’, he will ensure that you make it through, and in so doing, rise to a new level of spiritual power and authority.