I find the story of Christ walking on the water compelling but not because He walked on water. The miracles that He already performed makes this event unsurprising. He had the very night before fed the 5,000 with only five loaves and two fishes. He had caused the lame to walk, the blind to see and raised the dead. No, I find it interesting because of Peter.
Christ had sent his apostles on ahead while He stayed behind with the multitude that he had fed physically and spiritually and to be alone to pray. A storm came in and caused that the boat in which they were sailing began to be pounded with the wind and waves. I imagine even the most skilled of fisherman, as Peter undoubtedly was, would begin to fear for their lives. So much so that while they feared the spirit they thought they saw, they may not have been at all surprised. They seemed even less surprised to realize that it was, in fact, the Lord walking toward them casting away their fears.
In this moment Peter looked to Christ and said, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me to come unto thee on the water.” With one word Christ invited him, “come.”
The scriptures do not indicate any reluctance or apprehension from Peter. They only teach us that he came down out of the ship. It was in this moment that Peter’s faith was so strong that he was able to stand firmly on the water as if it was solid ground and walk. Perhaps it was his own faith that surprised him, and that astonishment caused him to become distracted by the storm around him but as he did, he lost focus of the Savior. At this moment the fear and doubt overcame him, and he began to sink. He cried out for the Lord to save him.
With a loving rebuke Jesus stretched forth His hand and brought him into the boat. As they stepped inside the winds ceased and the waters became calm. But Peter, he had missed this opportunity of overcoming tribulation and fear to reach his goal of an outstretched hand of the Messiah. He allowed the distractions around him to be his focus rather than the very light that stood before him.
Where lies the lesson for Peter? Did it come in the few steps that he took? Or was it in the sinking? Or was it simply in stepping out of the boat?
Many times, I feel we are like Peter. We ask God to invite us to figuratively walk on water. With delusions of grandeur, we expect to be asked to make great sacrifices or perform significant miracles. Or we come to Him with our plans we’ve already made simply hoping for His validation. We then find ourselves disappointed to find out that all He wants is for us to come.
There’s much we can learn from Peter in diligently seeking the Lords council. The first is that Peter quickly recognized His voice and knew who stood before him on the water. Can we make the same claim or are we as the ancient Jews that expected a great general and as a result crucified the humble son of a carpenter? Perhaps when He will have to stand as the powerful general that His opposers expected.
I would invite you ask yourself, “what have I done to know Him?” I’m not speaking of His stories or even His teachings but instead Him personally.
This last year that we all have faced has brought great blessings to me. It reminded me to ask myself this same question. And when I had done so, I realized that I was not at all happy with the answer. I found that I simply had not done enough. My study of the gospel, my attitude toward service, my temple attendance were all lacking. While I had committed no egregious sin, I found myself living a terrestrial life not proactive in my own salvation. And because of this it had become more difficult to hear that still small voice as is whispered promptings, warnings and truth.
By asking myself this I was able to make the necessary changes that have increased my spirituality and understanding of truth. Because of the changes I have been able to not only hear the voice of the spirit but recognize it so that it could calm my fears as Christ calmed the apostles. And hopefully as I have sought Him, His opinion of me has improved in a way that He might one day ask me to walk on water.
He has given us many ways to hear His voice. In the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants He said:
“And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people;” He continues, “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:14,38)
The second thing we learn from Peter is to ask. We are repeatedly taught that we should inquire of the Lord, and we will receive.
In Luke “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Luke 11:9)
And in James again “Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.” (James 4:2)
Perhaps we refrain from asking because we don’t know what to ask for. Maybe we are not prepared for the answer or do not feel worthy to receive one. Too many times we feel our desires are not worth the Lord’s time or too great to receive. But Peter, he asked to walk on water.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis)
No matter our stage in life or the trials we face the Lord desires that we ask of Him to invite us. He does not expect perfection but instead a desire to be whole, a desire to be better and a desire to come to His outstretched arms.
When we ask however the Lord will answer when we are prepared to step out of the boat. Perhaps the answer will be to stay. But when we are prepared to listen, we will receive an answer.
This leads to the third thing that we learn from Peter. He stepped out of the boat. When all the world seems against us like a boat being tossed in a storm is when he desires it most. When we begin to follow in faith miracles both great and small will be achieved. Many times, these miracles go unnoticed. They come in the form of tender mercies of a gentle embrace, a kind word or act of service.
It is our action that shows our faith. These actions may come with hesitation or nervousness, or they may be accompanied with humble confidence. No matter our level of faith, we must take the steps. As we do, we may find that we walk as Peter walked or sink like Peter sank. While faith without works is dead, work with limited belief may turn into faith and eventually wisdom. It will be the lessons we learn from our successes and our failures that will increase our faith and cause a desire to take more steps toward the Lord.
Many of us feel prepared to take the big steps. During this last General Conference, I wanted to know what the Lord desired that I sacrifice. Were there good things that I should give in favor of better things? Are there changes that I should make in my life? I was unsure what to expect. Christ asked his disciples to give up everything and follow Him. Instead, the answer I received was subtle and somewhat vague. My answer was that He does not ask of big things right now but only small.
I feel that many of us are prepared to make large sacrifices and do it willingly and gratefully. We would gladly sell all we own and move to back to Jackson County should the Lord ask of it. We would rapidly enlist if commanded to form Zion’s camp once again. But this is not what we are asked.
We are asked to take the small steps and many times they seem more difficult than the large. The small ones our taxing upon on time and agency. For each of us these small steps are different. For some it is simply saying yes to the calling they’ve always dreaded, for others it is giving up their pornography, others its being more diligent in the study of the scriptures independently and with their families and others it is to faithfully follow the leaders of the church without criticism.
It is by these small steps that we prepare ourselves and show our willingness to serve God. And when we prove ourselves worthy, He can ask more of us. This will continue as we learn line upon line and precept upon precept. The growth came the same for Christ, why should we expect any different for ourselves. What He asks of us now may be infinitely different later. We may be asked to simply be peacemakers now in this contentious world and later be asked to wield a sword in defense of truth.
Knowing that even one of the most faithful of Christ’s apostles failed should bring us some comfort. The final thing we learn from Peter is that when we lose focus of the Savior and become distracted by the noises of the world we will sink. When we do, the Lord will have his hand outstretched waiting for us to ask him to save us. The storm may not subside until He has us safely in the boat, but it too will pass.
We have created a false dichotomy that associates righteous living with immediate success and happiness. While rewards are promised and will be received, they may not be instant. They may not even come in this life, but they will come. We must have patience and trust that the hardships and trials will conclude and joy will be its reward.
One of my favorite talks came Brad Wilcox in which he said, “Remember change is possible, repentance is a process, and worthiness is not flawlessness. Most important, remember that God and Christ are willing to help us right here and now.”
The steps toward our Savior do not have to be perfect steps, they just need to be steps. When we seek Him out will know him and He will know us. If we ask Him, He will answer. When we step toward Him, we will come closer. When we inevitably stumble, He will pick us up. And when He has secured us safely, He will calm the storm.