He'd done it again. As he sat cold and shivering in the boat, he could sense his companions exchanging smug looks and mocking smiles. Why, he thought miserably, does it always have to be me? He had meant well — he always meant well. He loved and admired Jesus, and he wanted to be like Him in every way. Every way. So on that stormy night when he had seen Jesus walking on the sea, Peter had wanted to do it, too. At first he and his companions had been terrified at the sight of the lone figure striding across the waves, miles from shore. They thought it was a ghost. Then a familiar voice rang out, "Don't be afraid, it's me." That's Jesus' voice, thought Peter. But how could it be Him? They had left Him on the shore hours before. He'd asked them earlier to take the boat across to Capernaum and had said that He would meet them later. They had seen Him perform many wonderful things. But surely even Jesus couldn't walk across a storm tossed sea, could He? Well, there was one way to find out. "Lord, if it is really You, tell me to come to You across the water," Peter called out. The reply from Jesus? "Come on, then." It was Jesus. Without one moment of hesitation, Peter climbed over the side of the boat. The other disciples looked on incredulously. They were accustomed to Peter's impulsiveness, but this beat everything. Peter, however, was full of confidence. With his eyes fixed on Jesus, he took a step away from the side of the boat. The water was cold and the heaving waves bounced him about — but he didn't sink. He took another step, and then another, and then began to stride out confidently. He forgot the wind and the waves. He was filled with exhilaration. He, Peter the fisherman, the son of Jonah, the friend and disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, was actually walking on water!
Peter glanced over his shoulder. The boat was several yards away now, almost out of sight in the gloom. Jesus was still walking toward him, but He, too, was a long way off. The wind seemed to have increased, and the waves were getting higher. Suddenly it hit Peter: What am I doing? I can't do this. His brash confidence ebbed away, and to his horror he began to sink into the cold, green sea. Peter thrashed around trying to stay afloat, but he felt himself sinking deeper into the water. Desperately he called out: "Help! Help, Lord, save me!" He began to panic as he felt himself going under. And then he felt a hand grip his, and strong arms drew him out of the water. Jesus held Peter for a moment, allowing him to catch his breath, and then half dragged and half carried the sputtering disciple back to the boat. "O you of little faith," Jesus said, kindly but reproachfully, "why did you doubt?" As soon as the two men had climbed into the boat, the wind died down and the sea became calm. Jesus told the disciples to continue to row toward the shore, and Peter was left alone with his thoughts (Matthew 14:22-32). What had gone wrong? He wanted so very much to be like Jesus. Had Jesus set him up, only to see him nearly drown? He must have felt crushed, let down and discouraged. Don't you sometimes feel that way? You may be like Peter, utterly sincere in your desire to be like Jesus Christ. You want to follow His example in all things, and maybe you're also one of those naturally enthusiastic people who throw themselves wholeheartedly into everything. You always do your best — only to have things go wrong. Even your best, it seems, isn't good enough. If you're beginning to see that, you're learning an important lesson about being a real Christian — your best really is not good enough.
Human faith not enough
Some people do seem to be endowed with more natural faith than others. Peter was like that. He had the type of personality that would jump into a situation where other, more cautious people would hold back. Sometimes (more often than not, it would seem, from the stories in the gospels) it got him into trouble. But you could not accuse Peter of lacking zeal and a positive, can-do attitude about life. Jesus appreciated that. He did not want to squash Peter's personality. Eventually He would choose him to be the leader among the original 12 apostles. But first He had to teach this enthusiastic, rather self-confident young man some important spiritual lessons. God is certainly not against the right kind of confidence. He rewards those who do the best they can. You will see this if you read the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. But you must always remember that even your best efforts are not going to be enough to save you. Otherwise you could be "saved by works," something the Bible clearly shows is impossible. You need something more. This is what Peter had to learn. Maybe you do, too.
A different kind of faith
Peter had faith to step over the side of the boat. But when he began to fully appreciate the consequences of what he had done by "stepping out in faith," his own human faith broke down. Jesus showed Peter that he really only had "little faith" because he had doubted. What Peter — even enthusiastic, faith-full Peter — needed, in addition to his own faith, was a different kind of faith, a faith that would not break down in the face of adversity. But where could he get that kind of faith? It was not something he could somehow work up himself. Jesus had that kind of faith. He knew that, humanly speaking, what He had to do in His life was impossible. He had to live without sinning even once, something even the most resourceful, enthusiastic, energetic, zealous human cannot do. As the prophet Jeremiah said, "0 Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). So Jesus prayed earnestly to His Father for the faith He needed to live a life that would qualify Him to be the Savior (Hebrews 5:7-8). Jesus knew that without the faith that could come only from God, He could no more live a life free of sin than He could — well, than He could walk on water, for instance. He was flesh and blood, and his weight and the force of gravity made that impossible, too. But Jesus did walk on the water. Jesus had the kind of faith that could surmount impossible odds, the kind of faith that could move mountains if need be. Jesus told His disciples: "Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20). So when He walked across the Sea of Galilee, it was not just a stunt to impress His friends. And by letting Peter fail He wasn't just playing games 'with him. He wanted to teach His friend, who had so much else going for him, a valuable lesson.
Growing in faith
Peter must often have remembered what Jesus had said to him as He led him back to safety: "0 you of little faith, why did you doubt?" Peter doubted because he lacked the kind of faith he needed to keep going. His human reasoning told him that he was in an impossible position, and that human faith, abundant though it was, couldn't sustain him. Over the years and after many more well-intentioned mistakes, Peter grew to understand this even more. As leading apostle, he often found himself in impossible positions where his human faith and patience would have been stretched beyond the breaking point. He was often in trouble with the authorities. He was thrown in jail. He had to spend years countering the influence of false teachers, and eventually he suffered martyrdom. But he had learned where to go to get the strength he needed. We can see from his two epistles that he had become the epitome of faith and patience. Those early years of the Church must have taxed even Peter's energy and enthusiasm to the utmost. God used Peter's strong personality and leadership to encourage the Church through some stormy times — times that threatened to drown the faith of others. The man who nearly drowned in the Sea of Galilee had learned, though, that his best was not good enough. He had learned to go to God, to seek that kind of faith that only God can give: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). And that made all the difference.