Getting out of the Boat: Can You Walk on Water?

Getting out of our “Boats”…our comfort zones.

© February 2022 C. O. Bishop .

Matthew 14:22-33; John 6:15-21


Last week we asked whether Jesus is “in the boat with us,” as believers… we were able to see that the answer is “yes,” in terms of eternal perspective, but in terms of everyday practice, the real question is whether we are “in the boat.” Peter, and the other disciples were “in the boat” because Jesus told them to get in the boat and cross the Sea of Galilee. We applied that passage as a metaphor for our own experience. But the physical reality, in their case, was quite clear:

We saw in John 6 that they were physically rowing in the dark, against a strong headwind, against big waves, and that, from their perspective, Jesus was physically not in the boat. Then they saw Jesus, gaining on them, from astern, physically walking on the water. They were terrified, thinking it was a ghost. Jesus spoke, and calmed their fears, and they physically received Him into the boat. And suddenly the boat was at its destination on the other side of the lake. This was a physical reality.

We compared that to our own experience and saw that the reason the disciples were in that particular boat was that Jesus commanded them to go… and they went. They obeyed, and things got rough. That is a common experience for believers: Jesus  told us to expect it. There is no “health and wealth” promise to church-age believers.

Getting out of the Boat

There is another story, hidden within the account we read last week. You see, the account we read was in John 6:15-21…but the parallel passage, back in Matthew 14:22-33, tells us a detail which John left out. Peter walked on water that night!

For Peter’s experience, although the physical reality was the same, we need to consider a different metaphor when it comes to application. The physical reality was that Peter and several of the other disciples were commercial fishermen. They knew the physical dangers of the lake, the Sea of Galilee. They depended upon the physical seaworthiness of that boat as well as their mastery of small boat handling, and their own physical strength at the oars, to survive a storm on the lake. They were experts in this environment. But the Boat was the central critical ingredient, as life-vests and helicopters and radio locators did not exist. So, let’s consider that aspect of “the boat.”

As a new Creation in Christ, I am “In the Boat with Jesus”

In 1973, I believed the good news that Jesus Christ died for my sins, that he was buried, that he was resurrected the third day, never to die again; and that somehow, in taking my sins on Himself, he had set me free. I believed that. I put my trust in His finished work at the cross. I was placed into the Body of Christ, by the Holy Spirit, though at the time I was unaware of it. I was “in His boat,” forever! And I was excited about this new relationship: I told other people about it. I wanted to serve Jesus with my life.

The Storms of Life

But very soon, I saw there was something wrong. I was still sinning, and I was more keenly aware of my sin, now, than I was before I was saved, so it seemed worse. The joy and confidence I had felt earlier collapsed: I tried to control my sin by willpower, by self-denial, by prayer, by avoiding tempting circumstances, by fasting, by sacrificial giving, by confessing to others…and none of these things brought freedom. I knew I was “in the boat with Jesus,” but things seemed pretty rough.

The Fact is, Saved People Still Sin:

Paul fought the same battle

Paul understood the “rules” better than we ever will. He was raised in the best possible environment: He studied God’s Word. He believed it. But then he discovered that it condemned him, and he died inside—he saw that he was lost. And later, even after his conversion, truly desiring to obey the Lord, he couldn’t do it. (Read Romans 7:7-25)

You see, Paul discovered (Romans 7:17) that he had a sin-nature living inside him that could never obey God, nor submit to His Lordship (Romans 8:7, 8). In Ephesians 4:22, he says the old Man is being corrupted: (It’s still getting worse.) Paul couldn’t stop sinning: he couldn’t live a life pleasing to God. And the next point is really hard:

That old Sin-Nature is the Offspring of Satan himself.

We don’t like to hear this, but, in John 8:39-44 Jesus told the Jews it was true. He knew them by the character of their works. He said their works revealed their parentage. In Galatians 5:19-21, I can see that my old sin-nature is even more easily identified than theirs! Besides, in Ephesians 2:1-3, it clearly tells me that I am by nature the child of wrath, and a son of disobedience. That’s who I am, by birth!

So, how hopeless could I get? I was trying to please God using my old nature; the very thing that offends Him. I was “bringing an offering” that was the “fruit” of the ground He had already cursed. (Does that sound familiar? That’s what Cain was attempting, back in Genesis 4.)In Isaiah 64:6, God says all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. We can offer Him our best, but it is contaminated with sin. I simply can’t live the Christian Life! It isn’t hard; it’s impossible! I can’t do it…and neither can you! So, what hope do we have?

