By Pastor Glenn Pease
Most of us probably have some money in a saving account where it is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Cooperation, or FDIC for short. This brilliant idea which saved the banks after the depression, and saves all savers a lot of anxiety is a gift God gave to the American people through a Christian banker in Philadelphia. His name was Leon H. Sullivan. When black Monday hit on March 4, 1933, and closed the banks, he went to prayer and labored long over a plan to reopen the banks. He thanked God for the idea which led to the banks being able to open. It was the FDIC idea.
He came to Christ as a boy of nine, and by twenty five he was the youngest bank cashier in the U.S. Banking was his life. But like all successful Christians he had a struggle with pride. He began to crave more power, prominence, and possessions. He began to have social parties in his large house with champagne. He stopped going to church, for his new goal kept him too busy for the God who had saved him. He got so greedy that he went into partnership with a non-Christian. His wife warned him, but he would not listen, for there was a fortune to be made. The entire real estate deal collapsed, however, and he lost everything. He was one hundred and fifty thousand in debt, and had no reputation and no friends. He was sinking fast, but unlike Peter who cried out immediately, "Lord save me," he held on for twelve days in pride.
After twelve days of living on corn flakes he finally cried out to God in brokenness, "Lord save me!" It took years, but he was saved and restored and became a successful investment broker who helped Christian colleges and other Christian causes raise millions. By his fall and failure he learned to be successful as a Christian in the world of business. Successful Christians often have to fail so they can be saved for success as Christians. Their success becomes an idol and leads them away from God, and only by means of failure can they be brought back to God to succeed for him. Christians only need to be saved once for eternity by putting their faith in Christ, but they need to be saved many times in time, as they begin to sink because of their lack of faith.
Peter was a saved man as a hand picked disciple of Christ. If he would have drowned in the storm, he would have been welcomed into heaven. He was a saved man, yet, we see him here crying out, "Lord save me." It was not the sinners prayer. He was not crying out to be forgiven and reconciled with God. That was not his problem. He was already saved that way, and you never need to be saved that way again. When Jesus is trusted as Savior you are saved for eternity. But here is Peter still calling out, "Lord save me." A saved man can still use some saving when he is sinking.
Balzac, the Sir Walter Scott of France, wrote a famous short story called Jesus Christ in Flanders. A ferry-boat is carrying a mixed crowd of passengers when a furious gale strikes and throws everyone into a panic. A stranger with a glow on his face is calm and serene as if he knew he would not die. As the boat begins to sink the stranger speaks, "Those who have faith shall be saved! Let them follow me." He then stepped out upon the waves and walked on the water. A young mother took her child up in her arms and followed him. A soldier and two cousins also followed and walked upon the sea, and they came safely to the shore. The stranger vanishes, but they recognize he is Christ. Balzac's story is obviously an adaptation of our text. But it is a focus on the fact that even saved people; people who already have faith in Jesus, still need to be saved from storms, and all kinds of threats to life and health.
Jesus could say, "How do I save thee, let me count the ways." And they would mount up to a high number. The point is, this prayer of Peter as he began to sink is a prayer that needs praying often because even saved people need perpetual saving in this storm tossed world. Let's look at just some of the ways we need saving as suggested by Peter's experience. First of all we all need to be saved-
I. FROM LITTLE FAITH.
Whenever a Christian begins to sink, you can trace the trouble back to little faith. The negative realities of life begin to overwhelm you. You take your eyes off Jesus and look to the wind and waves, and fear takes over and reduces the power of your faith. You can't get far walking on water, or even on land for that matter, when your faith gauge is pointing to empty.
Peter had enough faith to get him into the middle of a miracle, but then it began to run out. There are few things more embarrassing than half a miracle. To walk on water for a few feet and then drown is not all that impressive as a whole. Peter needed to be saved from his half a miracle due to his little faith. To sink in the middle of a miracle, and make this his terminal trip was not what Peter had in mind. We all need to be saved from the half way projects we get ourselves into. We make a commitment to go all out for Jesus, and then after awhile we lose our enthusiasm and our faith falters. We find ourselves half way through a commitment beginning to sink.
I see it in Christian marriages all the time. People make a commitment to be loving and loyal through sunshine and shadow; for better or for worse, but like Peter, they get out into the sea of matrimony and discover it is more frightening than they realized from the boat. Their resolve begins to weaken, and they begin to sink. They need to cry out, "Lord save me." Christians need to be saved and restored to their marriage vows.
Christians say, "I'm going to read my Bible through this year," and they take the leap. But after they get through Genesis and struggle through Exodus they come to Leviticus, and their faith wavers. I wonder how many have sunk in their resolve in Leviticus? They had no idea how hard some parts of the Bible are. They need to be saved from this little faith that lets them sink in the midst of their new adventure for Christ. Christians also resolve to witness, and then they come up against a skeptic who is clever, and they begin to sink back from their commitment. We could go on and on dealing with areas of life where Christians need to be saved because their little faith lets them down before they complete their commitment.
