Jesus’ disciple Peter is known for both his raw honesty and his impetuous action. Both of those characteristics are on display in the account of Peter’s brief stroll across the waves to get to Jesus (in Matthew 14:22-33). The disciples are making a middle of the night voyage across the Sea of Galilee, while Jesus is alone praying to His Father after an intense time of ministry and a painful experience of loss. In the wee hours of the morning, before it is light, Jesus comes to the disciples as they are straining at the oars to make headway against the wind.
Multiple factors contribute to the freaked-out response of the disciples when Jesus materializes out of the darkness, walking on the water. One, they had no idea He was coming–there was no text message with an ETA to let them know He was on the way. Two, it was still pitch dark, before the sun had risen. Three, they must have been exhausted by that point, and imaginations can do weird things when people are overly tired. And fourth, humans walking on top of water was certainly not an everyday occurrence that these disciples would have experienced.
So when they see a shadowy figure coming toward them over the waves, the disciples cry out with terror, thinking it is a ghost. Jesus speaks to them to calm their fears, though it’s interesting that He doesn’t say “It’s Jesus” but simply “It is I,” trusting that the disciples will in fact know His voice and be comforted. This is where Peter’s true colors come out–he spontaneously throws out this crazy test to verify that this shadowy figure is in fact Jesus: “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (Where did he come up with that?!!) And Jesus, perhaps with a wry smile that Peter couldn’t see in the darkness, says “Come.”
For all his bluster and blunders, Peter does one thing really well–He obeys. He doesn’t sit there and calculate the risks and possibilities, He simply obeys and steps out of the boat. And for a few seconds, he too is walking on top of the waves! But then with a splash of cold water across the face, reality sinks in, and obedient, impetuous Peter is going down. In that moment of sinking realization, Peter utters what I think is the essence of prayer: “Lord, save me!”
Lord, save me. Three simple words. But this is the essence of prayer. Prayer calls out to the Lord. It is an act of humility and dependence on God–it is a recognition that we cannot save ourselves, that in fact we need Someone outside of ourselves to do what we cannot bring about. Prayer pleads “Save!” We are asking for deliverance, for rescue, for salvation, in one way or another. And prayer expresses what is needed for me. It is not merely theoretical or theological, but personal.
Certainly there is a place for rehearsing the truth of the Gospel in our prayers, but when Peter finds himself starting to sink in the waves and I find myself sinking in despair, “Lord, save me!” is just as appropriate a prayer (and in a simpler way is actually rehearsing the Gospel as well). Certainly there is a time to express fully our adoration of God, to confess our sin, to give Him thanks, and to bring our supplications to Him (as the A.C.T.S. acronym reminds us), but when the winds of fear are blowing and the waves of sorrow are crashing, “Lord, save me!” should be constantly on our lips and in our hearts.
Jesus responded immediately to Peter’s simple prayer–He reached out His hand and took hold of Peter. And Jesus will respond to our cries as well when we utter this simple prayer “Lord, save me!”