With all the big leaps I’ve taken lately, my mind has travelled several times to the account of Peter stepping out on the water in the middle of a storm. There are a plethora of songs that allude to this idea of stepping out in faith/walking on water. Many focus on Peter sinking the moment he took his eyes off Jesus. That’s a great lesson for every season. Lately, however, I’ve been mulling over the term “little faith.”
Jesus uses this phrase throughout the gospels. The only time I found “have you no faith?” was in Mark. Most often he says, “O you of little faith.” Is it a term of disappointment, condescension or frustration? Or, is it an acknowledgement that they have faith, but it needs development?
Let’s look at the passage in Matthew 14 that I alluded to earlier:
And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them.
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. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
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. 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, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?””
~ Matthew 14:23-31 ESV
I find it interesting that he doesn’t say, “where’s your faith?” Or “have you no faith?!” Jesus says (in essence) “you have faith, but it needs to become greater than your fear.”
Here are thoughts/questions I’ve been pondering and I’d love to hear your input:
1) Peter was a fisherman. He knew what happened if you got out of a boat in the middle of the water—you sink. In a stormy situation, you would likely drown. He had faith enough to step out on the water and walk a little ways. Nobody else jumped out to follow him. Only Peter took that risk. Was he being brash or foolhardy? I don’t know what was on his mind, but if he had been trying to show off, I think Jesus would’ve rebuked him for that. Peter believed that Jesus had the power to help him walk on water. He had faith enough to take the first step.
2) Peter had faith, but his fear was greater. His initial trust in Jesus was overwhelmed when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the danger. His fear overshadowed his faith. I wonder if Jesus looked at him like we look at our children sometimes. For example, my children trust me, but sometimes their fear overwhelms their trust. When they went swimming in a big pool for the first time. I assured they would not be scared, but they panicked as soon as they couldn’t feel ground beneath their feet. I may have been a little disappointed in their lack of trust, but, as an adult, I also recognized that they did not possess my long experience. Sometimes this makes them rush headlong into danger and at other times it makes them reluctant to trust.
3) “Little faith” is meant to be a starting point, not a permanent residence. Thus far, these men had left their livelihoods, their families and the status quo to follow Jesus. We often shake our heads at their mishaps, but I wonder if we would have done as much as they did with the little knowledge they had. Jesus watered their faith regularly so that by the time He ascended to heaven, they had enough faith to move mountains.
4) I find it interesting in James he says this:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”
~ James 1:5-8 ESV
Do you think James may have been thinking of this incident when he wrote this?
What do you think about the phrase? When Jesus uses it, what does it mean?
Grab your favorite cup of coffee or tea and join the discussion!