Imitate Their Faith

He Fought Against Fear and Doubt

PETER strained against the oar and peered into the night. Was that a faint glow he saw on the eastern horizon, a sign of dawn at last? The muscles of his back and shoulders burned from long hours of rowing. The wind that whipped his hair about had churned the Sea of Galilee into a rage. Wave after wave crashed against the prow of the fishing boat, soaking him with cold spray. He rowed on.

Somewhere back there on shore, Peter and his companions had left Jesus by himself. That day, they had seen Jesus feed a hungry crowd of thousands with just a few loaves and fish. The people responded by seeking to make Jesus king, but he wanted no part of politics. He was also determined to keep his followers from cultivating such ambitions. Evading the crowds, he compelled his disciples to board the boat and head for the opposite shore while he went up into the mountain alone to pray.​—Mark 6:35-45; John 6:14, 15.

The moon, nearly full, had been high overhead when the disciples set out; now it was plunging slowly toward the western horizon. Yet, they had managed to travel only a few miles. The exertion and the constant roar of the wind and the waves made conversation difficult. Likely, Peter was alone with his thoughts.

How much there was to think about! He had been following Jesus of Nazareth for over two eventful years. He had learned a great deal, but he still had much to learn. His willingness to do so​—to struggle against such obstacles as doubt and fear—​make him an outstanding example for us to imitate. Let us see how.

“We Have Found the Messiah”!

Peter would never forget the day he met Jesus of Nazareth. His brother, Andrew, had first brought him the astounding news: “We have found the Messiah.” With those words, Peter’s life began to change. It would never again be the same.​—John 1:41.

Peter lived in Capernaum, a city on the shore of a freshwater lake called the Sea of Galilee. He and Andrew were partners with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, in a fishing business. Living with Peter were not only his wife but also his mother-in-law and his brother, Andrew. To support such a household by fishing surely required hard work, energy, and resourcefulness. We can imagine the countless long nights of labor​—the men letting out the dragnets between two boats and hauling aboard whatever catch the lake afforded. We can also picture toilsome daylight hours as the fish were sorted and sold, the nets mended and cleaned.

Andrew, the Bible tells us, was a disciple of John the Baptist. Peter surely listened to his brother’s reports about John’s message with intense interest. One day, Andrew saw John point out Jesus of Nazareth and say: “See, The Lamb of God!” Andrew immediately became a follower of Jesus and eagerly told  Peter of this thrilling news: The Messiah had arrived! (John 1:35-40) After the rebellion in Eden some 4,000 years earlier, Jehovah God had promised that a special individual would come to provide real hope for mankind. (Genesis 3:15) Andrew had met this very Rescuer, the Messiah himself! Peter hurried off to meet Jesus as well.

Until that day, Peter was known by the name Simon, or Simeon. But Jesus looked at him and said: “‘You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” (John 1:42) “Cephas” is a common noun meaning “stone,” or “rock.” Evidently, Jesus’ words were prophetic. He foresaw that Peter would become like a rock​—a stable, sturdy, and reliable influence among Christ’s followers. Did Peter see himself that way? It seems doubtful. Even some modern-day readers of the Gospel accounts see little that is rocklike in Peter. Some have suggested that he appeared to be unsteady, inconstant, vacillating.

Peter did have his faults. Jesus was not blind to those. But Jesus, like his Father, Jehovah, was always looking for the good in people. Jesus saw much potential in Peter, and He sought to help him build on those good qualities. Jehovah and his Son look for the good in us today too. We may have a hard time believing that there is much good in us for them to find. However, we need to trust their viewpoint and prove ourselves willing to be trained and molded as Peter was.​—1 John 3:19, 20.

“Stop Being Afraid”

Peter likely accompanied Jesus on part of the preaching tour that ensued. He may thus have seen Jesus perform his first miracle, turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. More important, he heard Jesus’ marvelous and hope-filled message about the Kingdom of God. Still, he tore himself away and returned to his fishing business. Some months later, though, Peter was again face-to-face with Jesus​—and this time Jesus invited Peter to follow him full-time as a way of life.

Peter had just endured a discouraging night’s work. Again and again, the fishermen had let out their nets, only to haul them in empty. Peter surely brought all his experience and ingenuity to bear on the problem, trying various spots in the lake to find where the fish were feeding. No doubt, there were times when he, like so many fishermen, wished he could peer right into the murky waters to find the schools of fish or somehow will them into his nets. Of course, such thoughts could only deepen his frustration. This was no pleasure sport for Peter; people depended on him to catch fish. Finally, he came ashore empty-handed. Still, the nets had to be cleaned. He was thus busily engaged when Jesus approached.

A crowd was pressing around Jesus, hanging on his every word. Hemmed in by them, Jesus got into Peter’s boat and asked him to pull away a bit from land. With his voice carrying clearly over the water, Jesus taught the crowd. Peter listened with rapt attention, as did those ashore. He never tired of hearing Jesus develop the central theme of his preaching​—the Kingdom of God. What a  privilege it would be to help the Christ spread this message of hope throughout the land! But would that be practical? What would they live on? Perhaps Peter thought again of the long and fruitless night behind him.​—Luke 5:1-3.

