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Man Overboard!
By Douglas Laird

Perhaps the classical example of someone starting over, that most of us can relate to, will be to be found in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 14. How many times have we stepped out in an act of faith, only to be defeated when the environment changes and we begin to panic and question our ability to finish the job? To what degree do we allow the failures of the past to interfere with the opportunities of the present? Such issues have to be addressed if we are to start over (and over) again.

In this passage, we find the disciples being sent out in a boat while the Lord Jesus Christ dismissed the crowd of thousands (vs. 21) that He miraculously fed with five loaves of bread and two fish (vs. 19). It is important to understand the proximity of time that was involved between this miracle and the incident that followed involving the disciples while out in the boat. No doubt, this miracle of the feeding was still in the minds of the disciples and perhaps contributed to Peterís act of faith.

Several of the disciples, including Peter, were commercial fishermen and fully aware of the dangers in the open water and what a sudden change of weather could produce (Matthew 8:24). Unlike the Matthew 8:23-27 incident when the Lord calmed the sea and chastised the disciples for their lack of faith, the Lord Jesus Christ was not physically with them this time in the boat.

During His incarnation here on earth, the Lord did not use any of His divine attributes to disappear and then reappear somewhere else until after His resurrection. It is therefore interesting to note that in the Matthew 14 incident, none of the disciples asked how it was that the Lord intended to cross the lake after they were sent out in the boat without Him. His conveyance was one of surprise and astonishment.

Upon seeing the approaching Lord walking on the water, their reaction was not one of enlightenment, but awe (Matthew 14:26). The Lord Jesus Christ calmed their fears by speaking to them and assuring them that it was He (vs. 27) they were seeing.

Peter was known for his spontaneous words and actions. This character trait resulted in times of both commendation (Matthew 16:16-17) and chastisement (Matthew 16:22-23). During the Matthew 14 episode, Peter exhibited tremendous faith and the courage to apply it. After seeking the Lordís bidding, Peter stepped over the side of the boat in the open water and began to walk on the water towards the Lord (vs. 28, 29).

One canít help but imagine what thoughts were going through the mind of Peter and the minds of the others who remained in the boat. Some may have thought that Peter was about to fall flat on his face, as he was known to do when we he spoke or acted to soon. Some may have felt a moment of envy and privately waited for Peter, the "show off," to sink. Others may have been humbled as they admitted (to themselves) that they would never have had the courage to do such a thing. Most of us, if we had been there, would have not chosen to step out of the boat and would have rationalized and justified our inaction, as I am sure many of the other disciples did. Regardless of what good or evil thoughts the others may have had, to Peterís credit it was only he who was willing to put his actions where his mouth was.

Up to this point, Peter was the "hero" of the story. He was willing and did in fact literally step out of the boat in an act of faith that was soon to be tested. It was at the point that Peter took his focus off the Lord and His power, and began to focus on himself and his own abilities, that he became fearful of his environment (vs. 30). Instead of perhaps asking the Lord to sustain him in his circumstances, he asked the Lord for removal as he began to sink (vs.30). Note that Godís first response was to save Peter, then to address the issue of his wavering faith (vs. 31).

This incident, I believe was one of the many that God used to prepare Peter for his ultimate failure (John 18:25-27) and his need to start over again in order to fulfill his ultimate purpose (John 21:15-17) and martyrdom (John 21:18-19) during the apostolic period of the Church that was to come.

Like a child learning to walk, we will fall down many times in our walk with the Lord and experience the need to start over. Sometimes the fall will result in no more than a skinned knee, while other times we may need others to help us stand back up and go on. God can, and does, restore and sustain us under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit. Sometimes He uses angels and other people in the process. In doing so, He ministers both to the one in the immediate need, and in the life of the person(s) He uses.

If we do not want to risk skinned knees, we will never learn to walk with the Lord. When (not if) we fail, we must also be humble enough to accept the help the Lord sends by whatever means He chooses to use.

Each time we fall, we will only rise to be a wiser person if we allow the Lord to make use of our failures. We are not defeated unless we allow our failures to keep us down. Dragging our past failures along with us will only weigh us down and drain us of the energy we need to start up and carry on.

May God grant us the ability to acknowledge His mercy for our past, present, and future failures and His grace to start up and continue on until we hear the words, "ÖWell done, good and faithful servant." (Matt. 25: 21 NIV).

All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (R) Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All Rights reserved.

Douglas Laird is a non-denominational Christian, retired/disabled police captain, married with three adult children. He has been writing spiritual articles since the mid 1980ís and attends Grace Bible Church in Somerset, Ma. He can be contacted through the Letters page of this magazine.
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