The good news is that Jesus will hear the prayer for salvation even when our faith is so weak we are sinking. Peter's prayer, "Lord save me!" is the shortest prayer in the New Testament, but it was just as effective as a 20 minute prayer, for Jesus reached out and saved him from drowning. A 3 word prayer, and all 3 words of only one syllable. Thank God he does not evaluate prayer by its length, but rather by its earnestness. Peter never prayed a more earnest prayer than this. His faith was little in his own ability to stay on top of the water, but his faith in Jesus was still strong, and he cried out for Jesus to save him.
There was no time for praise, adoration, or intercession. This was a purely self-centered prayer, yet it was answered instantly, for Jesus chose to save Peter from a watery grave. He saw, even in Peter's failure, the seeds of success. Peter's prayer was a confession of his own inadequacy, and of his awareness of Christ's all sufficiency. Lord you can save me, and so do so, for I cannot save myself.
Spurgeon points out that little faith tends to get Christians in trouble because it is always seeking for signs and wonders. He feels that Peter may have leaped out of the boat in the first place because of his little faith that he needed to bolster up by this awesome act of walking on water. Some people need to do the remarkable thing to keep their faith from collapsing. This moves them to attempt great things, but they do it in their own power, and they end up collapsing anyway. But even there failure can be good if it leads them to stop trusting in themselves, and to trust in Jesus only. Peter did it here and was saved from his little faith in himself by his adequate faith in Jesus.
John Hodges was the number one Pontiac dealer in the world. He was a member of the First Baptist Church of Indianapolis. But he let his success go to his head and began to throw parties with booze and gambling. He began to cut back on church life, for it was interfering with his business life. Besides, you can't serve 2 masters, and his business became his god. He bought 5 used car lots and poured a lot of money into advertising. He got caught in a squeeze and lost half a million in 2 years. He started to drink and life began to fall apart. He had many Christian friends praying for him, and he was finally persuaded to go to a Graham crusade. There he saw that he was sinking because of his own pride and little faith. He repented and cried out, "Lord save me!"
He got his life style back in order and went on, as Peter did, to be a fisher of men. He used his business connections to witness to men about his Savior. He was another Christian who needed to be saved. He needed to be saved from little faith, from worldliness, from pride, from failure, and from self. This is the battle of the Christian life and what the whole New Testament is all about. It is about saving saved people from sinking so they can help save a lost world. Christians need a lot of saving before they can help save the world. A sinking Christian is not a very useful tool. But a sinking Christian saved from sinking, as Peter was, is often the best tool, for he has by that experience learned to forsake his self-confidence, and put his confidence in Christ as an all sufficient Savior.
We sometimes have to fail and be saved in order to really know who Jesus is as our Savior. Nancy Spiegelberg wrote,
across the barrenness
with my empty cup
in asking any small drop of refreshment.
If only I had known you better
I'd have come
with a bucket.
This whole incident was designed by Christ to teach his disciples that if they really knew who Jesus was, they could not only be saved from little faith, but also-
II. FROM ALL FORMS OF DISCOURAGEMENT.
The whole context is one of discouragement. They were buffeted by the wind and the waves, and could not get to shore. It was in the middle of the night and they were tired and anxious for their lives. It was a discouraging situation, and they were a down bunch of guys. Then to add to the tension Jesus comes walking on the lake and they are terrified. "It's a ghost," they cried, and they were fearful that this was a sign they would not make it. A demon of death is what their fearful minds saw, even though in reality it was their Savior from death.
What a major difference there can be between objective faith and ones own subjective fears. They interpreted the scene as evil omen when in reality it was their only hope. How wrong can Christians be in reading the events of their day and experience? Here is a clue. Christians need to be saved constantly from the spirit of discouragement they bring on themselves by their false fears and misreading of events. Their fears had them in the grip of some evil spirit, and they were terrified. Christians often need to be saved from their subjective fears that put their emotional system into a turmoil. There was a spirit of pessimism reigning over the lives of the Apostles in this setting. They were safe, but they felt like they were sunk.
From the point of view of Jesus there was nothing to be discouraged about at all. From his perspective it was as pleasant as a Sunday walk in the park. These men needed to be saved from all their fears and doubts that made them blind to the power and presence of Christ in their midst. They were just like God's people in the Old Testament. God could do wonders and miracles to protect them, deliver them, and provide for them. But the next time they faced a crisis they were full of fear and doubt, and begging to go back to Egypt. No number of miracles could ever get them beyond their little faith and discouraged spirit of pessimism.
