Friday, November 9, 2012

Our Failures of Faith

When it comes to the apostle Peter, I can definitely relate.  Sometimes it is hard to keep your focus on Jesus. 
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." 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.  Matthew 14:22-32 NKJV
I find it interesting that in the three gospels where this story is told, only one happens to mention Peter's walk on the water.  I imagine that his walk was very brief and may even have appeared to the others as having fallen into the water more than anything else.  That is merely conjecture, though.  The facts, as we know them, are that Jesus sent the disciples into their boat and they were confronted with a strong storm.  The boat was being tossed around in the waves and, to make things even more frightful, there suddenly appears a shadowy figure walking along the water.  If you imagine the wind, rain, and waves, Jesus would not have appears as more than anything other than a shadowy figure.  Of course, most normal people are not expecting to see a shadowy figure walking on the water and so their minds were racing as to what it could be.  Jesus, perceiving their fear, calls out to them to identify Himself and to tell them to calm down and not worry. 

Enter Peter.  Peter, as we know, was quick to speak and react, many times before his mind had a chance to consider what he was saying.  This is one of those times.  He challenges Jesus that if it is truly Him to command Peter to walk on the water.  Jesus commands and Peter steps out onto the water.  For a moment, things were great.  Peter was actually walking on the water and keeping his focus on Jesus, but then something happened.  His mind caught up to him and he realized what he was doing.  He was not only walking on water but in the middle of a very strong storm.  The waves were rough, the sea spray and rain were affecting his vision, the wind was howling around him, and he began to sink.  It is kind of like those old Roadrunner cartoons when Wiley Coyote was able to run off a cliff and hang in mid air until he realized he was hanging in midair.  At that point, he went crashing down to the ground, usually with an anvil on his head.  At this point I need to pause for some more Scripture.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  Hebrews 11:1 NKJV
I insert that scripture because what Peter ultimately had was a faith problem not a vision problem.  Many like to teach that Peter looked away from Jesus, but it is also plausible that he was not longer able to see Him.  With wind and rain, crashing waves, and sea spray, he would not have had much visibility.  Sometimes we are in a situation where it is not that we are not looking to Jesus, but that we can not see Him.  It is not that He isn't there, He is just of our vision.  In this case, he was close enough to reach out to Peter and save him.  It is also not that Jesus does not want to help, because, again, He reached out and saved Peter.  Sometimes, in the midst of a trial, it is hard to see the Lord.  That is where faith comes in.  Faith is the evidence of things not seen.  Faith is not dependent on circumstance or what you can see, but faith is dependent on the belief that, no matter what, Jesus is there and that He will get you through.  Peter, when he lost sight of Jesus, all he saw was the wind and the waves.  At this point, he still could have walked but his faith faltered and he began to sink.  Jesus did not say "why did you stop looking at me" nor did Jesus apologize for allowing the storm of obscure Peter's view of Jesus.  No, Jesus asked why he lost his faith. 

There are many times where circumstances are such that for a time we can not see Jesus.  Right now there are people who lost everything they owned in the world and are living day-to-day wondering how they will ever get through.  They are in deep water and a terrible storm is raging and I am sure many of them are having a very hard time seeing Jesus in the midst of their disaster.  I know in my own life, with much smaller problems, I sometimes feel the same way.  My faith falters, I wonder why things are going the way they are going, I wonder why things have to be the way they appear to be, and I wonder when I will see change in those circumstances.  I pray and think and try to figure out where Jesus is in the midst of all of it and sometimes the answer takes some time to come.  Sometimes it is not one big trial that hides you vision, but a long series of smaller ones.  I daresay that Seaside Heights was not destroyed by the first wave that crashed, but only after the frequency and strength of the waves wore it down to a point where it just crumbled.  Not many people drown after getting knocked by one large wave, but the fierce waters of a raging sea with a constant succession of strong waves are enough to drown even the most seasoned and strongest of swimmers.  Many of us, including myself and even right now, have been right where Peter was.  We have faith, that faith was tested, Jesus is no longer in our sites, our faith falters, and we begin to drown. 

Most, if not all, of us have been right at this very same point.  Whatever trial or crisis we are in has gotten the best of us and our faith and it is nearly impossible to see Jesus let alone believe that He is there.  This is where our perceived faith is tested and stretched to reveal just how much real faith we have.  Many times we are lacking, and many times that is the point of the test of begin with.  We have to take a moment to consider who Jesus was and ask a few questions.  First of all, why did Jesus do something so dramatic as to walk on water?  Secondly, why did he not stop the storm until after He was on the boat and immediately do so once aboard?  Why did Jesus beckon Peter to come out to Him, actually accepting a challenge to prove His identity?  This was not some mere coincidence of circumstances, but a planned trial for Peter.  Do you think that Jesus did not know he was going to sink?  Do you think that Peter was ever in any real danger?  From Peter's perspective he sure was, but Jesus knew the outcome before the test.  Peter was never in any danger.  Jesus always knew He would save him. 

When you faith falters and you begin to seek, remember Peter and cry out to the Lord.  Even if you can not see Him, you must know that He is there and you must know that whatever is happening is completely and totally under His control.  The test may seem unbearable.  The test may seem impossible.  Your faith may be rattled to its very core.  You will probably fail and start to drown and you will probably need Jesus to pull you back up.  But that is how it is all supposed to be.  The Bible has shown that testing our faith means things like praying when you know you will be thrown into a lion's den, refusing to worship a false god and be forced to enter a fiery furnace, to give a testimony that you know will get you stoned, and to preach Jesus until your time comes and you are crucified upside down.  You read about these great men of faith with great feats of faith and it seems so intimidating when your faith is rattled because you had a few horrible days.  Faith takes training.  Abraham was a great man of faith, but remember when we first meet him and he took years to follow God's first command.  We read about Moses and how he raised his staff and parted the Red Sea after standing up to Pharaoh, but we forget when he fled Egypt for forty years dejected and rejected.  We hear about the great faith of Elijah but we forget the time is ran and hid and felt sorry for himself.  We read hear about Peter sinking in the waves, but we forget that tradition tells us he was crucified upside down, by his choice, because he felt unworthy to die in the same manner of Jesus.  The point is that great men and women of faith started out just like you and me.  But just like an athlete goes through great pain and hardship in training, so will we as we strengthen our faith.  Honestly, if training seems easy, you are not doing it right.  Training is about pushing your limits and God will push the limits of our faith.  Training is even about pushing our limits past the point of failure to learn what weaknesses need to be worked on and to reveal just how far you have to go.  Sometimes the lesson is found in our success when we were sure we would fail and sometimes the lesson is in our failure when we hoped we would succeed, but the lesson is always trust and that trust must always be in the Lord. 
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have [its] perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.   James 1:2-4 NKJV

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