a different kind of faith

I’ve always thought it was his bravest moment, stepping that foot over the edge of the boat, planting it firmly on water that everyone knows should not have held his weight (Matthew 14). I’ve always thought it was faith at its finest. The boldest trust. The truest courage. But five years ago almost to the day, I sat on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, and I listened to Beth Moore teach about Peter and the sea. And I knew that I didn’t know what she was talking about. And I also knew that one day I would understand.

So I took some random notes. But mostly I just watched the waves.

She started talking about walking on water, about climbing boldly over the side of the boat and onto the crashing waves (Matthew 14). I was tracking with her, but then she started talking about Peter just a couple of years later. She was talking about his willingness to jump into the water and swim to Christ (John 21). And she was talking about it in a way that made me think that Peter’s willingness to swim was a faith much deeper and a love much stronger than his original desire to walk upon the waves.

Truth be told, I’m not sure exactly what she said. I only know what I remember and the little bit that I scribbled down in my ship-rocked writing:

John 21:1-19 v. Matthew 14 Peter wants to walk on water with Jesus v. Peter is willing just to swim to get to Him. “FOLLOW ME" …when He’s not what we expected and when we’re not what we expected… “AND I WILL MAKE YOU”

A few weeks ago I was driving, and the memory of that morning on the boat came back to me. I remembered that Beth Moore had been saying things I didn’t understand, had been talking about God in a way that I didn't yet know Him. And I realized, in an unexpected rush of emotion, that I knew now something of what she meant. (Or at least what I think she meant.)

…when He’s not what we expected and when we’re not what we expected…

Yes, I know something of that now.

He said, “Follow,” and I did. I said, “I’ll come to you.” And He said, “Come.” In a rush of adrenaline, I swung my foot over the side of the ship, and I stepped boldly into the sea. It was brave. It was risk. It was fun.

But it was only just the shallowest of faith. “O you of little faith,” Jesus said (Matthew 14:31), but I hardly heard Him.

It was faith. It was the truest of faith at the time. But it’s different now.

It was faith when life still looked the way I’d planned. It was faith before I watched a church community falter and fragment. It was faith before a relationship that leaned toward marriage fell far short of it. It was faith before a door closed on an opportunity that made me wonder if I'd ever heard God clearly at all. It was faith before a summer of illness and disappointment was followed by a year of stillness. [Don't hear me say it has been miserable. It hasn't! I have laughed harder this year than any other, but my faith has been rocked and bruised and healed and ultimately held by a God who is far more faithful than our faith will ever prove.]

…when He’s not what we expected and when we’re not what we expected…

Peter's faith shifted after he watched his Lord beaten and mocked and scorned. After he denied three times that he even knew the Man (Matthew 26:69-74). After the rooster crowed his condemnation and the Lord still looked him in the eye (Luke 22:60-61). After he realized his passion was not enough to sustain him. After he saw his Messiah as the crucified the Savior.

After the darkness and the grave and the days of silence.

…when He’s not what we expected and when we’re not what we expected…

When we’ve learned the sharp sting of “His ways are not our ways” (Isaiah 55:8). When we’ve felt the reality of an enemy who asks to sift us like wheat, of a God who sometimes lets him do it (Luke 22:31). When we’ve heard our Savior say, “But I have prayed for you” (Luke 22:32), and then we don’t hear anything else for days or weeks or months.

When we’ve run out of the fervor that we had mistaken for faith.

…when He’s not what we expected and when we’re not what we expected…

And we put our hands back to what we know, to what needs doing. Making coffee. Folding laundry. Returning emails. Feeding dogs or children or the friend on our couch. We read. We drive. We go to meetings. We finish projects started long ago. And we glance occasionally over our shoulder, sometimes certain God must still be there, sometimes waiting for Him to show up.

We do what we know to do, what is familiar, what comes most natural.

Peter returned to the sea. He went fishing. He ran his hands along well-worn netting. He toiled in silence alongside the men who’d also known his Lord. And the nets came up empty. Time and again. Until they listened to the voice of a man on the shore: “Cast your net on the right side of the boat,” and the net was too full to haul in their catch. (John 21:1-6)

It was John who declared that Man on the shore to be the Risen Christ (John 21:7).

But it was Peter who “threw himself into the sea” (John 21:7).

…when He’s not what we expected and when we’re not what we expected…

But He still shows up.

And we throw ourselves into the sea. Relieved. Reckless. Desperate to be near Him. Ready to swim.