Hi, my name is Alasdair Groves. I'm the host of Where Life & Scripture Meet, the podcast of CCEF, where everything we do is about restoring Christ to counseling and counseling to the church. If You're interested in more resources from CCEF, you can check out our website, ccef.org.
Today I'd like to talk about weak faith. I've spent enough time as a counselor and I've spent enough time as a fallen and sinful human being to watch the experience of having weak faith be enormously discouraging and produce an enormous amount of guilt. It's a huge struggle. And if it's not something you're feeling right at this moment, it's something I strongly suspect you either have felt or will feel and it's just hard. The Bible calls us to have faith and the Bible calls us to trust the Lord and it gives us a bajillion really good reasons why he can be utterly, fully, consistently and constantly trusted. And if you're even a little bit self-aware, you're seeing places where your faith is not as high as what his trustworthiness ought to make it.
Think about, just I mean, a host of different experiences. People struggling with pornography and being discouraged by repetitive failure—and feeling so good one day and going through stretches where you're really having victory and it's going great, and then you stumble and you go, "How could I have done that? How could I be in this place?" And then you stumble again the very next day because you've lost your streak. And you just go, "What is left of my life and my faith and who am I really?" Or anxiety is a place I often see people say, "I'm so constantly consumed by my fears and I can't ever seem to trust the Lord the way that I know I should, want to. I can remember a time earlier in my life there was a sweet season where it just felt easy to be excited about the Lord and the things of God. And now I seem to have lost that.” Whether that's anxiety, whether that's depression, whether that's just really significant sufferings or doubts or a pattern of sin that has really rocked you. Whether it's having young kids and feeling the burden of caring for them and raising them right and feeling like a constant failure. Really anyone who has spent any time looking at their life, like I said, is wrestling with the experience of, I feel weak in my faith. Again, at least in seasons, at least in moments where that really is a felt significant experience.
So, what I'd like to do is look at one particular passage that I have found helpful and thought-provoking in the face of the experience of weak faith. It's from Matthew 14, looking at verses 22-33. Let me read it to you and make a couple comments as we go. I'll actually kind of skim through the first couple verses here. So, Jesus getting into... Jesus is sending his disciples in the boat to go before him, after he has dismissed crowds. And he's praying by himself. And then he goes to walk out on the water and catch up with the boat. And then I'll drop in verse 25. "And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 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."
Now before I go on, I like boats and I've spent some time out on the water. And I've even been out on the water at night and there is something incredibly peaceful about being out on a boat on the water at night. But there's also something kind of eerie about it. In fact, it's important not to spend too much time thinking about the darkness of the water below you and what might be in it or not in it. So when someone comes walking across the water, terrified is a very appropriate response. If you see something moving toward you, upright, and humanoid in shape coming towards you in the middle of the dark when you are far from land and you can't... I mean the vulnerability and the terror of that moment is hard to overstate. So, let's just start with, these guys are seriously freaked out. And that's a pretty reasonable experience that any one of us would have, if we saw somebody walking towards us. Whether you decide it's a ghost or something else, you're in deep trouble if you're caught in a boat and something is coming towards you that has enough power to walk on the water.
All right, verse 27. "But immediately, Jesus spoke to them saying, 'Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.'" He knows what they need to hear. "I'm here guys. It's. Okay It's just me. You can trust. It's going to be all right." And listen to this. I love this exchange. "And Peter answered him, 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.' He said, 'Come.' So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus."
Now can we just appreciate the humor of this moment? I can't help but hear humor in Jesus'
voice when he tells him to come, because it's a bizarre way for Peter to try to ascertain who it really is. Right? I mean if it's me sitting in a boat in the middle of the night out in the water with someone coming, and I hear the voice... And who knows how far away Jesus is when they're panicking and he can see him. But there's a decent shot that he's still decently far away and it's hard to make out his figure. But you've got his voice and the voice sounds familiar. And Peter is, in the midst of panic, trying to conclude, "Is it really you or not?" And the test he decides to come up with is, "All right if It's really you, Jesus, I'm not struggling to think that you really could walk on the water, so here's how we're going to work with this. You tell me to come to you. And if I can actually walk on the water then there you go. That'll be my clear resounding evidence that in fact it is you, Jesus, and not some boogeyman coming to kill us all in the boat." And I think you have to picture a wry smile on Jesus's face, as he stands there and, "Okay, Peter, we'll do it your way. Come on over. Come. All right, we can do that." I mean from Jesus's perspective, it's no different than any other test and it's no different than anything else of the thousand miracles Jesus could perform. But Jesus lets him choose it, lets him pick it and says, "Okay. All right then. Come on over." And I think there's probably even some sense of delight, you have to think, that Peter would pick something so outlandish. Walking on the water is no small thing. He could have picked a lot of other things. "Lord, could you just shine a miraculous divine light on your face so we could see you and know for sure it's you?", would've been another option here. Or, "Can you come 20 feet closer? I can't quite see." That's probably what I would've gone with. "Hey Jesus, come get in the boat. We want to make sure it's really you." Nope, Peter wants to walk on the water. Love it.
