(This is a big one. I suggest reading it in installments. Part 1 can be found here; Part 2, here; and Part 3, here. You can always return later, to the Contents link at the top of the page, and access each part by clicking on the main title, “Rock on Water.” May the Lord bless and keep you.)

Faith leads to God; without it we understand nothing. And without understanding, we cannot be born again. But, just as the love of the Lord is infinite, so are the possible paths to the kingdom of heaven: one for every one of us.

Many paths lead to the right answer, as my old math teacher told me, but there is only one right answer. The answer is love.

These essays are my personal covenant, written to help you understand yours. I learned this one from the apostle Peter, whose path illuminated my own, as I hope it will teach you the infinite nature of faith.

After he learned of John the Baptist’s death, Jesus went off by himself to pray. When he rejoined his apostles, he found a crowd of 5,000 hungry people waiting, starving for nourishment of the body and soul.

Jesus told his apostles to feed them, but they claimed they didn’t have enough, only a couple fish, and a few small loaves of bread. We also tend to think we don’t have enough faith, or patience, or strength to share our love.

But with such a meager amount, Jesus fed everyone. We can too.

For this miracle, the crowd wanted to make him king, the conquering warrior/Messiah, Son of David, and Son of Man whom the Jews always thought would come to rescue them from themselves.

“And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.”-Matthew 14:22.

He sent his apostles away in the boat, to spare them from this destructive influence. We can’t make Jesus into what we want; rather, he makes us into what he wants.

The children of Israel thought their savior, “God’s anointed”-the Greek word for which is Christ, and in Hebrew is Messiah-would come to conquer all other nations, and destroy the Gentiles. And so they didn’t recognize Jesus.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”-John 1:11.

The apostles’ journey across the Sea of Galilee was meant to teach them (and us) to remain open, so that we learn God’s will. This is the beginning of faith: the path to love.

“And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.”-Matthew 14:23.

(Note that our story begins as the sun descended, and evening came.)

We learn God’s will through prayer. Here, Jesus teaches us to pray in between our dealings with others.

We minister in every interaction; whether we mean to or not, we teach others about the world, and humanity, and show them what to expect, or fear, or hope for. We drag them down, or pull them up. And they do the same for us.

We are all shepherds.

When we pray, we connect with God, humble ourselves to the universe. So, after prayer, we carry humility and good will to others.

“And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”-James 5:15.

When others hurt us, we carry that pain to God. Like a mother kissing her child’s skinned knee, the Lord makes everything better. And when others uplift us, we share that joy and thankfulness in prayer.

God is all things: every drop of water, whether it soothes or drowns; every color and shape, pleasing and offensive; every person and animal, good and bad; light and darkness; violence and peace; Alpha and Omega.

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”-Isaiah 45:7.

Everything, including pain, is a sign of God’s presence, which is synonymous with love. The mightiest, most destructive storm signifies the Lord: even if, like the apostles, we don’t realize it at the time.

“But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.”-Matthew 14:24.

This story foreshadows the apostles’ future, and ours. One-by-one, they would all be martyred, except for John, who (legend has it) escaped, or was exiled, to the Greek island of Patmos-where he wrote his Gospel and the Revelation.

We possess the Gospels because of their hardships. Without the bad, good would have no reason to exist. Faith allows us to understand this, by means of acceptance.

“And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. // And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.”-Matthew 10:18, 22.

Love is not popular with sinful people, who see Jesus as a condemnation, an interruption, a threat. We are so focused on our own desires, that we deny others theirs. This creates tribulation.

However painful God’s lessons may be, they prepare us for harder times, and teach us endurance. He rewards our patience with a call for greater patience, and our endurance with a call for greater endurance.

“For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.”-Mark 4:25.

The more we learn, the more we’re capable of learning. And when we cease to learn, then we forget what we once knew.

The same is true of faith. Practice makes perfect.

We often wonder why bad things happen to good people: These are tests, meant to hone our natural strength, patience, and endurance.

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience.”-Romans 5:3.

Hard times are not the absence of God, who is everything. The Lord knows that we will face greater and deadlier storms, and will not give us more than we can handle, without training us first: hence, tribulation.

“Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”-Isaiah 48:10.

Hard times aren’t an accident; nor are they punishment, or our guardian angels asleep at the wheel. We learn strength and patience through tribulation; and we specifically need those qualities to follow God’s will.

“In your patience possess ye your souls.”-Luke 21:19.

The storm helps us weather future cataclysmic events. Rejoice, but be warned; as contrary as those winds are, they are penny ante compared to what’s coming.

“Fear thou not; For I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”-Isaiah 41:10.

Just as the Lord brought the test, and guided us through temptation, so will His love nurture us through our own personal Judgment Day.

