We give Peter a hard time, don’t we? But I’m not sure he deserves it. We paint him as hot-headed (John 18:10), prone to putting his foot in his mouth (Matthew 16:22-23), who denies his best friend Jesus (Luke 22:61-62). But he was also the chief disciple (Matthew 16:18-19), founding Apostle (1 Corinthians 15:5), and leader of the first church (Acts 2:14). Not such a bad resume.
One story in particular is used to give Peter a bad name. In Matthew 14 we see the disciples heading out across the lake while Jesus stayed behind to pray. In the middle of the night, while the sea was tossing back and forth, Jesus came walking on the water. Peter calls out to him, “If that’s you Jesus, call me out and I’ll walk to you.” Jesus says okay and out walks Peter. But he sees the waves and he gets afraid and he starts to sink. Jesus grabs him by the hand and pulls him back in the boat and says:
“You have so little faith. Why did you doubt me?”
The sermon I’m sure you’ve heard over and over again is that if your faith is little, then you’ll see the waves and waver, your knees will get shaky and your feet will get wet, then fear will overtake your faith. O ye of little faith!
But I think there’s a better sermon in this verse. Let me show you by telling you a little bit of my story.
When my wife and I were newlyweds and just graduated from college, we made a big step of faith and moved to Salt Lake City, UT to help out at a new church plant. We had friends and mentors there to encourage and support us. We had a new church that was exciting and dynamic. But we didn’t have jobs. And we didn’t have a lot of money. So, against our better judgment and everyone else’s advice, we racked up some debt. We didn’t use the plastic to buy fancy dinners or big screen TVs. No, we used our plastic to pay for things like rent and electric and groveries. But at the end of four years in Salt Lake City we had racked up over $21,000 in credit card debt. Not quite the way we wanted to start our marriage.
During that same time I took over as youth pastor at the church. I inherited a group of 7 teenagers. Through much effort and a lot of hard work, four years later we had grown the group to…8. Not the rousing success I had dreamed of while taking church ministry classes in my college days.
So, we eventually left Utah and move back to Oklahoma, dejected and debt-ridden. We had stepped out in faith believing that God would take care of us. And we ended up falling flat on our faces. It was like I was pulled through the gravel. I felt like Peter being admonished by Jesus. “O ye of little faith!”
But several months later, after I sorted through my negative ministry experience, I saw things differently. Jesus told Peter that he had little faith. But Jesus explains little faith elsewhere, too:
“I tell you the truth, if you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”
Mustard seeds are about 1 mm in diameter. You don’t have to be an herbalist to know that’s little. So mountain moving faith is little, but I think faith to fail may be a little bit bigger.
Let me explain it this way. Let’s say you have a business opportunity that’s virtually guaranteed. You have an airtight business model, several financial backers, and a list of sure prospects just waiting for you to open your door. How much faith would it take to start that business?
Now let’s say that your business opportunity is a little less secure. Your friends give you a 50/50 chance of surviving, and other people in the field are trying to talk you out of it because several of them have gone bankrupt. Heck, let’s say that you’re guaranteed to fail. Now, how much faith would it take to start that business?
We think of Peter’s faith as little, but it was bigger than eleven other men in the boat. He had enough faith to take a step out onto the water. Every fiber of his mental being would lead him to believe that a man can’t walk on water. His physics-bound body was not created to tread on top of waves. He was guaranteed to fail.
But of all the people who have ever existed, we only have record of two men walking on water. One is Jesus, of course. But the other is Peter. He did something that no one else not named the Son of God did. He may have fallen flat and gotten wet, but at least he stepped out of the boat.
When we hear testimonies of people stepping out in faith it’s usually success stories. There are plenty of stories about the opposite, but we don’t give them a microphone. That’s probably because failures aren’t good motivators, sure. But when we hoop and holler over every success, are we giving a false sense of security?
Because of our preoccupation with success, I’m afraid we’ve put it in people’s minds that all they need to do is step out in faith and everything’s going to be shiny happy! We’ve elevated the expectation and given them a false faith. If we’re honest, the chances of failure are as great as success in a lot of what we do for God. But our obedience is not determined by the prospects of success. Our obedience is based on his word. We step out of faith – move from the boat to the water – because he tells us to.
And if we fail? Well, in the end it only matters that we were obedient. Obedience is the true measure of faith for the life lived following hard after Jesus. And it takes more faith to fail than it does to succeed.