The disciples had already seen Jesus still the storm, and do wondrous miracles in nature. He had just fed the 5000 hours before this storm, and yet, all that is gone from their head, and they are overwhelmed by their present crisis. What we need to see is that these men were finally saved from this spirit of pessimism, and this is just one of the key lessons on the way to that final victory. They eventually became men who could say with the unknown poet,
I will not doubt, though all my ships at sea
Come drifting home with broken masts and sails;
I shall believe the hand that never fails
From seeming evil worketh good for me,
And though I weep because these sails are tattered,
Still will I cry, while my best hopes are shattered,
I trust in Thee.
But they were not there yet. They were in a terrible mess, but they were saved, and Jesus turned this catastrophe into a major success. The key word in this story is a big word in the ministry of Jesus. The word in the Greek is tharseo, and it is translated, "Be of good cheer, or take courage." This is a special word in the vocabulary of Jesus. He is the only person in the New Testament to use the word. On one occasion it is used to encourage blind men to come to him. Jesus used this word often to encourage those who were discouraged. They were in what seemed to be hopeless situations when Jesus would come and say, "Be of good cheer."
His most universal use of the word is in John 16:33, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, or cheer up, I have overcome the world." The one thing that every person needs to be saved from at some point in life is discouragement. The contrary winds get to all of us at times, and we are ready to sink. Jesus says this is just when you need to hear his favorite word and be encouraged to be of good cheer. He is saying that he is already overcome, and so trust in me. This is where Peter comes through a hero, even though he was sinking. Because of his little faith he was going under, but the fact is, he never cease to trust in Christ for he shouted out, "Lord save me!" And Jesus did save him. The whole scene ends in victory and worship.
This was not their final education. They got discouraged again, and their faith failed again, and they needed to be saved again from their human weaknesses. But their salvation here did raise them to a new level, and by it they were able to avoid a lot of falls they might have otherwise had. Every lesson they learned was a necessary step to get to the point of the victorious Christian life. Every victory prevented some future failure.
Someone said that high heels were invented by a woman who was kissed on the forehead. She wanted to avoid that mistake in the future, and so invented high heels. True or not, it illustrates the point. Failure can lead to success, for it motivates us to do what avoids the same failure in the future. The disciples were a pathetic lot in this whole scene. It was a comedy of errors. The men Christ picked to change the world are seen here as nervous wrecks. They were of anxiety and fears, and their leader was sinking in the middle of a miracle. It is not likely the angelic choir was inspired to fill heaven with a new song of rejoicing.
Nevertheless, the end result of all this failure was success, because in the final analysis they looked to Jesus and were saved, and every time they were saved they needed less and less saving. Each step of failure was a step up the stairs of success. Dr. John, president of Stetson University, tells of the farmer who only lost a few hogs during a severe cholera epidemic. The county agent asked him if he had learned anything about the disease. He said, "Wal, I've noticed that them as gets it and lingers a spell have a better chance of livin then them that dies right off." Peter failed a lot, but he never went down for the count. He never gave up and sank. He always lingered awhile and looked to Jesus. The result was that Peter was saved every time. Judas, on the other hand, when he failed, gave up and died right off, and went and hanged himself.
If we are going to have a successful year in spite of our weaknesses and failures, we are going to have to pray Peter's prayer often-"Lord save me from myself, my subjective fears and discouragements, from my little faith. Save me daily from all the things that rob me of my vision of your love and presence. Every year a Christian should aim to be more saved than the year before. That means to be more secure, more sanctified, more willing to believe the Word of God. Peter said in Paul's writings there are some things hard to be understood, but sometimes the problem with Paul is that he is too easy to be understood. He makes the requirement of optimism so plain and clear that we are embarrassed by it.
It may sound crazy, but I am convinced that sometimes we need to be saved from success. Success is a test that many Christians have failed to pass. They get successful and, like Israel of old, they neglect the Lord and conform to the world, and lose their way. Many of the scandals of Christianity are the result of success that Christians could not handle. It is also the reality of life that success leads to a decaying of relationships. Bette Middler put it so honestly when she said, "The worse part of having success is to try finding someone who is happy for you."
We go through life asking, what is the will of God, and Paul says what is the mystery? We know what God's will is. In I Thess. 5:16-18 Paul writes, "Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Whenever you are not joyful, or not praying, or not thankful, you are out of God's will, and need to be saved from that state of disobedience. "Lord save me," is about as relevant a prayer as you find in the Bible, for as saved people we need, just as Peter needed, a whole lot of saving to be a success. We need to examine our lives in the light of this truth, and when we see we are sinking in some area of life, look to Jesus and pray the saved sinners prayer, "Lord save me." We need to be constantly saved from our failures, and saved for success.