During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,’ he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. (verses 25-29)
This is an utterly compelling story that came alive for me personally at a crucial moment several years ago.
The story continues, of course, to tell us that Peter didn’t stay on the surface long – almost immediately he started to sink beneath the waves. But the point I find most gripping is the decisive courage that launched him in the first place.
John Ortberg wrote a whole book on this event, two decades ago, the title of which communicates the main issue: If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.
Peter has heard Jesus’ consoling words: “It is I!” (literally, “I am!”, ringing with the divine voice). He is eager to be where Jesus is. He asks for Jesus’ command. Jesus gives it: “Come!”
So now, Peter is confronted with decision. Will he step over the gunwales into adventure, on to the surging waves? Will he have faith to trust Jesus to sustain him, even when it looks so impossible?
Ortberg points out that the boat is the place of comfort, the place of safety, the place that fear compels you to remain. Meanwhile, the surface of the water is the path for growth, for faith, for discovery of new calling. He summarizes by saying: “I believe there are many good reasons to get out of the boat. But there is one that trumps them all: The water is where Jesus is.”
So, Peter climbs out of the boat, into obedience to Jesus’ voice, into further relationship with him. What a compelling story.
I preached this passage to my congregation (but mostly to myself) almost 20 years ago. I had sensed the Lord’s clear calling to move on from the church I had grown up in and served for almost 25 years. And I was terrified. I knew intimately the reality of the boat’s safety and the surging waves’ utter uncertainty. Yet I was hearing the Lord’s call. What would I do? Would I dare follow?
Ultimately, I did, with fear and trepidation, and with courageous support (much greater than my own) from my wife. The Lord kept us from sinking. He provided for our needs in ways we never anticipated. There have been new chapters in our story which wouldn’t have been written otherwise. I am so grateful for that walk on the water. I have never forgotten.
I’m sure Peter never forgot either.
Lord Jesus. thank you that you are always near, saying, “Take courage! I am!” Thank you for your provision even when we are in danger of being over our heads. Thank you for your call. Strengthen me, by your Spirit in my inner being, to respond courageously. May it be. Amen.
Reflect: What is your boat (your places of safety and comfort)? Is the Lord calling you to step out?