Get out of the boat.
This phrase is thrown around a lot. It is, of course, a reference to Peter’s brief experience with walking on the water in Matthew 14. Usually, the maritime maxim is referenced in exhortations to trust God enough to step out of our comfort zones and do something we don’t think we can. Or in admonitions to be proactive and stop settling for the status quo.
You can’t walk on water if you don’t get out of the boat!
I don’t mind it so much as a figure of speech. I use it sometimes. And the lessons of faith, trust, courage, and obedience that are usually illustrated with these words are valid. But when we consider the idea of ‘getting out of the boat’ in light of it’s place in the story, it doesn’t really have much to do with faithfully, courageously, or obediently accomplishing great things for the glory of God.
In the first place, stepping out on the water was Peter’s idea. Jesus was willing enough to accommodate the request, but it wasn’t his idea. And other than a wet and frightening lesson about trust and perspective, nothing in particular was accomplished by Peter stepping out of the boat. He got back into the boat, and Jesus got in the boat with him. Then they continued on in the boat to where they were headed in the first place.
Would Peter have walked on the water with Jesus all the way across the Sea of Galilee if his faith hadn’t faltered? Maybe. But there is nothing to indicate that such a stroll was high on Christ’s agenda.
We do need to have the kind of faith that is willing to take risks. God can and will use that. But is Peter’s decision to get out of the boat a good parallel for a passionate, reckless pursuit of what God wants to do through us? I don’t think so—not in context anyway.
At the close of a long, wearying day, Jesus wanted some time alone to pray, so he sent the disciples ahead in a boat. Just before dawn he set out across the water himself—on foot. According to Mark, Jesus intended to pass the disciples by, but when they saw him they thought he was a ghost and got scared. Peter, as usual, blurted out something impulsive. Jesus responded. Peter took a few steps on the water, then doubted and sank. Jesus pulled him up and they both got back into the boat. Immediately the wind died down, and they all enjoyed an uneventful journey to their destination on the other side of the sea—where they resumed ministering to the people.
It’s a cool story and there are plenty of things to be gleaned from it. But if you want to be nit-picky (which I clearly do today) the getting out of the boat parallel really doesn’t work out so well. The boat was the vehicle that Jesus told the disciples to use to get to where he wanted them to go, not a place of complacency and false security they built for themselves. Jesus was willing, and he used the opportunity to reveal himself, but Peter’s request to come to him on the water was just that—a request. And after Peter’s soaking, Jesus got into the boat with him. What does the boat represent again?
In the end the disciples got where Jesus told them to go, using the means Jesus told them to use. I’m sure that walking on the water was a memorable experience and it has provided us with a vivid lesson about faith and doubt, but Peter’s exodus from the boat doesn’t seem to have been particularly important for the kingdom work at hand.
I plan to be willing to “get out of a boat” if God asks me too, but I don’t think I need to anticipate him telling me to get into a boat, and then to get out of it, only to have him finally join me in the boat so we can get where he wanted us to go in the first place.