I often hear it bandied around in church circles that God wants his people to get out of the boat. The idea behind it, is that God wants us to get out of our comfort zones and take risks for him. While I agree in some part that we are called to take a risk and step out of our comfort zones for him – the question to ask is if we are doing the Scriptures a disservice, and in doing so, making a mockery of God’s general call on his people as to what it is he is calling them to do.
The gospels record Jesus walking on water in two places. The first is in Matthew 14:29 and the other in John 6:19. Matthew gives us a fuller account of this experience, where Peter is called to step out of the boat and actually walk on the water and he does.
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said,“why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
When we analyse this passage we see a number of things. The first one is that the disciples were doing what Christ had called them to do. He had told them to get into the boat. He had told them to cross over to the other side without him, as he was going to stay behind to pray. And in verses 22 –24 we see the disciples being obedient to Christ, though the winds and the waves were buffeting the boat.
Shortly before dawn, they see Jesus walking towards them on the water, they see him and are fearful, thinking that they are seeing a ghost. Jesus reassures them that it is he, and not to be afraid. We need to take note of a number of things here. The first is that the disciples are doing exactly what Jesus had asked them to do. They are in the boat. The second thing to take notice is that the only command Jesus gives them is to not be afraid. He is not a ghost. They are not seeing a demon. He is giving them comfort that he is with them.
However, Peter, the guy with the big mouth, decides to test what Jesus is saying even further. It’s like he is not satisfied in seeing Jesus on the water, and he isn’t satisfied with the words he spoke to them…he decides to test Jesus further…saying, “If that is really you, then call me out, and I will do what you are doing!”
Peter gets out of the boat, he starts to walk on the water, sees the wind and the waves, and in doing so, took his eyes of Jesus, got frightened, started to sink and cried out, Jesus save me. Jesus takes him by the hand, rescues him, tells him you of little faith, why did you doubt, and together they go and climb back into the boat, and the waves and wind die down and all in the boat worship Jesus, saying truly you are the son of God.
Within this story, we see that the actions of Peter are not that of faith – instead they have a foundation of doubt. His actions are not commendable: rather, his actions were cause for rebuke. It was only Peter who questioned whether it was Jesus or not on the water. It was Peter who questioned Jesus, telling him that he didn’t believe it was him. It was Peter who said, you know what, “I’m not going to believe it is you, unless you tell me I can come to you and walk on water also.”
Peter gets out of the boat and starts to walk towards Jesus, but the circumstances of his experience overwhelm him, instead of looking at Jesus and believing him: he instead looks at his circumstances, he looks at the waves and the wind and starts to sink into the water. But it was unbelief that got him there in the first place. It was unbelief and his testing of Jesus that caused Jesus to tell him to come to him in the first place. And therefore when Jesus catches Peter by the hand, and rebukes him with “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” We find that Jesus actually rebukes Peter for all of his unbelief in that entire episode from when they first saw Jesus on the water.
Finally they climb back into the boat. The boat was the destination where Jesus was heading for all along. It was in the boat where Jesus intended to meet up with his disciples. It was Christs intent for them to travel to the other side of the lake in the boat. It was never his intention for them to get out of the boat. It was never his intention for them to walk on water. And the only place he intended for them to get out of the boat, was once they reached the shore of where he had told them to go in the first place.
The Apostle Paul gives us good advice about staying in our boat. He says to the Corinthian Church in 1 Cor 7:17
17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.
God never calls us to escape our boat. What ever situation we find ourselves in, this is where God has called us, and its where God has assigned us to live. And it is he, who will direct the course of our lives in him.