Following Jesus Through Faith and Doubt

Crossing the Waters book coverI’ve always credited Peter’s faith for getting him out of the boat to walk on water.

Jesus had stayed alone on shore to pray, while Peter and the other disciples went ahead to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Their boat was still far out on the water when the wind began to blow hard and the waves rose. As they struggled to keep their course, they suddenly saw Jesus walking on the water toward them.

But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 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, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:26-33)

It was Peter’s faith that made him get out of the boat and walk on water, wasn’t it? Only when he became frightened and began to doubt, he started to sink, and Jesus saved him.

At least that’s how I’ve always understood this story–until I read Leslie Leyland Fields’ Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus Through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas (NavPress, 2016). In her award-winning book, Leslie weaves together her own stories as a commercial fisherwoman with the gospel stories around the Sea of Galilee. With her personal experience and skillful re-telling, I found that even the gospel stories most familiar to me came to life in a new way, and brought fresh insights.

On the story of Peter walking on water, Leslie writes:

“O you of such small faith!” [Jesus] chides Peter as he sinks, horrified, into the waters. But I’m not sure that he chastises Peter for sinking in the waves. Peter’s not supposed to be walking on water. He has a boat. He’s supposed to be in the boat. I’ve read this story wrong for too long. We love Peter’s impetuousness. It warms our heart, this passionate fisherman who, crazy with faith, leaps into the storm. This follower of Jesus who wants to imitate whatever Jesus is doing. . . . And surely yes, we all must take leaps of faith into the scary unknown at times, but Jesus never asked him to get out of the boat. Leaving the boat wasn’t Jesus’ idea. Peter leaps over the side into the maelstrom not out of faith–but disbelief. Peter cannot believe that Jesus is there with them in the storm. Peter cannot believe that Jesus is who he said he is that night over the churning sea, though he reassures them three times! “Take courage!” “It is I!” “Do not be afraid.” In response to Jesus’ voice and his clear identification, “It is I!” Peter shouts back, above the wind, “If it is you . . . ” He leaps out of doubt, not faith. (page 167)

When I chose Writing and Other Acts of Faith as the tagline for this blog, I also wrote about the wiggle room of doubt and second guessing. Now as I read Leslie’s comments on Peter’s story, I’m struck again by that same combination of faith and doubt. Is life ever only one or the other? In my experience, they’re so often mixed.

Following Jesus takes faith, yes, but it also means following through the storms of life and following through doubt. As Leslie says in her book trailer below, “so put your boots on, and your rain gear, and your life jacket, and jump in!”

Writing/Reflection Prompt: Our journey of faith is never a straight line. Like the disciples, we often don’t see God’s work even when it’s happening right before our eyes. What is a work of God that you have seen only in hindsight? How does this strengthen your faith for the future? (from the Study Guide included in Crossing the Waters, page 226)

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from NavPress, and as always my comments and decision to review are my own.


I love blogging here every week as a regular writing practice and to connect with you dear readers. Then last year I started to focus on church employment issues with a second blog called When You Work for the Church. That’s becoming an important space too, and even though new articles appear there only every second week, running the two blogs now seems like too much of a good thing, especially as we head into summer–plus I’d like to develop a new subscriber bonus for each blog, and am starting a longer book project to follow my Sacred Pauses (Herald Press, 2013).

So starting this month, my publishing schedule here will change from weekly to every second week. That means I’ll have a new article here on alternate Mondays, with a new article for When You Work for the Church on alternate Thursdays. And if you’d still like to hear from me weekly, well, you can always subscribe to both blogs if you’re not already doing so 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Following Jesus Through Faith and Doubt

  1. From rwwilson147, received July 4, 2017, 10:46pm: Thanks for this April. It is a fascinating story, and good reflections from you and Leslie. I identify with the faith and doubt dynamic as you do. A perhaps close but more appropriate understanding of Peter’s motivation for getting out on the waters, rather than unbelief, might be to see his words and action to be a way to confirm his belief, a kind of proof. He got it, sort of, but not in a way that he could move beyond the faith-doubt dynamic–he still has to doubt his own faith and have faith in the Christ he can only follow and not prove beyond doubt.

    1. Thanks for your comment–the interplay between faith and doubt can be complex as you describe, and lead to surprising results as Peter discovered. Sometimes as Leslie says, we just need to jump in. (oh and by the way I’m not sure why your comment ended up in an odd place on my website–I couldn’t see how to move it, so just manually added it here).

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