Jesus Journey: 40 Days in the Footsteps of Christ

Day 27

Full-Body Floatation

Read Matthew 14:22–33

I am literally standing upright in water — bobbing along like a cork, waist-high — without my feet touching the ground.

Swimming in the Dead Sea is a surreal experience. No matter what you do, you just can’t sink.

But that doesn’t keep me from trying.

I lay flat on the surface of the water like some kind of water-bug. My body barely slips beneath the surface of the waves.

Then I sit on the water like a chair, using its surface like a seat. Still floating.

Now I face forward and do the breast stroke, so buoyant that it’s less like swimming and more like crawling.

Our whole group plunges in, most of us far into our adult years, but giggling like little kids as we try out new float strategies. “Check this out!” “Look at this one!”

The Dead Sea is the lowest place on the surface of the earth, at nearly 1,400 feet below sea level. It’s about 33% saline, making it one of the saltiest bodies of water on the planet (it has about 8.6 times more salt than the ocean). The saline concentration makes you amazingly buoyant.

While I float here a thought crosses my mind: I wonder if Peter might have felt something like this that night he walked on water. Maybe during those few moments that he cruised along on the H2O highway, he had that same sense of near weightlessness I feel in the Dead Sea — only he was in the fresh water of Galilee. And he was buoyed all the way up — he walked by faith, not by salt.


The story in Matthew 14 has been seen for centuries as a great example of the kind of faith-in-action God wants us to have. And it is inspiring. But I’ve also seen people use this story as an excuse for all kinds of hare-brained ideas.

Someone came up to me after church one day and announced, “Well, tomorrow I’m moving to Phoenix!” I asked if they had a job there, or relatives, or were going to college, or had some ministry hopes. “Nope! But I’ve been thinking and thinking about it, and now I’m just gonna get out of the boat and walk on that water!”

Well… that could have been God’s will. And I am confident God can work in Phoenix as well as any other place in that person’s life.

But what do you notice about the faith of Peter in this story?

First, he asks, and waits, for Jesus to call him out of the boat. He doesn’t just plop into the water because he feels like it.

I’m a preacher, so I’ll admit that we preachers love to use this story as an illustration of action. “Do you have faith? Then get out of the boat!” It’s a great one for a building campaign or a mission trip recruitment drive.

But are we guilty of adapting this to our initiative-taking, outward-focused modern American mentality when we emphasize that part of the story? Peter didn’t shout “Cowabunga!” and leap out. He waited until he was sure it was the Lord. And this is exactly where some Christians go wrong. They leap forward without waiting patiently on God’s direction — and then they wonder why God didn’t bless their move. Their focus is more on their awesome faith than on the compelling call of Christ.

After all, Satan asked Jesus to take a leap of faith too. Remember? A leap right off the top of the temple. He even quoted Scripture. Very motivational! And yet Jesus flatly refused. Certainly not because he lacked faith. But because it wasn’t God’s will. Not every leap is a leap of faith. It’s OK to stay in the boat if God’s not asking you to get out.

You can always cherry-pick Bible verses to support some audacious risk (following you-know-who’s example) but true God-honoring leaps of faith need to take into consideration what wise Christians call “the whole counsel of God,” the big picture of the Bible and the historic Christian faith. The goal of faith-in-action is to do God’s will, not for me to fulfill some agenda of mine. The purpose of following Jesus is not to have adventures or thrills, but to do God’s will. Believe me, adventure will follow.


So some Christians err by justifying any scheme of theirs as a leap of faith God is obligated to honor. Others, on the other hand, don’t appreciate the second part of Peter’s example: When Peter is convinced it’s Christ calling, he goes for it.

He doesn’t focus on his fear. He doesn’t focus on his circumstance. He doesn’t think about the opinion of the other guys. And he is able to walk across the water toward Jesus.

The point: You can do whatever Jesus asks you to do.

So Jesus is asking you to stay holy in an impure world. To stop a habit. To say you’re sorry. To forgive an enemy. To stop worrying. To share your faith. And it seems impossible. Walking-on-water-level impossible.

But it’s Jesus asking you. And that means if you keep your eyes on him, it will get done.

This story is about what it’s like to believe in Christ.

We’re all sinking in the sea of our sin and shame and sorrows. Then Jesus calls us to himself.

Is it really him? Is he really there, in your stormy world? You wonder if it’s real or just a mirage.

But if you listen, you will hear his gentle call: “Come to me.”

It seems foolish in the middle of life’s storms, surrounded by “real life,” to believe that you can actually connect to Jesus, to the Christ you are seeing through the mist.

Then you see his face with the eyes of faith and take that first tentative step. You don’t understand it. You simply try it.

And you find that by his grace it happens — when you simply look to him. Suddenly you realize you’re floating over all kinds of barriers that you thought separated you from Jesus: Barriers of peer pressure, emotional baggage, sexual issues, a checkered past, intellectual obstacles….

When your eyes are on Jesus and not the obstacles, you move toward him — no matter what is underfoot.

You’ll hear lots of motivational speakers using this story to challenge listeners to be more like Peter. But from start to finish, this story is not really about Peter. It’s about Jesus; the strength that flows from Jesus when you listen to him, respond to him, and stay focused on him. This is all about the grace of God.

In a sense, anyone who trusts in Christ has taken exactly these steps.


Of course, you know how the story ends: When Peter’s attention drifts to the troubled waters around him, he sinks. I’ve been there.

When you’re distracted from this simple focus on Christ, and turn your eyes again to the dangers and pressures of the world, or to your own self and your progress or lack thereof, you lose that forward momentum and sink again into inaction.

But even then Jesus has grace and lifts Peter out of his troubles.

This reminds me of one of my favorite obscure verses written by the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian church. They’d been getting distracted by all kinds of extra teachings that false teachers told them they needed to know. Paul says:

I fear that somehow your minds may be seduced away from your simple and pure devotion to the Messiah. 2 Corinthians 11:3 CJB

Keep it pure and simple. Focus on Jesus.

Will you get distracted from Christ even after you decide to follow him, and begin to sink again? Of course. Peter did. But when you do, you can count on the arms of Jesus to lift you up and gently turn your eyes back to him. He will not let you drown.

Next: Any assurance the disciples felt when Jesus calmed the storm is tested when he immediately has another showdown with the dark side.


Thank God today for his amazing power. Talk to him about your struggles to keep your eyes on him. Pray that you’ll trust him and focus on him as you journey through life.