A priest, an evangelist, and a minister were in a row boat in the middle of a pond fishing. None of them had caught anything all morning. Then the evangelist stands up and says he needs to go to the bathroom so he climbs out of the boat and walks on the water to shore. He comes back ten minutes later the same way. Then the minister decides he needs to go to the bathroom, too, so he climbs out of the boat and walks on the water to shore. He, too, comes back the same way ten minutes later. The priest looks at both of them and decides that his faith is just as strong as his fishing buddies and that he can walk on water, too. He stands up and excuses himself. As he steps out, he makes a big splash down into the water. The evangelist looks at the minister and says, “I suppose we should have told him where the rocks were.”
Faith. Walking on water. This evening, we are going to look at this pretty well known passage of Peter walking on water and see what God has to teach us about growing in faith. [Read passage Matthew 14:22-33]
Matt. 14:22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
Matt. 14:28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Time for Bible trivia. What is the most frequent command in Scripture? Do not fear. v. 27 “Do not be afraid.” The antithesis of fear is faith. That’s why Jesus rebuked Peter in v. 31 “O you of little faith.” If you fear, you are not moving in faith. If you have faith in God, you will dispel fear. How then shall we grow in our faith? There are three points I want to make this evening.
- Faith is in a Person
The Cornerstone of the Christian faith is a Person, Jesus Christ. How well do you know Jesus? Is your friendship with Him close or is He more like a stranger to you.
In the passage we just read, from a certain point of view, it’s actually really funny. Like, the disciples were straining agains the oars and Jesus comes walking on the water… Boo! “Ahhh! Ghost!” Of course the disciples didn’t think it was funny. Imagine you were in their shoes. In potential danger of losing your life; caught in the midst of an infamous squall that occasionally blew across the lakes/seas. You’re physically exhausted trying to keep your boat from capsizing. And you spot this figure walking on water. Can’t blame the disciples for mistaking Jesus for a ghost right?
And yet… This wasn’t the first time they had encountered a storm where Jesus was involved. Back in Matthew 8:23-27, the disciples faced another storm; that time, Jesus was asleep in the boat as they struggled with it. They had woken Him, “Jesus, don’t You care if we’re perishing? You CMI ah!” (Taking a little liberty with the text). Jesus woke, rebuked the storm and the waters calmed down. Their response was interesting, as they wondered, “What sort of man is this? He can even still the wind and the waves.”
This time round, after Jesus stilled the waves, what was the disciples’ reaction? Two things: Recognition. Worship. Truly, You are the Son of God. And they worshipped Him. The disciples were growing in their knowledge of Jesus. They were starting to see who Jesus really was. The Messiah. The Saviour. The Christ. The Son of the Living God.
We grow in faith when we grow to see Jesus as He really is. And sometimes, God brings us through storms in order that we might grow to know Him better. What are the storms you’re facing in your life? Studies? Relationships? Finance? It is in the midst of the storms of life that Jesus reveals Himself to us and teaches us to trust in Him.
Testimony of Julia. When I was in the army, the internet in Singapore was in its infancy. There was this internet chat service called Teleview, and I begged my dad to subscribe to it. You can probably guess why. 🙂
So a good friend of mine was on Teleview and we were just chatting and as things happened we organised a meet up. It was exciting because we were going to meet these ‘chatters’ for the first time in real life.
I remember it was at City Hall MRT. We were starting to gather. And then I saw her. Like an angel floating down from heaven on a cloud. I was like, “Who is she?” Throughout the meet up I was asking who she was. What was her user-name. Her name was Julia… aka, starry night.
And after that meeting, I stalked her. Not literally lar. When she was on the chat, I would enter and converse with her. Things kinda progressed, we sometimes talked over the phone. I really wanted to pursue her, win her heart.
There was this time when she was going back to Malaysia (she was a Malaysian) and I went to see her off at the train station – Tanjong Pagar – no longer exists. I was on one side of the fence. She was on the other side. Like some Korean drama. And I mustered up my courage and told her, “I’m going to miss you.” She smiled, then turned and left. Wah…
And then came the day I will never forget. We were hanging out with other chatters at some Discotheque, ‘Canto’, it no longer exists. We were just chilling, when all of a sudden, she took my hand and led me off the dance floor to the outside… and I floated along. Some of our friends gave me the thumbs up. We talked and late the night, I sent her home. Best night of my life.
Soon time after that, I was on the chat lines waiting for her as usual. Then I noticed a conversation that caught my attention, because her name was mentioned. It was rather strange. Some guy was saying something like, “Oh, I’m glad that I finally broke up with my girlfriend, so now I can pursue Julia. I was like what was going on.
To cut the long story short, she was two-timing me. Actually worse, she was going out with me to make him feel jealous so that he would break up and be with her. *crushed* What can I say? I’m happy for you. But I was heart-broken.
I was about to enter the university at that time and my good friend and I decided to attend a para-church orientation camp together. And at the camp, God really met me. He healed my heart. I let go, surrendered this girl into His hands. It was a fresh start of knowing God deeper. He let me go through the storm so that I could find Him and know Him.
