It was the summer right before my senior year in high school. There was an older guy who started hanging out at our church, very nice and full of faith. We became friends. Every year our youth group went on a mission trip, that year it was to Costa Rica. An inkling of faith, a whisper of promise, and a dream of a foreign land enticed this new friend of mine to feel “led” to join our team. But he didn’t raise any support and his last minute “leading” left me with a dilemma. Do I trust with him that God would somehow secure an expensive plane trip no matter the barriers?
So we prayed. We pleaded before God. And my friend felt confident God was saying go to Costa Rica.
He met us at 6 am to get on our bus to the airport. He rode with us all the way to the airport and after an awkward pause at the ticket station where there was no spare ticket, no generous donor to pay his way he rode back to the church, bags in lap, him and our driver alone.
And I was left with a gnawing confusion about what had just taken place. It wasn’t comforting that the facts added up and sent him home. Wasn’t it like my God to love and honor child-like faith? Couldn’t He have shaken up those cold hard facts and found my friend a way?
Doubt. That’s what Satan tried to plant that day in my heart. And I left it unspoken, to be watered by my quiet fear of God’s shortcomings and unreliability. It didn’t plague me like a constant disease, but in the moments of asking or need where I knew surety was necessary, that’s when the doubt fogged my vision. Maybe you know better than me these feelings of uncertainty, and I think we can both agree that we’ve allowed them to plague us for too long.
So I ask myself, what happened? What did God do or did He purposefully leave things undone? What was the point of that whole experience that etched itself into my story of faith? And why did God not do as we asked?
I run to God’s Word for answers:
“And Peter answered Him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when He saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
During that summer I’m almost positive that I sought these verses as promises of faith for my friend to come on that trip. But now, I see how I manipulated this promise to bend to the favor I was asking.
Peter does the inconceivable. He steps out in the sea and puts his foot firm against the water below. Was it still wet? Or did it act like glass beneath his foot? Did Peter have to climb the swells of waves before He got to Jesus? However it worked, Peter made his way out to Jesus on foot, step by step more confident that Jesus had made a way when there should not have been one. It was unexplainable.
And it’s almost comical that it’s not until Peter gets to Jesus’s side that the wind scares him, the peril of his situation registers with his brain and he freaks out. Understandably. I would. But it’s not Jesus’s fault that Peter starts to sink. Peter asks to join him, Christ invites him, Peter freaks and starts to sink, Christ saves him, and then gives him a lesson: “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?”
So what’s the point? Is Jesus telling us all that if we don’t doubt then we too can walk on water?
No no no. The point is in the last sentence. Because when they all get back in the boat – that’s when it comes clear and they all worship Jesus and declare, “Truly you are the Son of God.” For all of Peter’s fancy footwork, the point wasn’t about how cool he was that he walked on water. It wasn’t even that if he hadn’t doubted he wouldn’t have started to sink.
Sure, there are great lessons about faith that can be gleaned from this encounter, but doubt is not the point. Peter is not the point. Jesus is it. And Him getting glory and being worshiped is why we were created. For some reason, God saw that He would get more glory from my friend not walking on water to Costa Rica even though he asked to. And that’s ok. Because the point is not that he gets to Costa Rica. The point was never about the what God let happened, but the why.
And so I’ve asked myself, honestly, why did I want my friend to go? And the reason embarrasses me and reminds me of how young in my faith I was and still am. I wanted to prove God. I wanted to bend His will to mine. I wanted to walk on the water, not because I wanted to get to Jesus, but to see how it felt to walk on water. To glory in the unexplainable, not to glory in the One who is unexplainable.
My motives were wrong and now I see so much more clearly that God was gracious that day. He didn’t give me and my friend over to a life of gum-ball faith, where you put a quarter in and get your huge gum-ball.
God seeks to make our lives overflow with the unexplainable goodness of Jesus and that’s so much more than a gum-ball faith. Jesus does the unthinkable for us, He came and died in our place for our sins to make us right with His father. He forgives our sins and sent the Holy Spirit to live inside of us every day.
If we live for signs and wonders, we will constantly be on the brink of disappointment and doubt. But if we live for the glory and nearness of Jesus, our faith will grow and our lives will be filled to overflowing with the incredible life force of Jesus Himself.