Two interesting words – faith and doubt…they come up again and again in scripture, church life, conversations between Christians. And they’re used in a number of ways in sermons, especially ones intent on challenging where we really are as ‘faithful non-doubting’ followers of Jesus.
Both are action words – faith speaks of positive action, doubt of negative activity.
In general chatting with some Christians or in counselling, one can so easily wonder ‘Where are they at? Where are they coming from? They don’t seem to be able to really trust Jesus let alone his word. With all this negativity, where is their faith?’
‘Seizing’ Jesus’ word leads to ‘being seized’!
Check your concordance – you’ll find these two words linked together describing negative reactions such as in Matthew 14:31. ‘Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him (Peter). “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”’
- The NLT (emphasis ours) reads: ‘”You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”’ Peter had heard Jesus’ clear command – ‘Come’ (v29) and NTL hits on the fact that Peter’s doubting meant he was not relying on Jesus himself, that Christ’s word could not be trusted!
- The Message (emphasis ours) goes direct to another aspect: ‘Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?“’
From this one can imagine a widescreen picture of what was going on…Peter endeavouring to be brave in the midst of a storm at sea, daringly walks on the water towards Jesus and security. Then he ‘sees’ the wind and, all lost it seems, begins to go under.
‘See’…this is a mind thing, a word linked with perceiving, regarding and taking heed of. In Peter’s case it obviously meant he was thinking, ‘This can’t be happening! It’s impossible to walk on water!’ Fortunately for him, he cried out to Jesus, ‘Lord, save me!’ And Jesus did and we could loosely say the rest is history! But that’s being flippant. There’s more here!
Back up for a moment and see the bigger picture – most versions say that Jesus ‘reached out’ but the Message uses ‘reached down.’ We like this as it paints a picture of the carpenter’s strong arms coming down over and grabbing the terrified, dubious disciple– this word indicates ‘seizing.’
And then Jesus lifted him up and brought him to safety – and to the other side where he had ministry for Peter to fulfil.
Reminds us of the depths of Frances Crosby’s 1868 hymn, Safe in the Arms of Jesus. The second verse speaks of a great biblical truth resulting from trusting Jesus – ‘Free from my doubts and fears.’
The Lord will never forsake us in stressful times
Jesus – reaching out and down. It’s like heaven coming down to earth to help the distressed Peter! The strength of God surrounds him! Miracles happen – what he’d bravely tried to do and failed in his own weak strength is actionised by the undefeatable strength of the Son of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit within him.
Peter had wisely called out to be helped – ‘save’ is sozo … ‘deliver, protect, preserve totally.’ And that’s what happened. It’s a wonderful Bible truth that Jesus is always there for us…we all have a future of kingdom service with him (the Jeremiah 29:11 plan), there is always someone to see, places to go, things to do whoever we are and whatever our ministry experience may be.
Hebrews 13:5 (Message) encourages us with strong assurance, ‘I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you.’ Walking on the water himself, Jesus didn’t walk off leaving Peter to perish…he took the disciple with him to learn more about healing/miracle ministry experiences (v35-36).
Doubting the very person of Jesus and not relying on him and his word might easily have caused Peter to miss out on the amazing events yet to be in growing as a dedicated minister of Christ.
Challenges to every Christian
Hence preachers often challenge along the lines of ‘Have faith in Jesus and the word of God with all its promises – if you doubt, you’ll miss out. Didn’t Jesus urge us to understand that even faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain?’
Now that’s all very good – every Christian, even ministers, need reminders and fresh challenges. Especially in exercising faith and not doubting.
Regarding Peter doubting, the word relates to ‘wavering in the mind.’ Remember he ‘saw’ the wind – but you can’t ‘see’ wind, what you ‘see’ is the effects caused by it, hence his fright, his alarm (phebeo v30). It’s a New Testament word used some 90 times and indicating ‘being put into a state of fear and to flight (scare away) by terrifying.’
Ever wonder where the English ‘phobia’ – a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it – came from? Hmm.
There used to be a great challenge in Christian circles – ‘Flight or Fight!’ It’s still good today. Christians filled with the Spirit and wrapped with Jesus’s love can go one better that Peter. We’re in Christ and have the Spirit’s power within. Jesus did everything in the power and anointing of the Spirit (Acts 10:38) and we have that same benefit and ability in us.
God’s love within is so strong! John is very reassuring on this – ‘There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear’ (1 John 4:18). Fear is crippling, he goes on to say, producing a fearful life.
We’re not crippled – wrapped in the anointing (the Spirit’s oilskins as it were) we can go with Jesus to whatever other side he has lined up and to enter further into all the new kingdom ministry ventures assigned to us this year.
Let’s trust him totally – he who is by our side. Trust both him and his word, the scriptures.
Currently facing some storms in life? Yes, life is life and brings unexpected frightening situations but here are two comforting scriptures about our great caring shepherd.
- ‘By his power he stills sea storms, by his wisdom he tames sea monsters’ (Job 26:12Mge)
- ‘As shepherds go after their flocks when they get scattered, I’m going after my sheep. I’ll rescue them from all the places they’ve been scattered to in the storms’ (Eze. 34:12Mge).
Jesus is the great shepherd – his eye is on us every day. Real faith is simply trusting him no matter what the storm is – with a reliance on his power, knowing that he’s always willing to reach down and seize us.
The first verse of My Lighthouse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itiB52mVJ9Y by the Northern Ireland’s Rend Collective reminds us of this truth – ‘In my wrestling and in my doubts, in my failures you won’t walk out; Your great love will see me through, you are the peace in my troubled sea.’
A final thought…
Matthew 14:33 (Mge) tells us, ‘The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshipped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!”’ The proverbial penny had dropped at last!
Then two chapters later, after discovering that Jesus is miraculously there to reach down to grab us in times of doubt, Peter’s own bold declaration is : ‘You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God!’ (Matt. 16:16Mge).
‘Answer’ is apokrinomai …’to conclude for yourself.’ God is the God of change – negative doubting can lead to positive action! Yes, Jesus told Peter God had revealed this (v17) but Peter himself had to discover and accept it. A negative ’bout with doubt’ can be converted into positive kingdom action!
This month’s links: Impact – Mark Ellis’ Mesothelioma Healing Miracle From God / Inspirational – Carol Round’s Living Life as Usual? / Leadership Gleanings – Ed Delph’s Staying on Course Through the ‘Perfect Storm’ ; Norman and Margaret Moss’ A Sheltering God / Focus – Mike Shreve’s Holy Spirit Intercession