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Have you ever attempted something in life that met with failure? I would far rather try and fail than never do anything at all. Failure is not always such a bad thing, necessarily, because failure will precede success when we learn from our mistakes. Failure can actually teach us success.
We have all heard the expression, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” But let me restate that in a new way: “If at first you don’t succeed, relax. You are just like the rest of us.”
We beat ourselves up when we fail, because we didn’t experience the greatest success of all time. But many times it is through the process of elimination and learning what not to do that we better learn what to do in the future.
The Bible contains the story of one of the most spectacular failures of all time. While it is the story of Peter’s walking on the water with Jesus, it is also the story of his sinking afterward. And it is a story about how God worked through those circumstances.
After witnessing the miracle of Jesus’ feeding the 5,000 with one boy’s modest lunch, the disciples were like kids not wanting to leave Disneyland. But Jesus told them to get into the boat and cross over to the other side of the sea. Then he sent the multitudes away and went to be alone and spend time alone in prayer. Meanwhile, a storm had come up, and the disciples were battling very large waves out on the sea. But at about 3 o’clock in the morning, Jesus came out to them, walking on the water.
Now, if I were Jesus, I would have flown everywhere. Why walk when you can fly? But Jesus didn’t do that. Throughout his ministry, he walked like everyone else and faced exhaustion and hunger and all the rest, just like everyone else. But on this particular night, Jesus walked out to them on the water, perhaps to show his disciples that the very things they feared – the wind and the sea – proved to be no obstacle for him.
Thinking Jesus was a ghost, the disciples screamed like little girls. But Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid. Take courage. I am here!” (Matthew 14:27)
In other words, “Guys, come on. Man up here for a moment. You are OK. I am with you.”
Peter, feeling incredibly moved, wanted to prove his courage to Jesus. So he made an amazing statement: “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water” (verse 28).
I find this very impressive. Peter was willing to put it all on the line. These were rough seas, and he was willing to literally step onto them because he was looking at Jesus. That gave him confidence and courage.
So Jesus told Peter to come to him. This was a great moment, and what followed cannot undo it. We can find fault with Peter for a number of things, but no one else attempted this.
Like armchair quarterbacks, we can critique people who try things for God. But I would rather see someone try and fail than someone who does nothing.
Peter was doing well for a while until he started to sink. And why did he start to go under? The Bible tells us that “when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink” (verse 30).
Peter took his eyes off Jesus and put them on other things.
Circumstances can be frightening. It can be devastating when your boss calls you in and tells you the company has to downsize and your position has been eliminated, or when the doctor calls you with the test results and says it is not good news, or when you open the letter that says a lawsuit is being filed against you. These are scary things, and they can unnerve you. They can cause you to take your eyes off God.
Peter sunk because he was afraid. But faith gives way to fear. Trust gives way to worry. Where faith reigns, fear has no place. Where fear reigns, faith is driven away. Peter had faith. He had his eyes on Jesus and was doing the impossible. But then he started to look at his circumstances, and he began to sink.
In Peter’s case, he looked at the wind. In our case, it might be something else. Then we forget God and we start to sink. So we should do what Peter did: Ask for God’s help. Peter didn’t wait until he was underwater. He shouted, “Save me, Lord!”
There is no shame in that. Sometimes we might be embarrassed to admit to God we need help. We feel as though we should work things out for ourselves. But we should cry out to God and then watch what he can do for us.
Peter’s failure hardly came as a surprise to Jesus. He knew all about Peter. He had his number. But Jesus knew what Peter would become. He didn’t just see him for what he was; he saw him for what he would be. And that is how God sees us as well.
So Peter walked, Peter sunk, and Peter got up again. Then he walked back to the boat with Jesus. We all will have our miraculous moments in life, our spiritual highs, and our mountaintop experiences. If we had our way, that is how life always would be. But mountaintops prepare us for the valleys of life. Calm waters prepare us for the storms.
Maybe you are sinking right now. Maybe you are filled with fear, worry and defeat. You might be in the grip of some addiction. Your marriage might be in trouble. Follow the example of Peter and ask for God’s help. He will not rebuke the person who is trying to come to him in faith.