The challenges—and the failures—we face in life are not obstacles to faith but stepping stones to greater faith. On the stormy Sea of Galilee one night, Jesus taught Peter a lesson in faith from his own failure.
The most important lessons in life are seldom learned in a classroom but in the laboratory of life. In fact, growing in the Christian life usually takes place during unexpected challenges that come our way.
Following the miraculous feeding of the multitude, Mark chapter 6 gives us the details of the next event that takes place:
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. (verses 45-46)
Now Jesus just fed the 5,000 plus in Bethsaida, so you need to understand that Jesus is actually sending them to another Bethsaida, on the northwest shore of the sea of Galilee; it was a suburb of Capernaum.
Matthew gives the fullest account of what happened next in chapter 14:
[Jesus] 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. (verses 23-24)
In other words, a surprise storm has just arrived. Mark 6:48 says, “They were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them.” Mark also tells us that from His private prayer spot, Jesus can actually see the disciples struggling out there against the wind and waves.
Now we continue the account back in Matthew 14:
In the fourth watch of the night [about 4:00 a.m.) 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?” 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.” (verses 25-33)
Most people seem to focus on the fact that Peter walked on the water only briefly before he began to sink. But remember, he is the only disciple who got out of the boat. The others are hanging on to their life jackets for dear life.
But still, Peter starts well but fails ultimately this test of faith. Keep in mind, first, that Peter is failing in familiar territory. He knows the Sea of Galilee. In fact, the Lord has taken him to the place where this experienced fisherman has the greatest confidence! Think about that: our biggest failures can occur in areas where we thought we had it all together.
Second, Peter is failing after extensive training. For two years he has witnessed miracles. Peter and the others have even performed some themselves in their ministry efforts. For two years, Peter has been trained by the Master Himself. Beloved, you never reach a point where you are beyond the possibility of failing in your walk of faith.
Third, Peter is failing while in the process of obeying. Think about it: here he is, right in the middle of God’s will, obeying Christ’s invitation to walk out there on the water, and suddenly he is filled with faithless fear.
It is obvious the Lord wanted to teach Peter—and the other disciples—some unforgettable lessons. One lesson is that obedience to Christ does not smooth out all the problems in life. In fact, there will be times in your life when you will trust Christ more deeply, and it is usually when you are in the middle of the storm! These men would never forget the sight of Jesus walking on the water in the middle of a storm. The presence of Jesus did not eliminate the storm. He wanted Peter to walk out there and join Him in the midst of it.
And with that comes another lesson here: the Lord doesn’t guarantee the absence of storms; He guarantees His presence in the midst of them.
A third lesson from Peter’s failure that strikes me is that deep waters are not intended to drown us but to develop us. The truth is, Jesus rarely develops your faith greatly during days of sunshine and clear skies; it is when things grow unsettled and stormy for you in the laboratory of life. You can expect deep lessons to come from deep-water experiences.
Another lesson offers some good news: when you fail a test of faith, the Lord does not kick you out of school. Jesus did not make Peter swim to shore; He pulled him up and took him back to the boat.
This leads me to one more lesson: it is possible to fail without becoming a failure! The question is this: Are you willing to stay in class—as humbling as it might be when you experience that failure or disappointment or one humiliating experience after another?
I am reminded of a young black girl who grew up in poverty in Philadelphia. One of her most enjoyable activities was singing in her church choir. The adults recognized her talent and began to raise money for what they called, “Marian Anderson’s Future.” They raised $126 dollars in pennies, nickels, and dimes, and she began taking voice lessons.
Finally, when she was eighteen, she had an audition with a famous instructor, but she was rejected. Her friends and supporters scheduled a live performance, but newspaper critics were unkind.
She went overseas for some concerts and was well received, but in America, because of her color, she was often ignored—humiliated. For several years, Marian wallowed in self-pity, ready to give up, but her mother would remind her to think about her failures a little, but pray about them a lot. On one occasion her mother said something Marian never forgot: “Marian, you must learn that grace comes before greatness.”
Well, Marian Anderson stayed with it. She went on to have an amazing career. She sang before kings and queens and United States presidents. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and appointed as a delegate to the United Nations.
A reporter once asked her, “Marian, what was the most incredible moment in your illustrious career?” She said, “The day I went home and told my mother she wouldn’t have to take in laundry anymore.” She never forgot those early years of humility and difficulty—one storm after another.
If you could ask Peter, “What was your greatest moment in following Jesus? Was it healing the sick? Was it being one of the closest disciples to the Lord? Was it preaching on the Day of Pentecost as the New Testament church was created with 3,000 new believers? Was it walking on the water?”
I think Peter might just say his greatest moment was when the Lord pulled him up out of that water and they walked back together and got back into that boat! That moment when Peter was humiliated—when he failed—he did not give up. He did not abandon ship.
As an older man, Peter would write these words: “Humble yourselves . . . under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6). That is another way of saying that humility comes before honor—or grace comes before greatness. So, even when you fail, follow on, learning as you go to live a life of faith.
 Marian Anderson, “Marian Anderson on the Power of Prayer,” Guideposts, March 1954, guideposts.org.