When Jesus finished speaking, he told Peter: “Pull out to where it is deep, and you men let down your nets for a catch.” Peter was full of doubt. He said: “Instructor, for a whole night we toiled and took nothing, but at your bidding I will lower the nets.” Surely the last thing Peter wanted to do was lower those nets yet again​—especially now when the fish would not even be feeding! Still, he complied, likely signaling to his partners in a second boat to follow them.​—Luke 5:4, 5.

Peter felt an unexpected weight as he started hauling in the nets. Incredulous, he pulled harder, and before long, he could see a great mass of fish wriggling within the mesh! Frantically, he motioned to the men in the second boat to come to help. As they did, it soon became apparent that one boat could not contain all these fish. They filled both vessels, and still there were too many​—the boats started to sink under the weight. Peter was overwhelmed with astonishment. He had seen Christ’s power in action before, but this instance was so personal! Here was a man who could even cause the fish to enter the nets! Fear welled up in Peter. He sank to his knees and said: “Depart from me, because I am a sinful man, Lord.” How could he ever prove worthy to associate with One who wielded the very power of God in such ways?​—Luke 5:6-9.

Jesus kindly said: “Stop being afraid. From now on you will be catching men alive.” (Luke 5:10, 11) This was no time for doubt or fear. Peter’s doubts about such practical matters as fishing were unfounded; his fears about his own faults and inadequacies were just as baseless. Jesus had a great work to do, a ministry that would change history. He served a God who “will forgive in a large way.” (Isaiah 55:7) Jehovah would take care of their needs, both physical and spiritual.​—Matthew 6:33.

Peter responded quickly, as did James and John. “They brought the boats back to land, and abandoned everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:11) Peter put faith in Jesus and the One who sent him. It was the best  decision he could make. Christians today who overcome their doubt and fear to take up service to God are likewise showing faith. Such trust in Jehovah is never misplaced.​—Psalm 22:4, 5.

“Why Did You Give Way to Doubt?”

Some two years after meeting Jesus, Peter rowed through that windy night on the Sea of Galilee mentioned at the outset. Of course, we cannot know what memories crossed his mind. There were so many to choose from! Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law. He had delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Again and again, through his teaching and his powerful works, he had demonstrated that he was Jehovah’s Chosen One, the Messiah. As the months passed, Peter’s faults, such as his tendency to give in to impulses of fear and doubt, had surely subsided to a degree. Jesus had even chosen Peter to be one of the 12 apostles! Still, Peter had not yet vanquished fear and doubt, as he would soon learn.

During the fourth watch of that night, or sometime between 3:00 a.m. and sunrise, Peter suddenly stopped rowing and sat bolt upright. There​—across the waves—​something was moving! Was it the spray of the waves catching the moonlight? No, it was too steady, too upright. It was a man! Yes, a man, and he was walking on the surface of the sea! As the figure neared, it looked as though he was going to walk right by them. Terrified, the disciples thought it was some kind of apparition. The figure spoke: “Take courage, it is I; have no fear.” It was Jesus!​—Matthew 14:25-28.

Peter responded: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you over the waters.” His first impulse was a courageous one. Full of excitement at this unique miracle, Peter sought to have his faith further confirmed. He wanted to be part of the action. Kindly, Jesus beckoned him. Peter clambered over the side of the vessel and down onto the undulating surface of the sea. Imagine Peter’s sensation as he found solid footing beneath him and then stood on top of the waters. He must have been filled with wonder as he made his way toward Jesus. However, another impulse soon welled up in him.​—Matthew 14:29.

Peter needed to keep his focus on Jesus. It was Jesus, using the power of Jehovah, who was keeping Peter above the waves. And Jesus  was doing so in response to Peter’s faith in him. But Peter got distracted. We read: “Looking at the windstorm, he got afraid.” Peter took in an eyeful of those waves crashing against the boat, tossing spray and foam to the wind, and he panicked. He probably imagined himself sinking in that lake, drowning there. As fear rose in his heart, his faith sank. The man who had been named Rock because of his potential for steadiness began to sink like a stone because of his wavering faith. Peter was an able swimmer, but he did not rely on that ability now. He cried out: “Lord, save me!” Jesus caught him by the hand and pulled him up. Then, while still on the water’s surface, he drove home this important lesson to Peter: “You with little faith, why did you give way to doubt?”​—Matthew 14:30, 31.

“Give way to doubt”​—what an apt phrase! Doubt can be a powerful, destructive force. If we yield to it, it can eat away at our faith and cause us to sink spiritually. We need to fight back vigorously! How? By keeping the right focus. If we dwell on what scares us, what discourages us, what distracts us from Jehovah and his Son, we will find our doubts growing. If we focus on Jehovah and his Son, on what they have done, are doing, and will do for those who love them, we will keep corrosive doubts at bay.

As Peter followed Jesus back aboard the boat, he saw the storm die down. Quiet fell on the Sea of Galilee. Peter joined his fellow disciples in declaring, “You are really God’s Son.” (Matthew 14:33) As dawn broke over the lake, Peter’s heart surely soared. He repudiated doubt and fear. Granted, he had a long way to go before he became the rocklike Christian that Jesus foresaw. But he was determined to keep trying, to keep growing. Do you have such determination? You will surely find that Peter’s faith is worth imitating.

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Jesus saw much potential in this humble fisherman

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“I am a sinful man, Lord”

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“Looking at the windstorm, he got afraid”