Jesus said, “Apart from Me ye can do nothing”

In John 15:5, Jesus told his disciples, “Apart from Me ye can do NOTHING”. We don’t like to hear that verse the way it actually reads—we want to modify it just a little—we want  to read, “…you can’t do much,” or “not as effectively.” Or …anything other than “Nothing.”  We don’t want to believe that we can’t please God on our own. But it’s a fact. Christians still sin. And it is not OK: God says “Be ye holy, for I am Holy”. That’s a command: If you want to toss that one out, you’d better toss the rest of your Bible with it.

Paul proved that the desire to do Good is not enough. He desperately desired to live in such a way as to please God, but he failed miserably.

Jesus said self-effort isn’t enough either. He warned His disciples they could accomplish nothing without Him. But Paul certainly tried it. So have we all.

One other thing to notice in that passage: Jesus does not say He will take our half-baked ideas and efforts, “pat them into shape,” use them, somehow, and bless our efforts. He says, “I am the Vine, ye are the Branches.”  The genetic information, the life direction, the sustenance, the growth and the fruit all are dependent upon the Vine. The branches don’t get to say, “Hey, I’ve got anidea, and I’m sure God will bless it—let’s pray really hard, and then grow Cornflakes to go with the grapes and raisins everyone else is producing.”

No: The Vine determines the kind of fruit, and the season in which they will grow. We go to God’s Word to find out what kind of fruit He intends, then we go to prayer, and ask that He direct us, and make us fruitful in His service. Hudson Taylor once said, “God’s Work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supply.” But the rest of that idea is that He does not guarantee His support for our ideas. He guarantees support for obedience to His Word.

So, Let’s talk about Walking on Water

47 years ago, in Bible School, I knew a young man named Dennis O’Keefe, who told me how, years before, he had attended a Christian camp, on a lake. Late one night, he was in prayer, and he desperately desired to have some proof that his faith was real, so he asked God, just as a sign, to allow him to walk on water. He stood alone on the shore, and prayed for a long time, then finally stepped out: he took another step! And another…when he got up to his knees and hadn’t managed to make a single stepon top of the water, he gave up, and waded back to the beach. He was pretty sad about that experience.

But, the next day, it occurred to him that it requires no real faith to step off a flat, sandy beach into shallow water: If he was serious, he should step off the end of the dock. So, late that night, he stood on the end of the camp dock, and prayed for a long, long time, and finally took that first step: He swam back to shore, this time, and when friends asked what happened, he lied, and told them he fell off the dock.

Now, that is an amusing story, but: What was Dennis’ problem? Wasn’t he “seeking by faith to please God?” (Incidentally, he and his wife, Jeannie, later spent 35 years as missionaries in the Philippine Islands. I think he must have “caught on,” eventually.)

What is Faith? Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.

Dennis was not “obeying a call from God to walk on water”—he just desired a sign, and God said NO! There was no faith in this story—just presumption, and immaturity. But no real harm was done, except to his pride, and he learned by the experience. Let’s read another, similar, story. Turn to Matthew 14:28-33. Peter asked Jesus almost exactly the same thing Dennis asked. But in his case, Jesus said “Come!” Peter was in a boat, in a storm, at night, on the sea of Galilee. That was the physical reality.

Peter was not on a comfortable flat beach, asking to walk on water. He was in a storm and his only “Comfort zone” was the Boat he was in and the oars he was using. He asked Jesus for a command to do something which otherwise would be nearly suicidal. Getting out of a boat at night, in a storm at sea, with no lifeline or floatation, was a guaranteed way to die! So, Peter asked for Jesus’s authority to do something impossible. If Jesus had said, “No, wait, I will come and get you, and then we will walk on the water,” then that would be the authority, and the story would have been different.

Now consider: if I had asked Dennis that night, “Dennis, can you walk on water?” he would have unhesitatingly said, “No.” (Especially after that second attempt.)  And what would Peter have said? I’m sure he’d have said the same thing. But he had a different circumstance. He said, “If it is you, Lord, bid me come to you on the water.” And Jesus said “Come”. All Peter provided was an obedient response to a revealed truth.  Peter got out of the boat, and started walking. That was faith! Dennis was being presumptuous!

(Now, hadPeter “practiced” only on calm water? Is that why he got scared when he saw the big waves?) No, of course not! He had no practice at all. There was nothing he could do to prepare himself for that night, except to learn to believe Jesus, and obey Him.

