So you can't walk on water?
Of course you can't!
You can't because you think you can't. Your beliefs effectively keep you from doing so; they make it impossible for Jesus to give you faith to do so.
Let's replay the presunrise scene on the Sea of Galilee, but with a variation. There is the ghostly figure approaching through the gray half-light. There are those twelve terrified men. There is that cheerful voice, ringing across the waves, "'It is I; have no fear.'"
And there is the galvanized Peter. "Lord, if it is You, tell me to come to You on the water."
Then Peter looks at the cold, dark, onrushing waves. He measures the distance between himself and Jesus. And he thinks, What am I saying? Walk on water! I can't walk on water.
He hesitates. Then his moment is past; doubt swallows up faith. And no man ever walks on water.
This scenario could have been the actual one.
Peter could so easily have quailed. His faith could have faltered at the very beginning.
It would have been tragic for us if Peter had never stepped out on those waves; we would have lost something wonderful as a lesson in faith, for faith is so much like walking on water.
W. B. Quigley relates a story that illustrates the fact that what we think is impossible usually is.
While visiting a zoo he saw an enormous elephant standing inside a frail fence only about two feet high. The animal appeared to be untethered, but then Quigley noticed an iron band around one leg. A thin chain was attached to the band, and the other end was fastened to a small stake.
It struck Quigley as ludicrous that the elephant's keepers should think that the great animal could be held by such weak restraints. It was like trying to hold a man by a thread fastened to a matchstick. Still, as he watched, it became apparent that the restrictions were effective.
Just then a keeper came by, so Quigley asked the reason for such a small chain and stake.
He was told that as a baby the elephant had been confined by the same quality of restraints. Not being heavy enough or strong enough at the time to escape them, the animal became conditioned to think that it never could. So, even now, when it could have yanked the stake from the ground effortlessly, it still thought the restraints too much for it.
That elephant was held, not by the stake and chain, but by its beliefs.
Many Christians are being restrained from having victory over the sins in their lives for reasons very similar, in a figurative sense, to the chain and stake that kept that elephant from freedom.
Perhaps a personal experience will serve to clarify what I mean.
When I was baptized as a Seventh-day Adventist, in my late teens, I was very sincere, wanting to be a one-hundred-percent Christian. I had been taken through the standard series of Bible studies, beginning with Daniel 2. The series included, somewhere toward the end, one or two brief lessons on Jesus and how to live the Christian life.
And so I joined the church and began my struggle with self and sin. And those two, with Satan as an eager and knowledgeable ally, soon, and easily, took care of my resolutions to be a real Christian.
Disillusionment and discouragement followed.
Through the intervening years of my youth I stayed by the church, more or less-sometimes more, sometimes less.
Still I was sincere, and my desire to be a real Christian persisted. In time I became a ministerial student, and later a minister. Sometimes in my studying I glimpsed the possibility of conquest over sin, every sin. But the defeat I was chronically suffering, and discussions with others, assured me that sin-selfishness, envy, jealousy, impatience, and so on-would be active in my life until Jesus came to sweep it all away. My task, I decided, was to place my trust in Christ and to contend as best I could, but I did not expect to achieve full victory in this life. Thus a chain was forged, and a stake set. So when, on occasion, I read a Bible text or a Spirit of Prophecy statement that promised victory in the here and now, I read it with a degree of puzzlement, deciding it must mean other than what it said. In the margin of one of my Ellen White books there is still a questioning, wistful note, written years ago, commenting on the conquests a statement on the page seemed to hold out. I was not able to grasp the possibility. The statement promised freedom, but I was conditioned, held by beliefs that faith in the power of Christ could have overcome in a moment.
To go back to my original illustration, I couldn't walk on water, because I didn't think I could. And when I saw evidence in the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy that I could, I was unable to believe it. I couldn't accept it because I knew that it couldn't be done.
It is quite natural to think that you can't walk on water. If necessary, it would be a very simple matter to conduct a series of laboratory experiments to prove conclusively that it is impossible. But that is not necessary. We know, from long observation, that it is.
It would have been very easy to prove to Peter that he could not walk on water-until after he had. Then you would be wasting your time taking him into the lab, or anywhere else. He knew different.
