“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
These are Christ’s words to Peter, taken from the passage where Jesus walks on water towards the disciples’ boat. At the beckoning of Christ, Peter steps out of the boat and walks upon the sea, but when he saw the strength of the wind and the fury of the waves, his courage faltered and he began to sink. Calling out to Jesus, Peter was immediately caught by Jesus’ outstretched hand.
There are a myriad of ways Peter could have responded to Christ’s question. Why did I doubt, Jesus? I don’t know, maybe it was the massive waves or the terrifying wind or the darkness of the night or the fact that I WAS STANDING ON TOP OF THE BLOODY SEA!
Peter possesses legitimate excuses. Yet, when held by the firm and unwavering hand of Christ, he recognizes that his previous fears were misplaced and unfounded.
How easy it is to doubt when we see the wind and the waves in our own lives! When our gaze is no longer fixed on Christ, all we see is an endless landscape of treacherous waters, stretching all the way to the horizon. We immediately become aware of our frailty.
This inherent fragility of humanity is exposed dramatically on the streets. As missionaries, we encounter men and women possessing little more than the clothes on their backs, begging to receive enough to survive another day. They truly have nothing between their feet and the depths of the sea—no savings, no 401(k), no warm bed or roof, no friends or family willing to take them in.
And yet, somehow, they still have faith. Faith that the Lord is going to see them through another day.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a universal attitude among the homeless—many of our friends have fallen deep into despair or hopelessness at one point or another. But so many of these individuals retain an uncanny ability to see the Lord’s hand in their own lives. Just listen to the testimony of one of our friends from downtown:
“You know, begging really is a spiritual experience. You never know what you’re going to get. A lot of times, God won’t give you what you want, but when you are desperate, when you absolutely need something, he gives you everything. Just the other day I was at wit’s end and I prayed to God for the money I needed and he immediately gave me exactly what I needed.”
This is a man who has encountered the fidelity of God! Perhaps it is the experience of having nothing and being totally reliant on the Lord that engenders an unfolding of the gift of faith. I’ve seen God save me from the depths countless times. Why would he fail to provide this time?
Another time, some college students and I prayed with a man who was desperate for two more dollars. We asked the Lord to provide exactly what he needed and parted ways. Before we had managed to walk a hundred feet, we heard him hollering from the stoplight and holding up two dollar bills, exclaiming: “GOD IS REAL! GOD IS REAL!”
If you’ve ever been in the middle of the ocean at night, you know that looking upon the vast expanse of the starry night and the unfathomable depths of the sea evokes a sense of smallness. In a brief moment of clarity, the veil of affluence and security is lifted, and you are confronted with a tangible reality of being a mere creature at the mercy of the universe. Perhaps you’ve experienced this in another medium—driving home in a blizzard, camping in the mountains, at the sickbed of a loved one…
These experiences compel us to recall our total dependence on the Lord. In the absence of these encounters, we tend to lose a sense of our poverty. Gradually, we find ourselves relying more on ourselves than on God, focusing our attention on the turbulent waves of daily life. Like Peter, we are called to a great act of faith—to step out of the boat and onto the water.
It is here that Christ renews our fidelity to his eternal gaze. Just like our homeless friends, we can trust that it is because of our neediness, not in spite of it, that Jesus reaches his hand over the waters to deliver us.