From the moment Peter arrives on the scene, he captures my attention. In the gospel of John, chapter 1, Jesus meets Simon and immediately changes his name to Cephas or Peter, meaning “rock”. Here we see Jesus setting the tone of the relationship and it is actually really important to remember that Peter is foundational to the long-term ministry of Jesus. In the first moments of their relationship, Jesus gives Peter his calling and though he doesn’t understand the name change at the time, he will.
I want to look at one of the moments in the life of Peter where he failed and yet, he wasn’t disqualified, cast aside by God and, he didn’t quit. The disciples have just seen Jesus feed thousands of people with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. Not only did He feed them, they had leftovers! The disciples are tired at every level and still processing the recent news that John the Baptist was killed. The conditions are not necessarily optimal but, they are with Jesus and changing the world.
Jesus, always One to show us the example of good self care, needs some time alone so He sends His followers off across the sea while He goes to spend some time with His Father. The weather isn’t great and the guys in the boat are getting battered by waves and wind. It’s the middle of the night and I am certain they were cranky. I mean, I would be! Then, out of nowhere, they see something that I am certain made them doubt their sanity. They saw Jesus walking on the water coming towards them! Just stop for a moment and imagine that scene. First, they are so far out that there is no earthy way Jesus could even be where they are considering the length of time they have been moving in the water. Second, Jesus is WALKING ON WATER. I probably would have passed out if I’m being totally honest.
Here is where I start to fall more in love with Peter. While most people would have been running away from someone walking on the water (let’s just be honest, it’s terrifying!), Peter is more attracted to the power of Jesus. The disciples are convinced they are seeing a ghost and they are filled with fear, but not Peter. In the midst of fear, Peter hears the voice of Jesus and he finds deeper faith. Only faith could have caused Peter to utter his next words, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Peter knows the voice of his Leader and Friend and he is firmly set in faith that he has recognized the voice and that Jesus is fully and without doubt able to allow Peter to walk on water. Jesus has only one response and it is truly a reward for his faith, “Come” (Matthew 14:29).
Can you relate to Peter in this moment? Have you had an experience where you just knew it was God and though it seemed crazy, you followed what you heard?
Peter then steps out of the boat, deeper into the storm, and walks on water toward Jesus. Now, stop here for just one moment and picture the face of Jesus as Peter would have seen Him. Here’s what I picture: deep love in His eyes, pride beaming all over His face as His friend walks in faith, a slight smile on his lips. Peter and Jesus have a moment that is so deeply special and lovely it can nearly bring me to tears if I think about it for a while. Peter is the hero of the story in this moment! He stepped out in faith and it was a HUGE success! End scene, go home. Oh but wait! It doesn’t actually end in this glorious moment. Peter starts to sink.
Peter, in what is the absolute human condition, takes his focus off of His Leader and Friend and puts it on the storm and in that moment, he loses faith and he loses footing, but he doesn’t lose his future. He starts to sink and scramble and I’m certain is filled with tremendous fear. Sometimes, it takes greater faith to stay the course, not stepping out of the boat. Peter had the faith to step out, he just didn’t have the faith to keep going when the storm around him seemed to be too much. Instead of keeping his eyes firmly planted on the goal, Jesus, he looked around, saw the storm and tried to keep going in his own strength. God will never give you the power to step out and not give you the power to keep going.
So let’s do a quick recap: the disciples are caught in a storm on the water, they see Jesus walking towards them on the water, Peter jumps out of the boat and he walks on the water, Peter sinks. For many, Peter’s bravery was in the stepping out of the boat but I would invite you to put your sanctified imagination hats on and look a little closer. I would suggest that Peter was most brave by letting Jesus save him and then getting back into the boat. As with many of the daily small details, the Bible doesn’t tell us what happened next but as we all know, it wasn’t a movie so the scene didn’t just end with Jesus saving Peter. Jesus would have had to carry Peter back to the boat, and then Peter would have had to face his friends.
Now, I know we like to think of these men, the disciples, as pillars of the community but let’s be honest, they weren’t. They were rough-and-tumble men’s men and I’m 99% positive at some point, maybe not right that moment, someone said something like, “Hey Peter, nice swim you took there!” Or “Wow Peter, way to make Jesus have to save you!!” I’m certain Peter had to face a little ridicule based on his actions and what we know about Peter is this…he stayed. Because I know that God allows freewill, I can say with assurance that Peter had the option to stop following Jesus at any moment. They all did. Peter could have been so undone by the public failure that he retreated back to being a fisherman. Praise God he didn’t!
Have you made a mistake or done something in public that fills you with shame or regret and you felt like, or perhaps you did, walking away from God’s call on your life?
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill. Peter didn’t let this failure stop him from fulfilling the destiny for which he was created, to be the rock on which Jesus built His Church. (Matthew 16:18) Was Peter brave for stepping out of the boat? Absolutely. Was he even more brave for getting back into the boat, facing his friends and then continuing on with them and Jesus? A million times yes!! Without Peter, we have no Church as we know it today. Peter shows us that we can be human, make mistakes, fail, and Jesus is still there to pick us up and keep us going. I don’t believe Jesus ever mentioned what happened to Peter again. Jesus knew what Peter was capable of and He knew what Peter was called to, remember, He gave him that call the first time they met.
Each of you is one of two people: you’ve failed and quit or, you’ve failed and gotten back up. If you have failed and quit, please hear my heart. Jesus is waiting to pull you up, bring you peace and healing, and relaunch you. Your calling doesn’t have an expiration date so don’t think He won’t use you. There is nothing, and I do mean nothing, that will stop God from using you except you. If you let shame and guilt rule, then you let the enemy win. Please don’t let him win. Failure only has power when we allow it to hold shame and we keep it a secret. Let your secret out! Ask God for help and He will provide it.
If you have failed and gotten back up, praise God. Share your story loudly. We all need to hear how other people have failed and gotten back up to keep moving forward into their calling to bring glory to the Kingdom. We all fail at one point or another, the more we share our stories of both success and failure, the more we realize they are really both the same. Stories of success are never easy stories and in many cases, the failure was needed in order for the success to be realized.