Your Faith Will Not Fail in a Storm, Even When You Do
During that storied final meal Jesus shared with His disciples, only hours away from all the torments that awaited Him, there is an extraordinary exchange between Jesus and Peter. The truly remarkable thing is that this is just before Jesus tells Peter he will disown Him. Sitting at the table, where the peculiar alchemy of wine turning to blood and bread becoming body was already at play, Jesus looks across the table at the fiery, well-intentioned disciple whose face was not yet shadowed by the guilt of betrayal. And He speaks words of heartbreaking tenderness to the man who says he will die for Jesus but will in actuality curse him by morning:
Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.— Luke 22:31-32
Satan has desired to sift you like wheat, says the Man who Roman soldiers will carve up like cattle in just a few hours. But even knowing the physical and psychological torture that He will soon endure, Jesus’ concern is for Peter — that he will not be able to live with himself after what he is about to do. He knows the storm of bitter tears, the stomach-churning agony of regret that will eat him from the inside for betraying the one he loved the most. He knows the sting of it could rend Peter’s mind, the way the whip will soon rend His own skin. So He says,
I have prayed for you — that your faith may not fail…
Objectively, conclusively, decisively — Peter himself will fail before the rooster crows. That is already established. But while Peter will fail spectacularly, on the surface of things, there is something at work in him that is deeper than his failure. The waves will overtake the man and his blustering ego, but in the depths of the sea within Peter is a stronger, more ancient current that did not originate from him — a current that need not be shaken by his failure on the surface: his faith. I have prayed for you, Peter, that even though you will fail (in fact, be known for the most famous failure in the history of the church), your faith will not fail. The tsunami will come, and take your self-reliance and your pride; humiliation will wash over you. You will fail, but I have prayed for you… that your failure would not destroy your faith but deepen it. I have prayed for you that the very thing that was intended to kill you will make the faith already planted in the deepest soil of you even stronger.
It is possible to fail, and not have our faith fail us.
It is possible to lose our lives, and not lose our souls. The master teacher taught us Himself that it is only in losing our lives — in their ego pretensions and posturing, in their careful image constructions and neediness — that this richer, deeper, below-the-surface life can be found. This is the life hidden with Christ in God, where almost anything can happen at the top of things without disrupting the grace that lies in the bottom of the sea in you. This is the place in the depths where you can be cut off from your very self (as you understood it), and from the name your father gave you, and from the place where you grew up, and from the tribe that gave you language, and from the story that gave you meaning — only to find that nothing can separate you from the love of God.
When the storm is still brewing over the waters, and the sky sickens into an ominous gray-black, and you feel the electric charge in the air in your very skin, inevitably the question comes:
Will I survive this?
Can I make it through the storm that is coming (whatever sent it here, and however it came)? And of course, there are many storms fierce enough to toss you, throw you, destabilize you, and scare you that do not result in shipwreck. Some storms last only for the night; some pockets of violent air are only turbulence.
But some storms are more violent, more relentless, more exacting. Some winds will not be calmed; some floods will not be dammed until they have their way with you, until they walk away with their pound of flesh. And whether or not, again, the storm finds its origin in the undomesticated wildness of nature and of created things — or whether or not the storm originates in you — does not change the scope or scale or power of it. The storms that come will test us all, and it is entirely possible one comes to you that will end in your failure before the wind and waves recede. But the Spirit in the wind whispers the words of Jesus again, inserting your own name for Simon’s: “I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail — and even when you do . . . that your faith may even grow stronger through your failure.”
During my own shipwreck, my long season of descent, I returned over and over to the story in Acts 27 of Paul’s shipwreck. The apostle was a prisoner in transport when God revealed to him that a storm was coming. Because Paul knows the Spirit, he is a man in tune with matters of wind and wave as much as the matters of the soul; and he knows the boat he is traveling on will soon encounter a terrible storm. Before the storm comes, he tells his captor companions a heartening thing: “None of you will lose a hair from your heads.” (Acts 27:34) The good news is, you are not going to die. The bad news is, the boat that has been carrying you — the vessel that had taken you from port to port, place to place, the strong and stable boat that made you feel safe on all the oceans you’ve sailed thus far — the boat will be lost. They were not going to lose their lives, but they were going to lose the boat.
Losing the boat is no small thing. To lose the boat is to lose the ground beneath your feet, the stories you told yourself and others, to lose what protected you from all the elements before. To lose the boat is to lose everything that kept you afloat before, to be thrown into the vast and merciless sea now alone, with nothing left to protect you from its moody tides, the blazing sun above it, or the black-eyed creatures that lurk beneath it. You can lose your boat, lose your house with all the pictures inside it, lose your job, lose your most defining relationship.
And still not lose you. And still not lose your soul. And still not lose your faith. Make no mistake: You will be stripped down in the shipwreck. But you will not be lost. While I would not recommend a shipwreck to anyone, any more than I would recommend cancer, car accidents, or the plague, I can yet attest to a mysterious truth I have since heard over and over from people who have survived their own shipwrecks: On the other side of them, there is a stronger, deeper, richer, more integrated life.
That on the other side of the storm that tears you to pieces is a capacity to love without doubt, to live without fear, to be something infinitely more powerful than the man or woman you were before it happened.
Almost nobody who survives a shipwreck would ever sign up to do it all over again, a second time. Nobody can exactly say they were glad it happened. And yet repeatedly, I hear people say the same remarkable thing — that they also under no circumstances would choose to go back and be the person they were before. Nobody would choose to lose the loved one all over again to the unexpected illness, or lose the job they trained for years to get, or lose the relationship they invested heart and soul into for half of their adult life.
I cannot tell you with any degree of confidence that you will not fail your test. I cannot tell you with any degree of certainty that your ship is going to make it out in one piece. Like Job, I am a small man, unable to sort the elements of God and cosmos and good and evil, of human freedom and responsibility, of divine will, or of the unadorned chaos that is the sea itself.
I can only align myself with the greater wisdom of the Teacher and of His apostle and tell you that even though you might fail — utterly — your faith does not have to.
I can tell you that even if the ship does not survive, you will.
Storms come, as do a legion of demons that come for the sifting. Take heart; Jesus says, “I have prayed for you.”
Excerpted with permission from How to Survive a Shipwreck by Jonathan Martin, copyright Jonathan Martin.
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