“And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.”-Matthew 14:25.

The Romans occupied Israel during Jesus’ time. They divided the night into four watches of three hours each, from 6 pm until 6 am. The fourth watch was from 3 am until 6 am.

This storm was no 5-minute cloud burst. The apostles entered the boat in the early evening, when Jesus prayed alone on the mountain. So they persevered through harsh winds and rain all night.

Perseverance builds faith.

We must note that, at the end of the fourth watch, the cock crows. This story foreshadows Peter’s great faith in following Jesus after his arrest, when all the other apostles ran away; and it also shows how Peter’s faith collapsed, when he denied Jesus.

“…And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. / And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.”-Luke 22:61, 62.

Sometimes we fail, even when the Lord prepares us: when we’re given the answers to the test, so to speak. Keep in mind, the tests never end. The point isn’t whether we pass or fail, but that we grow stronger, learn patience, and thereby, increase our faith.

“And the Lord said, [Peter], behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: / But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”-Luke 22:31, 32.

Though Peter failed these tests, through the practice of faith, his humiliation strengthened him. And with that strength and humility, he led the apostles after Jesus’ crucifixion, restoring their hearts and courage.

We learn God’s will, when we accept it, and submit ourselves to it. But that is no easy task. First, we must be brought low as a result of our own will, and totally defeated, so we learn humility.

Only when we are at our worst does our best manifest itself. Only when we accept our humanity, can we worship the true Lord of all things.

That is why Paul wrote, “we glory in tribulations.” That is why bad things happen to good people. Peter knew how depressed and terrified the apostles were after Jesus’ crucifixion, because he, too, had tasted defeat.

“And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.”-Matthew 14:26.

Tribulation causes doubt and fear. These, in turn, challenge and destroy our faith. Just when we need love the most, when the wind is contrary, when we can confirm or deny God, we lose faith. We get caught up in the moment, and forget all our best intentions.

Christianity reminds us of human nature. Jesus knew Peter would deny him, and Judas would betray him. He didn’t pray against human weakness, but with it in mind. He asked God to strengthen Peter, help him recover.

If not for Peter’s conversion, the strength of which came from his failures of faith, we would not have Christianity today. He not only led the apostles, but the early church, as well. And, like Jesus, he teaches us still.

“But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”-Matthew 14:27.

Jesus reminds us how fear destroys faith; likewise, therefore, faith destroys fear: They cannot exist simultaneously.

Fear and doubt usurp our will, invade our sovereign castle. When the battering ram crashes through our door, who cannot help but to shrink in terror? But, when or if we do, we lose our city, sacrifice ourselves.

Good cheer defends our gates. Happiness requires practice, forethought, preparation: all of which builds faith.

Learn from Noah. When did he build the ark? Before the rain.

“But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.”-Matthew 24:43.

We must prepare and watch for the storm. We know it will come, but we don’t know when. So, while the sun shines, gather your animals, and your family. Love your life; love the world and everything in it. This love is your ark.

We build faith, stockpile it, learn where it comes from, and how to summon it when fear and doubt threatens everything we’ve worked for.

“And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.”-Matthew 14:28.

Every tribulation presents a T-intersection, in which we must choose: left or right, do or do not, stand or fall, fear or faith, love or hate. We are so caught up in the moment, enraptured with our lives on the line, that we can’t control what we decide. This is purposeful, as the spur of the moment reveals our hearts.

Our decision occurs naturally, automatically: not so much a deliberate choice, but an honest reaction. Soldiers don’t know if they have courage, until the bullets fly. At that moment, the brave might flee, and the meek stand tall.

Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

“…for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”-Luke 18:14.

If we don’t humble ourselves, God humbles us. He throws us in the furnace of affliction so we’ll know our worth, what’s in our hearts; so we know the truth. If we fake our happiness and courage, then our bravado abandons us at the first sign of trouble. But if we accept our weaknesses, then they become our strengths.

Exhausted and frightened, Peter reached out to his friend. When we choose love, we pass every test; but choose fear, and fail.

“And [Jesus] said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.”-Matthew 14:29.

“Come”: That was how Jesus called all the apostles.

“And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”-Mark 1:17.

Love invites us, but we choose to embrace it or not.

“Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. / And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.”-John 1:45, 46.

Our friends comfort us, but we choose to ask for their help, or not.

“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”-Isaiah 55:1.

Sometimes our needs inconvenience people. I’ve been called “needy” and “high-maintenance.” We forget the hand that helped us, when our time comes to help. But it is never so with Jesus.