Okay. So Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me." Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him saying to him, "Oh, you of little faith. Why did you doubt?" And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him saying, "Truly you are the son of God."
Couple reflections here. When you think about faith, weak faith, strong faith, I'm going to make the case that Peter's faith in this story is about as strong as any human being has ever had. There are two human beings in all of world history who have ever walked on the water. One is Peter and one is Jesus. When there are only two people in all of history who have done something and it's something good, and the other one is Jesus and you're on that list, that's a pretty good place to be. You could make some comparisons with maybe an Elijah or someone like that, and possibly Moses in some places about where the faith is perhaps equally strong.
But you can at least make the case that Peter's saying, "Let me literally walk to you on the water, Lord.", is about the best moment. That sense of, "You are powerful enough to do this. And I want to come to you and I want you to do this. And I'm even asking that you would let me into this. And it's needless, and yet Jesus says, "Yes, yes, of course. Come to me." And that's awesome, that's about as good as human faith ever gets. And it's typical, Peter kind of hotheaded, just off the cuff, not wanting to consider his actions too long ahead of time before he jumps in, which we love about him and know gets him in trouble.
But here he is at the very pinnacle of human faith, walking on the water. And let's just for a moment, keep in mind here, everything about that experience, of walking on the water toward Jesus. You're getting closer to him, you have the evidence under your feet that this is in fact a miracle occurring in real time. So not only is this the strongest act of faith ever out there, but it's also something that should be immediately self-sustaining. And actually one of those acts of faith where, as you live into and lean into and step out of the boat, it actually serves to strengthen and increase your faith even all the more, which Peter makes it all the way to Jesus. We don't know how far it was. Are we talking a couple of yards? Are we talking 50 yards? I don't know. But Peter takes multiple steps as he came to him, he comes to Jesus. So Peter is walking on the water for some length of time, which actually ought to have this incredibly bolstering effect on his already profoundly amazing faith in this moment.
Where am I going here? I'm going to point out that here at the very pinnacle of human faith recorded for us in scripture, we also get one of the most irrational, silly failures of human faith that we ever get. Here's a man walking on the water, standing on the water. If ever you wanted evidence that you were going to be okay, it would be when you are literally standing on a lake at night and Jesus is literally right there, physically next to you, looking you in the face. You're walking to him. This was your idea in the first place, to get out of the boat and come to him. This is the premier setup you could ever possibly have for your faith to be strengthened and sustained by what's going on around you. And Peter looks at the wind, which presumably the wind is driving some waves towards him and he's seeing it. And he realizes he's on top of a dark, wet surface and he does know how deep it is, but he knows it's deep enough. And he begins to sink, and he goes down. Here's a man who should have and had every reason to continue believing that things were going to be okay. Jesus was there and would take care of him, and he lost it. And he let it slip and he sinks into the water in spite of the evidence of his senses telling him, "Jesus is here and you're standing on the water."
So, it's the best of human faith, it's the worst of human faith. And Jesus immediately responds with, "oh, you of little faith. Why did you doubt?" And again, I think the tone of Jesus's voice is important to think about here. Again, it's hard not to see Jesus chuckling here and just saying, "Peter, this was your idea in the first place, and it worked. I made the miracle of you walking on the water possible because you asked for it. And here you are next to me, standing on the water. Oh, you of little faith. What caused you to doubt, a little wind in some waves? You were already on the water, you were fine." And so there's a look at the sheer silliness of Peter losing hold of the evidence that all is well for those who are with the Lord, and acknowledging there is a weakness to this faith.
Here's my point, if even the best of us, at the very best moment of his faith arguably, fails abysmally, displays a weak and little faith, how much hope is there for any of us? None of us are going to have a stronger faith than Peter in that moment. None of us are going to have something that far surpasses him, or Moses or Elijah or again, anyone else in all the scripture you want to pick as the premier example of faith. Or Paul going through some terrible suffering or Stephen at his martyrdom.
