Last week I posted about the apostle Thomas and how people often mislabel him as a doubter. But Thomas is not the only apostle who has been given a hard time for his moments of doubt. The senior apostle Peter also comes under frequent condemnation for his doubt upon the waves.
The New Testament tells the story of Jesus Christ walking on the water towards His apostles, who are sailing in a ship. The disciples are startled by this apparition and aren’t sure what to think.
Jesus assures them that it’s Him, but to be certain, Peter says to Jesus, “If it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Jesus invites Peter to come, and sure enough, Peter walks on the water as well.
Then verse 30 says, “But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately stretches out His hand to save Peter. After catching Peter, the Savior says to him, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).
Often when people talk about this story, it seems like the emphasis is on Peter’s doubt and how we should keep our sights on the Savior so that we don’t make the mistake of doubting and sinking like Peter did.
Although that point is a valuable insight to be gained from this story, it focuses on the negative of Peter’s actions rather than on the positive—it focuses on his single moment of doubt rather than on all the other moments in this scene (let alone outside this scene) when Peter does, in fact, demonstrate faith rather than doubt.
In studying this story by the Spirit, here are three insights I gained that we can apply to ourselves when we encounter doubt:
1. “No Faith” vs. “Little Faith”
Something important to notice here is that the Savior does not say, “O thou of no faith” to Peter; rather He says, “O thou of little faith.”
Just a few chapters later, in Matthew 17, this concept of “little faith” appears yet again: “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed,” Jesus says, “ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matthew 17:20).
A mustard seed is about 1–2 millimeters (about .05 inch), and in Jesus’s day, people would often compare something to a mustard seed when they wanted to suggest that it was extremely small (“The Mustard Seed,” Ensign, Mar. 2014, 68–69).
So when Jesus talks about having faith the size of a mustard seed, He is referring to having “little faith.” He says that, even with just that tiny amount of faith, we can work miracles. And with his “little faith,” Peter did work a miracle—an incredible miracle that we often overlook:
Peter Walked on Water!
Even though Peter feared the storm and began to sink because of doubt, he did in fact walk on the water! How incredible is that? And how many of us can claim such a feat? The fact that Peter was able to walk on water for a time shows that he did actually have faith, not just doubt. Besides, when Jesus pulled Peter up from the water, where did Peter stand then? It is possible that he again stood on the water after the Savior pulled him up from the water, which would show that, though Peter’s faith faltered for a moment, he was able to regain it with the help of Jesus Christ.
A Leap of Faith
And walking on the water isn’t the only moment in this story that demonstrates Peter’s faith. We first see it in the fact that he overcame his initial fear of seeing Jesus walking towards the boat on the water: “When the disciples saw [Jesus] walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear” (Matthew 14:26).
Peter, however, overcomes this fear and exercises faith by saying to the Savior, “Bid me come unto thee on the water” (Matthew 14:28). He then takes a literal leap of faith by climbing out of the boat and onto the water, completely trusting and believing that, with Jesus’s help, he would also be able to walk on the water.
Too often, we overlook this incredible miracle and focus only on the fact that Peter sank and doubted—rather than the fact that he walked and believed.
We can also do the same with ourselves. Sometimes, we focus so much on our moments of doubt that we allow them to overshadow the faith that we do have, or we misunderstand our “little faith” and incorrectly think of it as “no faith.”
A Particle of Faith
Sometimes our faith may be so miniscule that it may seem non-existent. But the prophet Alma said, “If ye will . . . exercise a particle of faith, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of [God’s] words” (Alma 32:27; emphasis added).
Even if you don’t feel like you have faith but you want to have faith, that is a start—and actually is the first little particle or mustard seed of faith, if you allow that desire to lead to action and you “awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon [God’s] words (Alma 32:27).
So if you think you have “no faith,” take a step back and reconsider—what you may think is “no faith” may actually be “little faith,” and with that little faith you can still go far and work wonders!
2. When we find ourselves slipping into doubt, we should immediately reach out to the Savior.
When the wind and waves grew stormy, the first thing that Peter did the instant he began sinking was to reach out for Christ saying, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30). In response, “Immediately, Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him” (Matthew 14:31). Peter trusted Christ—had faith in Him—and knew that He could and would save him, even in the midst of his doubt.
Likewise, when we find ourselves encountering questions and doubts, we should immediately turn to God, the source of all knowledge.
M. Russell Ballard has said,
“Today, we live in a world in which people don’t ask of God—they seem to want to ask of Google. Even when it comes to questions of faith, there are many who trust the Internet to provide accurate, fair, and balanced answers to their questions more than they trust the ultimate source of truth, our Heavenly Father. . . . Today, the Internet is full of those lying in wait to deceive the uninformed and inexperienced. In our search for gospel truth, we not only need to find reliable sources but we also need to give the Lord equal time in our daily pursuits, to study the scriptures and the words of the Lord’s servants.”
Yes, the Internet can be a helpful source in seeking answers, but it can also potentially be dangerous. That’s why it is so important that, like Peter, we immediately turn to the Lord God Omniscient as our first source the moment we feel ourselves sinking into questions and doubts.
We should begin any quest for answers and understanding to our gospel questions by reaching out in prayer to Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ and invite the Holy Spirit to be our teacher. For “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5). We then must study and seek answers to our questions with that Spirit to guide us.
Especially if we are reading things on the Internet, we need to be guided by the Spirit to know if the things we are reading actually reflect God’s truth, rather than people’s opinions or even deceptions.
Therefore, always reach out immediately to God when you find yourself facing questions or sinking into doubt. It may take time for answers and understanding to arrive, but God will never let you drown if you reach out for Him.
3. Focus on the positive instead of the negative—on faith instead of doubt.
Yes, the storm did come, and, yes, Peter began to doubt and sink. But instead of focusing on that doubt, it is important to focus on Peter’s faith, which both preceded and followed that doubt. It is also important to do the same thing with ourselves.
Many times, it can be easy for us to negatively focus on our doubts and weaknesses when they arise. We may feel guilty or unworthy for feeling that doubt and may focus solely on those feelings, forgetting the times that we have had faith.
Regarding the issue of focusing on faith rather than doubt, Jeffrey R. Holland has said,
“In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited. . . . When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. . . . The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.”
Just as we can focus on Peter’s faith rather than his doubts, we can also remember to focus on our own faith when doubts arise. We can follow Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s counsel to, “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.”
It’s okay—and can even be healthy—to have questions and doubts, as long as you use them to help you turn to God for answers and understanding, in turn strengthening your faith.
Just don’t allow that doubt to override your faith. Focus on the things you do understand and believe, and let them be your foundation.
Because even with just that “little faith” God can work miracles in our lives and pull us up from the waves of doubt, as He did with the faithful Peter.