I learnt about the faithful love of God contrasted with the unfaithfulness of man.
Both in this passage of Scripture in Matthew and in my experience, the storm of life came. God does not always spare us from the storm. But He always comes to us in the midst of the storm, to still the storm. He will be with us. And we can know Him deeper as He reveals Himself. We can trust He is in control. We can trust He knows what He is doing in our lives.
Jesus is not far away, uninvolved. There is an important word repeated twice in this passage of Scripture: the word is ‘immediately’. When the disciples were frightened when they thought Jesus was a ghost, He immediately spoke and assured them that it was Him. When Peter was sinking into the water and cried out, Jesus immediately reached out His hand to save him. The point is this: God is close to us. He is there, present. At the right time, He will come rescue us.
Metanoia. Spiritual conversion and transformation of mind. Is your Jesus a Jesus you made up, or is He truly who He revealed Himself to be? Our faith is in a Person, the faithful, reliable Person of Jesus Christ.
- Faith does not depend on external circumstances
So Peter did something remarkable. He actually walked on water. How many of you have walked on water before in your life? – And I don’t mean walking in the rain puddles – Jesus came to His disciples walking on water and Peter said, “Can I try?” Ok, he didn’t say that. But he did say, “Lord, if it’s You, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus did. And Peter walked. Amazing.
Suddenly, Peter, as he walked looked at this whole absurd situation. The wind, the waves… and he took his eyes off Jesus. And he began to sink. And he panicked! “Jesus! Help!” And Jesus rescued him. Then said to him. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” That my friends is the essence of unbelief, when we look at our situation and our circumstances instead of looking at Jesus. Conversely, faith is when we decide what Jesus says is true, not what our feelings or our circumstances tell us.
I’ll give you a hypothetical example as to how fickle feelings and circumstances are. Let’s say you wake up in the morning and you didn’t have a good night’s sleep. You’re feeling grumpy. It’s going to be a bad day, you can feel it in your bones. As you’re getting ready for school, you glance out the window and dark clouds are forming. “It’s going to pour”, you think. “That’s just great. I’m going to get drenched even if I’m carrying an umbrella. What a truly awful day.”
Just as you are about to head out the door, you get a message on your phone. Oh, that boy/girl whom you think is really cute just sent you a text message. “Woah, it’s going to be a great day”, you think. Suddenly the sun pierces through the dark clouds and disperses them. The birds start chirping in the crisp, clear air as you walk to the bus stop to head to school.
But the bus is late and when you get in, it’s super crowded. The bus driver drives like Satan himself, and by the time you get to school, you’re all banged up. What’s worse? You’re late and the Disciple Master of the school takes down your name and gives you a good scolding. “Terrible, terrible day,” you think to yourself. And as you are walking to your class, you meet that cute boy/girl you like along the corridor and as you pass him/her, he/she smiles at you. “What a great day,” you think to yourself. This is just the start of the day. Can you see how roller-coaster your emotions and feelings can be? What if your walk with God and your obedience to Him depends on your circumstances or how you feel?
I don’t feel like going to church today. So I don’t. This month a bit tight on cash, I don’t feel like tithing to God. So I don’t. I don’t feel like reading the Bible, it’s so dry, so I stop. Young people, our obedience to God cannot be only about our feelings. Of course, God is not glorified with us just going through the motions without any heart. But He is also not glorified if our obedience to Him is only when we feel like it, at our convenience. Young people, God is calling us to radical faith and radical obedience. If there’s one verse in the bible that sums this up, it’s in 2 Corinthians 5:7 “for we walk by faith, not by sight.”
I want to teach you this principle today, it’s something I learnt over the years, it goes like this: outward blessings are not necessarily a sign of God’s favour, absence of outward blessings are not necessarily a sign of God’s disapproval. There was a season in my life where I learnt this. I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ at that time and things seemed to be going rather well for me personally. It was the first student training camp in which I was in charge of a training class. During the Omega Night, I was the only staff who had a student from the class represent the class in appreciating my teaching of them.
A little while later, we had our annual staff thanksgiving makan and celebration. At that celebration, there was a prize being given out for the top student for a bible study course that all the staff went through. And I won the award! Later on, there were ‘lucky draw’ prizes being given out. And guess who won the 1st prize? Yup, me. God’s blessing right? Well, yes, but that was external. This period also coincided with me living in secret sin. And on retrospect, I believe God was not saying, “I’m pleased with you”, rather it’s more, “Repent!”
Soon after though, I reaped the consequences… I was asked to leave the ministry. And I was devastated. For the next year and a half at least, I felt like I had blown it. I remember there was this one time I was in church, thanksgiving service, hearing testimony after testimony of the fruitfulness of brothers and sisters in Christ. And I felt so alone. I felt like God was working in the lives of others, not mine. But again, that was looking at the external. Internally, God was shaping my character. It probably was one of the most precious times in my life, a period of spiritual growth.
Dear friends, in moments you feel like giving up, where the dreams you are waiting for don’t seem to be anywhere on the horizon, you feel like God has abandoned you… don’t lose faith. If you remain faithful to God, trust in Him, walk in obedience, you will realise that God is faithful. For we walk by faith, not by sight.
