He said, “Come.”
Peter was a bit of a character. I’m not sure I’d recommend following his example in many respects. He denied Jesus three times like a coward. Jesus had to rebuke him sharply and even called him Satan (Matthew 16:23). But something about Peter inspires me, fallible though he was. He trusted Jesus. He would follow him anywhere.
In Matthew 14:22 we catch the disciples worn out on a boat. The water was rough, and the waves are tossing the boat around. Though several of them were experienced fishermen, being on a boat in high winds is terrifying and dangerous.
Peter was not exactly fearless like Jesus. But he had his moments. When the disciples in the boat see Jesus on the water from afar, they understandably freak out. People don’t walk on water. They thought Jesus was a ghost. As tired as they were, they must have wondered if they were hallucinating. They weren’t.
Never the subdued one, Peter perks up. Now the game Peter plays is a dangerous one. Peter says if the ghost figure is Jesus, it should command him to walk on the water towards him. Now I can think of a million different scenarios where this would be ill-advised.
Jesus, if you’re really there please catch me when I jump off my roof.
Jesus, if that’s really you telling me to ask her out, make this light turn green.
Jesus, if you really have my back I need you to show me a sign.
Remember Matthew 4:7: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Satan tests Jesus just like Peter, but for a different reason. He’s playing with Jesus – tempting him. Peter, on the other hand, is innocently seeking Jesus. That is the primary difference and it’s a huge one.
Peter’s 4 Possible Outcomes
Jesus’ response to Peter’s test is powerful: “Come.” This is the dog catching the car. Peter must now put his money where his mouth is. So he steps over the drenched wooden gunwale of the boat and on the surface of the stormy waters. His foot holds. (Imagine the sensation of the water moving but holding underneath his feet.) He puts his other foot outside the boat and it also holds. He starts making his way to Jesus in what must have been at once awkward and miraculous.
But something bad happens. Peter notices the wind whipping at his clothes. The wind sprays water and pushes him around. As Peter begins to internalize the mess he’s gotten himself in with this whole walking on water business, he feels his foot dip beneath the surface. He cries out for help and Jesus reaches out to help him. Jesus’ response is enlightening: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” We see here that Peter’s doubt was the problem. It would have sunk him but for Jesus’ help. Peter’s blind faith had him walking on water; his doubts had him sinking.
Peter doesn’t strike me as the type of guy to create spreadsheets. He probably wasn’t a pros and cons type of guy. But let’s say he was. Let’s say Peter wanted to do a cost/benefit analysis of heeding Jesus’ command to come. This will have profound implications for our lives.
When Jesus told Peter to come, here are the four possible scenarios:
- Peter says, “Nevermind.” He stays in the boat and thus he stays apart from Jesus. Peter would have no idea the power of saying yes to Jesus. His faith would probably have weakened further by his cowardice.
- Peter tries to walk on water but drowns. Drowning takes minutes to cause death, so within minutes Peter presumably would have been dead and in heaven. A quick death with a good outcome.
- Peter tries to walk on water but his buddies have to rescue him. Maybe the walking on water thing doesn’t work out and the disciples grab him and throw him in the boat. Peter would have an adrenaline spike and then much confusion as to why Jesus called him into the water to sink. He’d be humbled and wiser for the experience.
- Peter walks on water and meets up with Jesus. This is what happened. Though he started to sink, he walked on water and made it to Jesus – or should I say, Jesus made it to him. He ended up in Jesus’ arms.
Because #4 happened, Peter is emboldened in his faith and humbled by what just went down. Peter realizes with faith he can do crazy supernatural things but with doubt he sinks like a rock. Peter knows on his own he is ill-equipped but in Jesus he is well-equipped.
Our Possible Outcomes
Things aren’t as cut-and-dry for us. Jesus ascended into heaven so it is very unlikely you’ll have an experience like Peter. His Spirit lives inside us, so we’ll experience God’s invitations differently than Peter. This is why people can say God called them to things and it’s hard to argue with them. Who is to say whether God did or didn’t compel them to do something?
We have to test those voices in our head and the promptings of our conscience. Here is what I mean. If you feel this strong compulsion to wake up in the wee hours to pray for your wife, or the urge to give a poor person money, or feel the overwhelming need to speak an encouraging word to someone, do it. These urges are backed clearly by Scripture and by the character of Jesus himself. They are slam dunks and I would hold that these types of urges are absolutely promptings from the Spirit inside us.
But what if we feel the urge to quit our job? What if we would like to change churches? Or what if we feel a strong need to engage in a conflict to speak our piece? These things are murkier. They are grayer. They require prayer, counsel, the reading of God’s word, and common sense. We can’t just act and say God told us to do it.
For our purposes, let’s say it’s clear to you that God has told you to come. This could be a ministry opportunity, a career move, a family decision, etc. After prayer, counsel, reading your Bible, and some time-soaked common sense you are convinced this is God beckoning you to do something. Specifically you feel God calling you to something scary, risky, or controversial. You face risk of life, limb, property, and/or reputation if you obey.
So what can happen?
- You can die. That’s a win (Philippians 1:21).
- You can be utterly humiliated. Since we regard no one according to the flesh, ourselves included, this is no devastating event (2 Corinthians 5:16). We will learn, grow in maturity and faith, be wiser for the failure.
- God can come through. In such case, you’ll see something really cool happen and God will get the glory.
You see, when God calls, it is always best that we go. The possible outcomes for obedience to God are all positive. We like to think in binary terms – this or that – but God is sovereign and he shapes all of our lives for our good and his glory (Romans 8:28). When we step out in obedience, God will step in faithfully. It doesn’t mean we won’t fail, but it means we will slog through the waves into the arms of Jesus.