Living in the Waves


One of the most well-known stories in the New Testament must be when Jesus invites Peter to walk on water in Matthew 14:22-33. Peter is often held up as either an example of bold faith in stepping out of the boat or faltering faith in sinking into the waves.

However, there is another part of the story that captures my attention and it has to do with the waves. When this memorable episode from the life of Jesus and the life of Peter takes place, it is surrounded by waves of challenge.

The first type of waves is the waves of people. Immediately before this, Jesus miraculously feeds a crowd of more than five thousand people. This crowd was pressing in around Jesus. Jesus dismissed them, but, even after the walking on water episode, they hunted Him down and asked for more. It is likely, from what we read in parallel accounts, that the crowds actually hoped to make Jesus king. The waves of people surrounded Him.

Along with the waves of people came the waves of emotions. After an exciting yet stressful ministry day with people, the disciples were exhausted. They seem not only exhausted by the work they were doing with Jesus, but also by the fact that Jesus Himself was difficult to understand. This led to a sort of emotional exhaustion and anticipation that always kept the disciples on their toes. They needed to get away.  It seems that Jesus also needed to get away. The pressures on Him to live into a human-defined image of Messiah-ship, yet pushing against that in obedience to the Father, lead Him to want to draw away with the Father again.

Of course, along with these waves of human pressure and emotional pressure come a third type: the waves of natural life. The literal winds and waves that beat against the boat threaten everyone in this situation. The natural order was not on their side and could not be easily controlled. This heightened physical circumstance augments the other more subtle waves around Jesus and His disciples.

Attention to the waves in this situation tells me one important thing to keep in focus. The waves – the challenges we face – are a normal part of life.

I want to draw this out because so many of us are waiting for “someday.” We all do this at times. We have that tendency to wait for a day when we believe that everything will become calm or everything will be at perfect peaceful. If not that, many of us are simply looking for the day when everything feels “normal,” even if we have never defined what that is.

When that normal day comes, many of us say, we will then be ready to follow Christ or take some dramatic step of faith. Until then, we are on hold in fear or confusion.

However, the very setting in which Peter makes his bold step of faith is in the waves. This is important to pay attention to because the Lord is reminding us through the context of this story that waves are normal.

The challenges of people and relationships that Jesus and the apostles faced are similar to the waves with people that we face.  The challenges of emotions and pressures that Jesus and the apostles faced are similar to the emotional waves that we face. The challenges of the natural things that happen – natural life changes, natural aging, natural circumstances of the environment – are similar to the natural waves that we face.

And this is what strikes me today: these waves are the normal setting in which faith rises up. Because of this, we don’t need to wait for someday.  Someday will not come because it does not exist. The waves in which we find ourselves are the setting in which we must take a step of faith.

What Does It Mean to Long for Jesus with Faith? [Peter and Faith, part 2]

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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. (Matthew 14:26-29a)

If we recognize that the wind and waves is a normal part of life in which faith grows, what does it mean to see and desire Jesus amidst the waves?

To see Jesus means we have to be looking for Him. When the waves whip up around the disciples they are overwhelmed by their circumstances. It is no surprise that they are terrified when they see Jesus walking upon the waves. It is, of course, because they do not expect Him to be capable of such a thing, but it is secondarily because they were not looking for Him at this moment. We all have had those moments when we are startled by someone or something because we did not expect them and were not looking for them. The eyes of faith, however, are constantly on the lookout for Jesus. We have our eyes open to find Him at all times. Like Daniel’s three friends thrown into the fiery furnace (see Daniel 3), we find that even the most pressing and distressing circumstances are still those in which the Living God shows up in our midst. The eyes of faith look for and expect that Jesus will stand in unexpected places, even in the midst of the waves of our lives.

Now it is one thing to see Jesus, but another entirely to desire Jesus with fervency and boldness. I always find it surprising that people criticize Peter for faltering in this story. I find this surprising because Peter is the only bold enough to try and join Jesus outside the boat. Why do we not criticize the other disciples? Because they were doing what is deemed as normal. Peter first of all takes Jesus at His word, that it is truly Jesus—and not a ghost—upon the waves. Seeing that it is Jesus, He is risky enough to ask to join Jesus amidst this wild walk of faith.

Living faith desires Jesus so strongly that it is willing to ask boldly of Jesus and step out wildly with Jesus amidst the waves and wind. What about us? Are we looking for Jesus amidst the wind and the waves, expecting Him to show up in our lives? And when He does show up, do we desire Him so greatly that faith rises up over fear to lead us into the walk of faith?

How Do We Face the Waves that Surround Us? [Peter and Faith, part 1]

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“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. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:28-30)

When this brief episode out of the life of Jesus and the life of Peter takes place, it is surrounded by waves of challenge.

There are the waves of people (Matthew 14:20-22), who are pressing in around Jesus and those who wanted to make Him king. There are the waves of emotions (14:22-23) brought about by various pressures. The disciples felt the pressure of an extensive day of ministry, all while not fully understanding Jesus and His ministry. There are the pressures on Jesus to become king and to follow a human pathway to Messiah-ship. This is so strong that Jesus draws away with the Father in prayer. There are the real, natural waves of the natural world (14:24) embodied by the physical wind and waves that beat the boat, creating a threatening the situation.

In the midst of all these waves, it is vitally important to keep one thing in focus:  the waves – the challenges we face – are a normal part of life. 

So many of us are waiting for a magical “someday” when there will be no waves. We all can do this. We all have the tendency to wait for a day when everything is calm, everything is peaceful, or at least when everything feels “normal,” whatever that means. When that normal day comes, many of us say, we will do what is necessary to follow Christ or take a step of faith.

However, the very setting of the story tells us that waves are normal. The various challenges that Jesus and the disciples faced—of people and relationships, of emotions and pressures, of the natural things that happen in the physical order—these waves are the normal setting in which real faith rises up.

So, too, in our lives we need to recognize the normal waves of our life as the place where true faith is birthed and nurtured. We should not wait for some magical “someday” where suddenly all will be suddenly peaceful to grow in our faith.  Someday will not come because it does not exist. We need to allow the waves to be the setting in which we take our steps of faith.