- Faith is nurtured in response to God’s Word
If faith is in Jesus, and is not dependent on external circumstances, how then do we know Jesus better and grow in faith? Scripture is very clear. Romans 10:17 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” The Word. It is in the Word that Jesus is most clearly revealed. It is in the written Word that we encounter the Living Word. Read the Word. Believe the Word. Pray the Word. Live out the Word. Then you will know the Living Word and know what He has to say to you.
The year is 2003. I was in between jobs and I was wondering what I should be doing. A good friend of mine knew that I wanted to explore doing missions in Japan so he told me that OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship, a global missions organization) had a program for a short term stint. So I went to find out more about the program. I met with the OMF Singapore’s short-term missions co-ordinator, explained my interest to her, and she told me she would get back to me shortly.
When I stepped into her office again some days later, I was expecting to hear about potential opportunities. Instead, she had a whole trip planned out. I was to be in Japan for 3 months, working with 2 sets of missionaries. I had to raise S$5000 in about 5 weeks by which time I was due to fly to Japan. As I sat there listening to her explain all these details, I was like… stunned like vegetable.
After I left the OMF office, I wandered Orchard Road for a while just taking it all in. So much money. Such a short time frame. Going to a foreign land alone. Etc. Was I really sure this was of the Lord? When I reached home, I went straight to my bedroom and closed the door, took out my Bible. I prayed to God, “If You really want me there, please speak to me through Your Word.”
As was my usual practice, since I often read the Bible sequentially, I continued where I left off. And the passage I read was from the gospel of Matthew 9:37-38 “37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” God spoke deeply to me saying, “If you pray to Me to send our laborers, you must also be willing to be the answer to that prayer.
With that, faith arose in my heart in response to God’s Word and I said yes to Him. The coming weeks were a faith journey as I started to raise funds for the trip. One week before I was due to fly off to Japan, I was still S$1000 short of what I needed. It was not only until the night before I was due to leave that I raised the entire sum of money needed. And in the morning when I arrived at Changi Airport to head to Japan, someone gave me another sum of money… God had provided more than I needed. God was faithful in response to faith. And faith arose in response to God’s Word.
Young people, this is how you grow your faith. You must grow in the Word. What I’m seeing more and more of these days is bible illiteracy amongst Christians, especially teenagers. This is deeply troubling. I’ve spoken to some whose quiet time consists of listening to worship music or singing worship songs. None of these is bad, but inadequate. It is in the Word that God speaks.
You must cultivate the practice of getting into Scripture daily now. If you don’t do so, you will find it increasingly difficult as you grow older and your responsibilities increase. Here are some practical tips:
- Schedule it into your daily routine. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Set aside time to read God’s Word. It doesn’t have to be long, for a start. 20 minutes. But be consistent. As you get into the habit, 20 minutes of the Word and prayer will just fly by.
- Try to do it in the morning. It sets the tone for the rest of the day. Before you face the challenges of the day, allow God to prepare your heart! I’m a night person, always have been. But my schedule for work doesn’t permit this. I have had to do a major overhaul/sacrifice in order to do so.
- Find a quiet, comfortable place. Not distracted, and won’t fall asleep. Use coffee/tea if needed! 🙂
- Journal! If you don’t have the practice, I strongly urge you to consider starting. Why? You trace your pilgrimage and you see the faithfulness of God! We pray and often forget that God answered that prayer; but if you write it down and record it, you will be amazed at how God has been at work in your life.
- Get a study bible. I cannot recommend this strongly enough. Lots of young people tell me, I don’t understand this passage or that passage and others tell me, the bible is really boring. Actually, I think a lot of times, they are related. It’s boring because you don’t really understand what it’s saying. Invest in a good study bible. It isn’t really that expensive. ESV student study bible for younger teens. ESV study bible for the older ones. S$50. Ask your parents to buy for you (I’m sure they’ll be glad)… if not, ask your youth pastor to sponsor. 🙂
One of my most enjoyable moments in university (when I really began to grow in my walk with God) was the time I spent at the Central Library rooftop before my lectures began, reading God’s Word, praying and journaling. Sometimes, an hour would just fly by. It was in that season that I felt like I really grew close to God and laid the foundation for my walk with Him. The more you know God, the more you can trust Him. It’s as simple as that.
As I come to a close this evening, Scripture has great encouragement for us. This episode of Peter walking on water is really a reflection of our discipleship. Sometimes we feel full of faith, like we can walk on water – like in this camp for example – but sometimes we feel like life is threatening to drown us and faith seems so difficult. The good news is, Jesus stands ever ready to come to our aid. He tells us don’t be afraid. He says look to Me and not your circumstances. The call my friends is to repent – Metanoia – of unbelief and place your faith and all your trust in Jesus and follow Him. For we walk by faith, not by sight.
Jesus may be calling you to come step out onto the water in faith. To surrender your studies to Him. To surrender relationships to Him. Calling into full-time Christian ministry? Whatever He may be calling you to do, trust Him and step out in faith.