John the Baptist’s mother, Elisabeth, was the cousin of Jesus’ mother, Mary (Luke 1:36). John and Jesus were family. When John died, Jesus not only mourned a family member, but was stricken with grief and horror, because Herod beheaded John.

Even so, after he prayed:

“…Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.”-Matthew 14:14.

And then he fed all 5,000 of them. Then he prayed all night, and walked on water, calling to Peter during the fourth watch. Jesus was (and is) never too tired or inconvenienced; he always has, and he always will, help and comfort.

As he quoted from Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”-Luke 4:19.

This is the foundation of our faith in him.

I didn’t talk earlier about how Jesus walked on water. I wanted to postpone that discussion, until we got to Peter. Not since Moses parted the Red Sea, and the prophets Elijah and Elisha parted the Jordan river, has a human being performed a miracle; and these all had to do with water.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”-Isaiah 43:2.

Water is life: It composes about 60% of our bodies, and covers, roughly, 70% of the planet. And whatever is life, is God.

“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”-Genesis 1:2.

That which makes us can also break us. Peter could drown, while answering the Lord’s call. So can we.

But without the tribulation of the cross, there is no resurrection of faith from sin; no guts, no glory.

The Roman Emperor, Nero, crucified Peter upside down. But, 300 years later, Constantine converted Rome to Christianity. Without those events, it’s unlikely we would have Christianity today.

“[God] alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.”-Job 9:8.

Love and forgiveness requires faith. And faith depends on our strength and courage. By stepping onto the water, Peter dared to go where only God had been before. He did this so we could know that walking in the Lord’s footsteps is possible.

I sometimes wonder if we mislabel Jesus’ “miracles.” With him being the Son of God, or God, then what he did was not out of the ordinary, i.e., not miraculous. Therefore, by walking on water, Peter performed the only miracle in the New Testament.

At least, for a moment….

“But when [Peter] saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.”-Matthew 14:30.

When we come to Jesus, when we reach out to others in the name of love, we risk everything. The rewards for feeling and sharing love are bountiful beyond imagination; but Christianity is not for the timid.

Humility makes us vulnerable. When someone needs love, chances are they aren’t feeling love; rather, they are angry, defensive, and weak. They deny their weakness by projecting that quality onto people who love them, and see their vulnerability as reason to attack and devour anyone who’d help them.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves….”-Matthew 10:16.

By attempting to save someone who is drowning, we risk being pulled down with them. That’s why there’s so much hate in the hearts of humanity today. That’s why the priest and the Levite passed by the man who’d been beaten and robbed: Only the bold and loving Samaritan risks everything for someone else.

Fortune favors the bold. But we must have courage and faith, knowing we could drown, be crucified upside down, beaten and robbed, left for dead, devoured by ravenous wolves.

Will you? Can you risk security and contentment for paradise?

“And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”-Matthew 10:27.

Christianity is not just a religion. It allows us to see what our own sight could never perceive, to hear what we don’t wish to hear, to look beyond ourselves to the world, and all the great infinity we call God, to accomplish the most wonderful miracle: loving everyone and everything.

But there is always doubt: faith’s adversary. The Hebrew word for adversary is “satan.” Peter’s doubt caused him to sink. Satan caused Judas to betray Jesus, and tempted Jesus in the wilderness, to abandon his ministry, and live only for his own desires.

“Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”-Matthew 4:10.

Stay mindful. When you feel doubt, which often disguises itself as self-preservation, pray to the Lord to take that evil from you. In fear’s intoxication, doubt promises to save us. We’ll drown otherwise! Or so “Satan” tells us.

But if we surrender not to love, but to fear, then we lose our city. We think to defend ourselves, but our only defense is faith. And faith is understanding that love is the only way.

“I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me….”-Isaiah 45:5.

When the wind is boisterous, and we’re distracted by thunder and lightning, we fail the test of faith; we fail each other, ourselves, and all life.

But faith allows us, even if for just a moment, to do what only God can do: to love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, and walk on water.

If we stay mindful, strong in the face of utter ruin, then we can call out, as Peter did: Lord, save me!

“And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught [Peter], and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”-Matthew 14:31.

Here, Jesus states plainly the opposite nature of faith and doubt. Since faith leads to God (which is everything), then doubt leads to selfishness (which denies everything).

Keep in mind, there is worthwhile doubt, and there is foolish doubt. Remember Solomon’s wisdom.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”-Ecclesiastes 3:1.

Doubt is necessary to increase wisdom and knowledge. Without it, we’d live only with the “common sense” of our early childhood. We waste the day, when we don’t challenge our faith. Challenge brings growth; complacency dooms us to stagnation.

We need faith for what we don’t know, what we’re unable to know. Once something is provable, then we no longer require faith. But when something is infinite, when history, common sense, and the scientific method provide only shallow answers, then we’re on our own. Then, we remember what Jesus told Jairus, whose daughter had just died.

