The Lonely First Step

It’s easy to give Peter a hard time. One of the most well-known of Jesus’ disciples, Peter was the doubter. He was the denier. He was the one who never seemed all the way “in” with Jesus. Even after witnessing the resurrected Christ, with his very own eyes, Peter still caved into legalistic peer pressure. As a result of these many missteps and more, Peter is featured in many sermons and lessons as the poster child for “what not to do.” Don’t be like Peter, we say.

Lately, however, I have been rethinking this portrait of Peter. In Matthew chapter 14, we encounter one of the most famous stories about Jesus, the miracle of walking on water. In it, we read of Jesus strolling across a stormy sea to reach his disciples in distress. Peter, who can hardly believe his eyes, calls out to Jesus:

“Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” Jesus commands.

So Peter obeys. He steps out of the boat, takes a few shaky steps, then catches site of the waves. That’s the moment when his fear overcomes him, and he begins to sink. “Lord, save me!” he cries.

Typical Peter.

At least, that’s how I used to interpret this story. Only recently did I notice something completely new, which will forever change the way I read it.

Although Peter did doubt, and although Jesus did chastise him for his lack of faith, Peter was the only one who got out of the boat. Do you know who didn’t get out of the boat? The rest of the disciples. There were eleven other followers of Jesus who clung to the ship for dear life. Not a single one of Peter’s closest friends had the courage to join him.

Once I realized this, it was a game changer. This story is not simply about faith and doubt; this story is about the loneliness of leadership and walking by faith. This story is a picture of those wobbly first steps, when we separate ourselves from the pack and walk toward God in trust. This story captures the isolation of that moment, when we follow God’s leading into the risk, and none of our friends go with us. Maybe they don’t go with us because they aren’t called, or they won’t go with us because they’re afraid, but the reason doesn’t matter. Either way, it’s terrifying. Walking by faith, and leading by faith, is a vulnerable thing to do, so it’s normal to feel unsure of ourselves. That’s what leadership is like.

When read through that lens, this story breathes new life into me. It’s giving me the fortitude to step out of the boat, even when the waves are high and I’m going it alone. Because this is what this story tells us, and this is what I know: it’s better to be in the waves with Jesus, than in the boat without him.

Of course, none of this precludes the importance of seeking wisdom. If you sense God calling you to step out in faith, seek solid counsel. Listen to godly feedback. Be receptive to legitimate concerns.

But do all this knowing that even when the call is clear, real and confirmed, not everyone will understand it, not everyone will support you, and not everyone will go with you. This is painful and hard and as lonely as it can be, but this is what it means to be a leader. If God is calling you out of the boat, whatever that might mean, be like Peter. Step out of the boat.

Sharon Hodde Miller

Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor's wife, PhD, and mom. She blogs at, and she is the author of Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You (2017). You can connect with Sharon on Instagram.   


Join the discussion

Shirley January 8, 2018 at 9:03pm

I have held myself back for so long using so many situations as an excuse. Thinking life and relationships have to change before I can move forward and purposefully with God... listening to others and negative situations that I can't change define who I am. 2018.. keeping focused on the Lord... stepping out of the boat!

Karen January 8, 2018 at 2:19am

I too have had a season of dryness and experienced a place that I have never been before. I'm feeling called out of the boat and have been feeling this for the last 6 months. It is a lonely place, as a woman with a fabulous husband albeit unsaved, the loneliness and responsibility as a leader wanting to make the right decision is pretty intense. I'm looking at Peter from a different perspective, he walked on the word.

Susan G. January 7, 2018 at 5:44am

Thanks for this great insight! I read a lot and listen to a lot of sermons, but have not heard this perspective before.
Loved this!

Cassandra January 7, 2018 at 5:03am

Thank you for this article. I really needed this today!

Karon Fluharty January 7, 2018 at 4:58am

Thanks. I think it's a great point. Be a "Peter" and walk in faith instead of remaining in the BOAT OF LIFE never to experience the wonderous things GOD can do.

T. Green January 7, 2018 at 4:21am

I’m not a leader in church setting but this writing resonated in me of personal experiences stepping out when prompted by the Holy Spirit. Each time started me on a new path. He never disappoints, but reappoints! The reward is going deeper with Him.

Sisi January 7, 2018 at 4:06am

Insightful and encouraging as my husband and I are preparing to step out in a way that many won’t understand.

Cheserae January 7, 2018 at 3:53am

What a great way to start my Saturday! Thank you for such a thought provoking read. I appreciate your time, talent and thoughts.

Diane January 7, 2018 at 3:49am

Thank you for this! Stepped out of the boat feeling a bit weary but knowing this is the path. Your words encouraged me and renewed my strength in Him. ❤️

Lisa-Victoria Castillo January 7, 2018 at 3:44am

A perfect Word for this season of my life. Sharon your article brought Comfort to me and this new adventure the Lord is calling me into. Thank you for sharing!

Jessica January 4, 2018 at 5:27am

LOVE this!

Cherie M. January 3, 2018 at 7:30am

I am a pastor's wife, a women's minister, and a therapist. I have had a season of dryness. I am usually a woman of MANY words, but I am here to simply say "Thank you", Sharon. This is the perspective I have been looking for, to ignite my new year.