By Gary Zimak
It’s easy to trust God when all is going well. During those “blue sky” periods, we typically don’t spend too much time analyzing our faith. It’s a different story, however, when we are faced with an unexpected storm. We are often placed in situations that challenge us to trust God even when it doesn’t make sense. Nobody understood this better than Peter, a seasoned fisherman who was called by Jesus to walk on water in the middle of a storm. There were some bumps in the road, but overall he was successful.
Let’s look at 5 lessons we can learn from Peter’s attempt at “water walking” and discover how our faith can grow, especially in the storm.
Risk – Any opportunity to grow in faith will involve some degree of risk. As an experienced fisherman, Peter knew that getting out of the boat could cause him to drown. Volunteering to be a lector or religious education teacher, inviting someone to Mass or giving more money to your parish all involve some degree of risk. Success is not guaranteed. Something could go wrong. Without risk it is not possible to step out in faith.
Fear – When Peter first got out of the boat, the Bible tells us that he walked on the water. Once he took his eyes off of Jesus and looked at the waves, however, he became frightened. Don’t be surprised when this happens to you. While the intensity of the fear may vary, it is typically present whenever God asks you to do something. The Bible documents that Abraham, Moses, Mary, Joseph, Paul and Peter were all afraid, but they moved forward and trusted God. You can’t stop yourself from being afraid, but you can control how you respond to fear.
Storms – Note that the storm didn’t stop once Peter stepped out of the boat. This didn’t mean that he made the wrong decision. Rather, it meant that Jesus wanted Peter to trust Him in the storm. After praying about homeschooling our daughters and feeling confident that God was calling us to do it, my wife and I decided to move forward with the plan. We immediately encountered some very rough seas. A few months later, I got laid off from my software job and moved into full time ministry. Shortly thereafter, my wife got sick and had to be hospitalized. Just because you’re doing God’s will doesn’t mean you won’t have storms. Jesus told Peter to come to Him on the water, but the storm didn’t die down until they were back in the boat. Following Jesus does not guarantee a storm –free life. Don’t panic if the storms continue. That is to be expected.
Setbacks – After successfully walking on the water, Peter did something many of us do. He took his eyes off of Jesus and focused on the fierce wind. As a result he became frightened and began to sink. Once you step out of the boat and make the decision to trust Jesus, don’t be surprised if you lose your focus and begin to panic. It will happen. The key is to imitate Peter and get refocused on the Lord. When he began to sink and cried out, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30), Peter did exactly what he was supposed to do. He turned to Jesus for help and was rescued. Don’t become overwhelmed when you slip up. Remember that Jesus is right there with you and will come to your assistance.
Jesus – As I mentioned in the previous point, you can count on Jesus being with you in the storm. He isn’t going to lead you into rough seas and then disappear. We often criticize Peter for not trusting, but he should be commended for moving toward Jesus instead of swimming back to the boat. While it’s true that he panicked, Peter ultimately turned to the Lord in prayer. That’s exactly what Jesus wants us to do. By the way, take note of where Jesus was when all of this was going on. He wasn’t in the boat with the other disciples. He was in the middle of the storm. By leaving the security of the boat and venturing out into the storm, Peter actually moved closer to Jesus.
Each storm we encounter provides an opportunity to grow in faith. Stepping out of the boat and trusting Jesus can be frightening, but it becomes less frightening once we realize that the crazy things happening to us are actually very typical. Before leaving the “safety” of the boat, Peter was careful in discerning that Jesus was truly calling him. He then responded to the call and learned that, with the Lord’s assistance, it truly is possible for a man to walk on water. That’s something he never would have learned if he played it safe and stayed in the boat.
In the same way, our faith is strengthened when we say “yes” and get to experience the thrill of walking on the water. We may not get to choose the storms that we will experience in life, but we do get to choose how we respond to them. We can take a chance and trust Jesus like Peter did or we can hide in the boat like the other disciples. In my life, I have done both. Only one option has brought me peace and enabled my faith to grow. I have learned that trusting Jesus is a choice and not a feeling. Even though I’m afraid, I can make the decision to step out of the boat and walk toward my Savior in the midst of the storm. I encourage you to join me and place our trust in the One who is always trustworthy. The storms may rage and fear can fill our hearts, but that’s okay. Peter got it right and we can too.
Jesus, I trust in you!