Before or after his experience, if I had asked, “Hey, Peter! Can you walk on water?” He’d have said “NO!”  But after his experience he might have qualified his response, saying, “Only under two conditions—first, Jesus has to command me to do so, and second, I have to keep my focus on Him: if I’m distracted, I sink. The fact is, He has to do the walking.”

Did Peter desire to walk on the Water? Sure! Was there self-effort involved? Only as it was directed by God: and just the fact that he personally, physically got out of the boat. So, No: it wasn’t “self-effort.” But at some point, it did become self-confidence, I think: The waves didn’t just “appear,” after he got out of the boat. They had been there to begin with. But initially, Peter had only obeyed Jesus, not thinking about how impossible it was. When he saw the waves, he evidently thought “I can’t do this!” and then he sank.

When God says “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” we want to say,  “I can’t do this!” and quit before we start. But, God never asked you to do it on your own—in fact, He took pains to tell you that you can’t do it on your own. He even said that if it were possible for you to live the Christian life on your own, then Jesus died for nothing. (See Galatians 2:21)

Galatians 5:16-23 says we have a war going on inside. And the only way to win is to “walk in the Spirit”. God says if we will allow Him, through our faith, moment by moment, to do the impossible job of living the Christian Life, then He will accomplish it through us. He will produce the fruit of the Spirit in us. And we will not fall prey to the old sin nature.

In the Boat through Faith and Obedience.

Now: let’s think about Peter again…why was he in the boat in the first place? In Matthew 14:22, Peter and the other disciples were told to get into that boat and head for the other side. Peter was where he was supposed to be, and he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. Jesus approached the boat, adding a new dimension to their circumstances by walking on the water. If Peter hadn’t been obedient in the first place; if he had not been out there on the lake in that boat, already, then none of these things would have happened.

When Jesus said, “Come!”, Peter had two choices: he could have stayed in the boat, making excuses, and mouthing “good intentions,” or he could get out of the boat. Had Peter stayed in the boat, none of this lesson would have been there for us. And had he not taken his eyes off Jesus, we might have missed the point anyway…the point is, the Christian life is NOT HARD—it’s impossible. Walking on water is not natural. But Jesus commands us to do it, every day, all the time. It will never become “Old Stuff”.

It will always demand our trust and obedience. And when we fail (as we often do) we don’t lose our spiritual life: we simply fall prey to the wind and the waves, just as Peter did.

What does it mean, to be “in the Boat,” in this case?

We need to be where we are supposed to be, doing what we are supposed to be doing, so God can call us to special service. And when He calls, we have to “get out of the boat, in terms of our self-confidence:” We can’t stay comfortable in our usual life, and expect to see the blessing of God in our lives. For example, since I know from scripture that I am supposed to be fellowshipping with other believers, and specifically in a local church, then I need to be there, doing that! And if I am not there, then I cannot use my gifts to bless the rest of the body.

When the Lord calls us to do something “out of our comfort zone” like sharing our testimony, or sharing the Gospel with a specific person, or serving God in some other way we have not done before, then we need to “get out of the boat, and walk!”

Galatians 5:19-23 shows me what to look for, in terms of being able to see whether I am walking with Him. He tells me what the works of the flesh include. And He tells me what the fruit of the Spirit should look like.

If I can see I am not bearing the fruit of the Spirit, I need to stop, and confess my sin, whatever was holding me back, and begin again to do what He says to do. Some of those things are, “Rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning YOU” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I can start there, after confession. I can worship Him for the glory of His creation around me, and thank Him for the blessings he has already given, pray for the other believers, and for opportunities to share with the lost.  I can ask Him to make me usable in His hand, and finally, ask what He wants me to do now. (Don’t be surprised if it is something pretty ordinary.) Then I can go do what I know to do, and look to Him for directions after that. This is all just “being where we are supposed to be and doing what we are supposed to do.”

If you have already received God’s gift of eternal life, then please don’t rest until you determine how to walk with Him. Look in the “mirror” of His Word, and see yourself clearly. Then ask Him how to change, to be made over in His likeness. Self-effort won’t work. Presumption won’t work. Desire, alone, no matter how sincere, won’t work. You need to learn to walk in the Spirit, by faith, and allow the Lord to choose your path, direct your steps and live the Christian life through you. 

Apart from Him, you can do nothing. But if you are walking with Him in all these things, then you’ll recognize His voice when He calls you to do something uncomfortable, and you will already be prepared to step out and obey.

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the path before us and direct our steps to walk with you. Give us the faith to follow you and obey your will.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *