By Diane Barstow
Thus far we have taken a ‘devotional’ look at several eloquent and profound prayers. Many were lengthy, filled with important doctrine, and truth! This one is not so much eloquent as it is profound in its brevity and scope! When Nicole asked for volunteers to teach their ‘favorite prayers’ my response was hasty and honestly unconsidered. This ‘prayer of exigent circumstances’ was easy to study, but the treasure found here was buried deep, really deep. But Spiritual things are not discovered in academically, but are disclosed by the Spirit of revelation, God’s Holy Spirit.
Exigent means pressing or demanding. Like the prayer of salvation uttered by the thief on the cross, this prayer of Peter is the minimum standard!’ “Lord, save me!” 3 words, 3 words only. Every other prayer takes its place behind this one. If this one isn’t sufficient, then none is!
I think the more information the better when it comes to studying the Bible. The story of Jesus walking on water is found in 3 of the 4 gospels, but Peter’s experience is only recorded in Matthew, so that’s where we’ll begin. Matthew 14:22-32 “Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves, for the wind was contrary. And in the 4th watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. 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 courage, it is I: do not be afraid!’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ And He said, “Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he become frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.”
Both Mark’s and John’s gospel accounts add other details. Mark adds that ‘He intended to pass them,’ and would have done so, but they cried out in such utter terror, that Jesus assured them it wasn’t a phantasm, but He Himself (Mark 6:45-52). John adds that they were 3-4 miles from where they had set off and was drawing near the boat and the sight terrified them. The sea was stirred up (G1326 diegeiro) be agitated, to rise and a strong (violent, mighty) wind (violent agitation and stream of air) was blowing! And that once the “peter makes it about himself” episode was over, they were willing to receive Him onto the boat (fears allayed) and were immediately at shore in Capernaum!
I did notice the frequency of the word immediately in this account. Psalm 46:1, ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’ Hebrews 4:16, ‘Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’
Before we dig into what Peter did or didn’t do, we have to set the scene. This occurred just prior to the 3rd Passover in their travels with Jesus. This chapter begins with disciples relaying the story of John being beheaded, and then they went away to rest. The crowds traveling toward Jerusalem found Him near Bethsaida (on the northern end of the Galilee, just east of the mouth of the Jordan river) and He fed 5000 bread and fish. They decided He should be their King and were trying to force Him to go with them, so He quickly sent the disciples ahead on the boat to Capernaum (northern end of the sea, on the eastern side). Jesus retired on the mountain to pray. Next we find our intrepid band of followers separated from their leader and rowing hard because the wind was against them. Remember the death of John was fresh in their minds as they were struggling to make headway against the heavy seas and headwind. Jesus meanwhile, according to Mark, saw them struggling from land and came to them! Isn’t that our Jesus – He sees us struggling and He comes to us and says, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!’ When they see Jesus they are terrified by what they see, not the storm, but the vision of a person walking on the waves. Obviously they were NOT LOOKING FOR JESUS! He, according to Mark, He wasn’t planning to stop but, because of their extreme terror, came to them, and said, “Take courage, or don’t be terrified, It is I, do not be afraid.’ Now rather than take comfort in these words, Peter issues a challenge. ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ And He said, “Come!’ So good old Peter climbs out of the boat and begins to walk on the water to Jesus. Jesus is close enough to hear and be heard, even in the storm! But then, He TAKES HIS EYES OFF JESUS, looks around (sees = perceiving by his senses – sees the waves, hears the roar of the wind, feels the spray) and sinks (the word here is plunge)! Now this is an EXIGENT CIRCUMSTANCE! Peter didn’t have time to construct and eloquent prayer, and he utters his most heartfelt, faith-filled prayer to date – Lord save me!! He’s at this point 100% sure Jesus can save him! There’s no doubt whatsoever, there’s no other agency, no one else who can save him, but Jesus! A good reminder for us, don’t looks elsewhere for aide, look ONLY TO JESUS! Walking to them across the water was the 20th recorded miracle of Jesus! They know He has power over nature, they just saw Him feed 5000+ people, they’ve been in a tempest when He SPOKE TO THE STORM and stilled it (Matt. 8:23!
Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Little faith can be rendered small quantity or brevity! Was his faith so small that he sank, or was it too brief to uphold him until he reached Jesus!
As soon as they got into the boat, the wind ceased, and they were immediately at shore. That’s 5 miracles in 1 brief event – Jesus walks on water, Peter walks on water, Peter’s lifted from the water and delivered to the boat (Jesus is STILL ON THE WATER) the wind is stilled, and the boat is instantly delivered to Capernaum.
So what does this episode teach us about prayer? Jesus gives us the answer, IT’S FAITH! Peter displayed both great and weak faith, faith for just long enough to walk on water AND BE SAVED by Jesus as he was sinking! How quickly must he have sunk once he took his attention off Jesus? Ever seen those videos of people or animals falling through ice into the water below? It’s instantaneous!! Gravity and the surface tension of water, physics is at play! As he was sinking Peter had 100% faith Jesus could and would save him!
What else does all this teach us about prayer? I think the answer is simple – cry out to the Lord with all your heart! Can’t form sentences, say what Peter said! No sentence? One word – Jesus! No words at all - pray in tongues – this is one use of this least of all gifts. When we don’t know how to pray, when there’s no time for eloquent or thoughtful prayer – tongues! If we want to tap into and expand our faith – tongues! If we want to pray ACCORDING TO GOD’S WILL – tongues! ‘In the same way the Spirit also helps our weaknesses; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the heart knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.’ Romans 8:26-27. What he’s saying here is that when we don’t know what to say, can’t form a sentence in our minds, frozen in fear, we can call on the Spirit of God to pray for us; to communicate to God, in a method that by-passes our intellect/mind and speaks my spirit to God’s Spirit. ‘For one who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God; for no one understands but in his spirit he speaks mysteries.’ 1 Cor. 14:2. ‘One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself.’ 1 Cor. 14:4a. ‘I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.’ 1 Cor. 14:18-19. By the way, it takes REAL FAITH to speak out loud something you don’t understand!
Let’s talk about experiences you’ve had of exigent circumstance, and your prayer! I’ll start!