“…Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.”-Luke 8:50.

When the storm thrashes our small boat, and our weakness and mortality becomes evident, then we cry out as Peter did.

Lord, save me!

Know when to doubt, and when to have faith. We need faith when we know the present nature of something, but when we don’t know the future of it.

Faith is ignorance of the future, when that future might harm us.

Our ignorance of how or why we might suffer causes anxiety, depression, anger, and hopelessness. This is another reason for Christianity. Only God knows the future.

“Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.”-Isaiah 42:9.

Faith reconciles us with the unknown. We still don’t know when we’ll sink beneath the frothing waves, but we have faith in what we know of Jesus. We have faith that God is only absent if we exclude Him.

We know the thunder and lightning will come; we will be crucified upside down; and we’ll drive nails into helping hands. Our only salvation is the willingness to seek, or else we’ll never find; we must have the humility to ask for love, or else it cannot be granted. All we have to do is knock, and Jesus opens the door.

His miracles require faith.

“And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”-Matthew 13:58.

Every single miracle that he accomplished was possible only because of the person’s faith.

“And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.”-Mark 10:52.

Peter walked on water because of his faith, and he sank because of his doubt. This is the lesson he passed down to us.

“Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not…ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.”-Matthew 21:21.

Faith works miracles. We have faith when we are without doubt, and without fear.

We have faith in some one or some thing. We must know that in which we have faith. What we don’t know is the future.

Peter didn’t know what would happen when he stepped out of that boat. His common sense told him he would sink. But he had faith in Jesus, because he knew Jesus.

“He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? / And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. / And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. / And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”-Matthew 16:15-18.

Faith builds faith. And hate builds hate. Whatever we practice, we become. Peter’s faith began as a seed. It grew every time he used it, and it continued to grow because he never stopped using it.

This is how we quiet the storm: by allowing love into our boat.

“And when [Peter and Jesus] were come into the ship, the wind ceased.”-Matthew 14:32.

Love doesn’t spare us from suffering, since we need it to learn humility, but it does help us to endure our tribulations. We calm the inner storm, pacify our demons, when we accept God’s will.

Much is out of our hands, beyond our control, or even understanding. Without understanding, we stumble through our few, scant decades of life, never finding home or peace.

We can’t know ourselves unless we know our surroundings. But we can’t know the entirety of it all, anymore than a toenail knows its body.

Anxiety is the inevitable result of such astounding ignorance. Thus, we are never at peace. Our constant state of fight or flight frazzles our common sense, and logic, our ability to love and be loved.

The only answer comes to us in Peter’s three small words: Lord, save me! We can’t overcome the world, but Jesus can; he already has. So give to God what is God’s: fear, judgment, fate. And God will give to us what is ours: love and peace of mind.

“Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.”-Matthew 14:33.

The story ends where it began. After all the apostles went through, they saw only Jesus controlling the weather, which must mean he’s the Son of God.

“…And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him.”-Luke 8:25.

The Jews believed their Messiah would be a warrior and conqueror, like King David.

“For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.”-Psalm 122:5.

Enslaved many times, they gave up on saving themselves. God must burst into history, and destroy their enemies.

They called this “The Day of the Lord.” It was the Jewish apocalypse, a time of great upheaval between the sinful age of man, and the paradise that would follow.

“Son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Howl ye, Woe worth the day! / For the day is near, even the day of the LORD is near, a cloudy day; it shall be the time of the heathen.”-Ezekiel 30:2, 3.

They believed this.

Interpretation is everything. Sometimes we must simplify what the Bible says, break it down to its basic components. God destroys the old world (and person), to make way for the new. This is how we are born again.

But what was the Psalmist saying? What did Ezekiel mean? We can’t possibly know, only interpret. “Satan” tempts us, tests our faith, by telling us we don’t need to just interpret, we must believe.

When we believe, we make up our own minds. And when we make up our own minds, we follow our will, not God’s. There is no faith when we follow our own will. Therefore, faith differs from belief.

We must know something about the object of our faith, and be ignorant only of its future ramifications. But to believe, we accept as true what we can’t possibly know. We know that we can’t know it, but kid ourselves into thinking that, if we exert our will, then we gain control. But we can’t gain control, any more than the toenail controls its body.

We can’t know the infinite ways of God. We can’t know who or what Jesus is, exactly. But it’s okay, because that’s not what faith is about.

What, then, do we know of Jesus?

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”-John 13:34.

And what do we know of God?

“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”-1 John 4:8.

So what is the only thing we can know? The answer is love. The rest is faith. And when we accept that, we are born again.