And here's the beauty of it. Notice what happens. Peter begins to sink and Jesus does not get down on one knee and say, "Come on Peter, you can do this. Believe harder, trust harder. Remember you were walking on the water. Pull yourself back up. You still have time to plant your hands on the surface of the water and clamber back up. Believe. I'm right here. Come on." He doesn't do any of that. Peter says, "Help! Help!" And Jesus just grabs him. He grabs him and he pulls him out. And he sees the little faith and he acknowledges the weakness, he acknowledges the strength. He brings him back to the boat and he gets him back in the boat. And he rescues him and he takes care of him, and he doesn't kick him out. He doesn't say, "Okay guys, back to shore. All right Peter, you had your shot and you're done." No, he takes him back to shore and they continue on with ministry. Peter stays as a part of the disciples. And of course, we know how the story unfolds and Peter will in fact be made one of the key leaders of the church, the key leader of the church. And Peter's faith will be further tested and further strengthened and further shown to be weak and flawed. And Jesus will continue to rescue him. This is just one incident of Jesus rescuing Peter in particular, out his weak faith and in his weak faith.
And I love the simplicity. Peter gets it right, he gets it wrong, and he just cries out. "Help!" He just cries out help. And in that, is the true expression of weak faith at its very best. Recognizing It's not about the strength of his faith, it's not about the strength of my faith or your faith. It's about the strength of the Savior. It's about the strength of the one who can pull you out of the dark waters and bring you back to the boat. It's about the one who doesn't kick people with weak faith off of the team. It's about people knowing that, "Oh, you of little faith.", that's a headline for all of us. Right? It is so true and it's so relieving that even the tiniest little bit of faith, which of course, we see in Ephesians 2, is God's gift to us anyway. Faith is a gift. It's not something that we muster up because we're strong enough and good enough to believe hard enough. Even faith and the evidence that he is good, is a gift of kindness from him to us. So, that faith gets expressed both in those moments where we are walking well toward Jesus with head held high, and our smile on our face. And it gets expressed when we fall and all we have left is need and a sense of, I couldn't maintain faith even in clear awareness of his goodness, his presence, his closeness, his love.
Look, wherever you are today, whether your faith is in a moment of great encouragement or whether it is in that place where weakness is a great word to describe where you are at. And a sense of failure or guilt or discouragement is just pricking at your soul. My question to us is simply this: How has Jesus already rescued you? He's done so at the cross to all who would simply say, "Help! Help, Lord. I'm undone by my sins. The dark waters of my own moral corruption are more than I can bear. I cannot save myself. I can't keep myself on top of this water." And he pulls us out by the sacrifice of his own life at the cross, traded for ours.
And he has rescued you in a thousand ways, causing that knowledge to come into your heart and into your head. And causing you to know who he is, that he even exists. That he is good. Right? How is he rescuing you right now in this season of life? Where are the places where he is gently pulling you out, where he's gently reminding where his hand has caught your arm, even as you're slipping away? Perhaps even places where you don't even know enough to call out for help. And yet, he's offering you reminder after reminder, tenderly pulling you out when you don't even realize it.
And how will he save you? Certainly, ultimately, heaven is the place, right? The eternal fellowship with him is the hope of everyone who says, "Help. Lord, I cannot save myself. Help me, help me Lord." And that tiny, weak, feeble faith that he gives us, and then he strengthens each day of our lives, is a piece of him actually saving and holding onto us.
So, let me take a moment right now and just pray over you and over your faith and over me. Lord, our faith is weak. It's almost always weaker than we know. And often, even when we know it to be weak, we don't even do the right things with it. Oh Lord, oh we of little faith. Will you help us? Will you pull us out? We cry out, “Help” yet again today, asking that you would keep us. And that we would trust more, that we would know a little bit better, that you are close, that you can cause us to stand. And that our hope would be in you and not in our own faith, we pray. Amen.
Alasdair is the Executive Director of CCEF, as well as a faculty member and counselor. He has served at CCEF since 2009. He holds a master of divinity with an emphasis in counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. Alasdair cofounded CCEF New England, where he served as director for ten years. He also served as the director of CCEF’s School of Biblical Counseling for three years. He is the host of CCEF’s podcast, Where Life & Scripture Meet, and is the coauthor of Untangling Emotions (Crossway, 2019).