One of my favorite characters in the Bible has always been Peter. You got to love Peter…there’s just so much to love. Peter serves as a sort of everyman among Jesus’ apostles. He loved Jesus sincerely with all his heart; he’s also incredibly human…impulsive, headstrong, brash…yet tenderhearted, penitent, and willing to be shaped by his Lord. There is much from Peter we can learn. In Luke 5, when Jesus tells Peter to cast out into the deep, Peter obeys despite having fished all night with no luck. When they pull in a great haul of fish, Peter looks both at Jesus and at himself. His response tells us much about his character. After dropping to his knees, he says in vs. 8, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Peter knew who he was, and we can learn much from his failings and his responses to failure.
One of the most popular stories about Peter occurs in Matthew 14:22-33 in which Peter walks on the water. Immediately upon realizing that it is indeed Jesus coming to them across the sea, Peter asked that Jesus bid him come. He then courageously exits the boat only to lose his courage a moment later. As he begins to sink, he calls out to Jesus who saves him…again. Jesus chastises Peter in vs. 31, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” I wonder how many times, Jesus has reached out to save us…again, and asked the same of us…of me…of you, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
We are often quick to criticize Peter for his doubting here, but I think it’s important to appreciate that the other eleven apostles stayed in the boat. All of them would have seen Jesus coming. Verse 26 tells us they were all afraid and cried out in fear because they thought Jesus was a ghost. Yet Peter, who often fails, is the only one who asks Jesus to command him to come. We see this throughout Peter’s life. He’s the one who speaks while witnessing the events on the mount of transfiguration (Matt. 17:4). While John gets to Jesus’ tomb before Peter, he waits; Peter rushes in without hesitation (John 20:6). Whatever else we might say about Peter, he was brave. Though sometimes reckless, his first impulse was to do something. It was one of the talents he brought to his service in the Kingdom. How often would we be better servants if our inclination was to do rather than to talk, to watch…or worse, to criticize those who do “do.” Yes, Peter failed here in some ways, but he also won. I wonder as he continued to grow in his service to Jesus, how often he reflected on that hand that was so quick to save?
Let’s be honest with ourselves. It is often our fear that keeps us from ever beginning; it’s easier to not begin and justify inaction than it is to try and fail. As we speak, people are making plans to eat better, exercise more, get healthier, but most of us watched January 1st come and go. Our diets remained the same. Our exercise habits remained much the same. We remain much the same. Change is hard and it’s scary. If we’re talking about the size of my pants … well, there are worse things. I can always buy new pants or take move my belt to a new hole. But if we’re talking about spiritual things, that a different story. If we’re talking about sharing or not sharing the gospel with others, the stakes may well be eternal for us and them.
James tells us to be careful to be “doers of the Word and not hearers only” (James 1:22). Certainly, there are myriad reasons one might only be a hearer. But in this case, let’s stay focused on fear. Fear is paralyzing. Fear is debilitating. Fear causes us to doubt ourselves, and worse yet, causes us to doubt the Lord. As we look at the start of a new year, let’s consider some ways we can do a better job of “getting out of the boat” this year than we did last.
Let’s seek the Lord. Psalms 34:4 says, “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.” If we spend time reading and thinking about His word, we’ll likely find those themes, ideas, and words will find their way into our conversations with others. We’ll likely find that we’ve begun a spiritual conversation as a natural part of our day. Then all we need is a little courage to take the next step, to engage, explore, and extend those conversations…to invite. If we begin each day this year with the prayer that God will grant us opportunities to share His gospel, we’ll be much more likely to see those opportunities and to seize those opportunities.
Let’s own our fears. 1st Peter 5:7 encourages us to cast our cares upon Him. Our Lord already knows when we are frightened. He understands (Heb. 4:15). By owning those fears, admitting them, giving them to Him, we can find courage to move beyond intention to action. We have the blessing of bringing our fears before the God of Heaven and we can be assured that He cares for us (vs. 7). How much less frightening would embarrassment, ridicule, or rejection be when we honestly confess those fears to Jesus?
Let’s remember Whom we serve. In Paul’s final admonitions to Timothy, he reminds him that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind” (2nd Tim. 1:7). He’ll then begin to remind Timothy not to be ashamed of the gospel or Paul’s chains. The rest of the book is an encouragement to stay focused on the work he’s been given to do. There was no time for fear. There was too much work to do. Are we any different? We’ve been given the complete revealed will of God. That should embolden us, not because of any strength within us, but because of our faith in the One we serve.
This year, even in the midst of storms, let’s be like Peter and get out of the boat!