In this context it is interesting to note that faith preceded knowledge. Peter would never have had a knowledge of walking on water if he had not first exercised faith and done as Jesus bade him. Having exercised faith, he gained knowledge. The human mind demands that it be the other way round. Give me evidence, then I will believe. God says, Believe, then I will give you the evidence. This is demonstrated time and time again in the Bible.
When two blind men came crying after Jesus, "'Have mercy on us, Son of David'" (Matt. 9:27), He drew from them an assurance of their belief before giving them the evidence of His power by healing their blindness.
When the father of a demon-possessed boy showed his doubts by saying to Jesus, "'If you can do anything, have pity on us and help us'" (Mark 9:22), Jesus showed him the implications of his lack of faith by responding, "'If you can! All things are possible to him who believes'" (verse 23).
Struck by the realization that his doubt could keep his son from being healed, the father cried out in a transport of anxiety, "'I believe; help my unbelief!'" (verse 24). On the ground of that real, if wavering, faith, Jesus was able to demonstrate His power.
James Lever* was a foreman in an Adventist institution. He was a perfectionist and as a result often became frustrated with the men in his charge. To him they seemed almost sinfully casual about their work and were more interested in their paychecks and professional football than their jobs.
His frustrations grew over the years until the situation became so aggravating that he took to shouting at his men. He didn't want to act that way. But when conditions got to a certain point he couldn't control himself. The inevitable result was that he was transferred to another institution, then another.
Because of these transfers he began to have problems with his superiors. Bitterness began to develop. James became affected emotionally, and this resulted in all kinds of physical aches and pains. His life was falling apart. Finally he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
At that stage of his experience he met a Christian who had learned the secret of "walking on water," of finding in Jesus victory over sins. As they talked, James began to understand and to have the hope that he too might find the answer to his problems and put together his fragmenting life. By faith he looked to Jesus and began to "walk on water" also.
As he continued his faith relationship with Christ, his frustrations faded. To his delighted amazement, his attitudes began to change. Sins in his inner life that he never thought he could get rid of were rooted out. His bitterness toward those with whom he worked began to disappear and, with it, his aches and pains. As Jim walked with Jesus by faith moment by moment he was thrilled at what was happening in his life.
Then one day he met someone we will term an important person. As they got into their conversation James, in his buoyant faith, enthusiastically began to tell this man what was happening in his life.
Now, that important person listened dubiously, for he knew that you can't walk on water. Even to think you can is to be suffering from a delusion. So he began to counsel James, warning him of fanaticism, of being deceived. He told him that because of our sinful lower natures it is not possible to have full victory over sin. He had better re-examine his beliefs and the things he was experiencing. It all sounded very dangerous, James was told.
For a brief period James, knowing that this man was a knowledgeable, influential person, became somewhat confused and unsure of his experience. Then he thought of the words "I can do all things in him who strengthens me" (Phil. 4: 13). "Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing" (Jude 24).
He thought of Spirit of Prophecy statements such as, "Humanity may in this world attain unto perfection of character, through cooperation with divinity." -Review and Herald, June 14, 1906. "We can, we can, reveal the likeness of our divine Lord. We can know the science of spiritual life. We can honor our Maker." -Ibid., Nov. 24, 1904.
James's wavering faith steadied. He knew that what God was doing for him was reality.
And so the crisis was passed and the victory claimed. But it might have been different. Suppose James had been persuaded he was deluded. Suppose he had decided, That man has to be right. He is an important person. He must know what it is all about. You can't walk on water.
That conclusion being drawn, there would have been no recourse for James but to sink, as Peter sank. So he would inevitably have reverted to his frustrations, his bitterness, his aches and pains. And he would perhaps have had his nervous breakdown.
Strange, isn't it? James had found the only real answer to his problems, that is, to look to Jesus in faith for the solutions to them. He had found the solution, and peace and assurance, and a real buoyancy in his experience, such as he had not known in all his life. His work problems were being solved. Then someone had come along and told him that his victory and peace were all a delusion!
• The name and other details have been altered, but the essential elements of this incident took place as described.