I was walking round Langstone harbour one day praying for guidance on what we should do as a family after I finished Bible College. As I walked I noticed that the waves gradually became bigger and bigger and God asked me whether I was willing to move to the place where the seas were rougher and the waves bigger but that would also be the place of greatest blessing? Was I willing to get out of the boat? That was part of God’s calling on us some 28 years ago which has led us eventually to Sarisbury Green, but the challenge to get out of the boat has happened more than once for me.
The analogy of walking on water comes from the amazing and incredible experience of Paul as he did just that, he actually walked on water! It is this story, from Matthew 14:25-32, that is at the heart of John Ortberg’s book If You Want To Weak On Water You’ve Got To Get Out Of The Boat, which I’ve just read. I found the book both encouraging and challenging. Encouraging because I recognised and remembered some of the times in the past where I’ve dared to step over the side of the boat and have seen God do amazing things. Challenged because I also recognise and remember times when I’ve stayed in the boat and been unwilling to take the risk. I also recognise times that are somewhere between the two where I’ve stepped over the edge, but not had the courage to let go entirely!
When you see Phil or myself (or others during my sabbatical) leading public worship you may think we are confident and in control, at times nothing could be farther from the truth! A few years ago I introduced an element to our worship that felt very much like stepping out of the boat, we called it Bus Stop Prayers, an opportunity to stop for just two minutes during our worship to pray for healing for each other. I can still vividly remember the first time we did it. We had a visiting preacher and I was incredibly nervous and almost chickened out from introducing it. For me I felt I was taking a real risk and that sense continued each and every time I included it in our worship. Each time we included Bus Stop Prayers I, as the leader, had to step out of the boat.
Some of our regular congregation may rightly ask: What are Bus Stop Prayers, I don’t remember them? Your right, I did chicken out and stopped including them many, many months ago. Why did we stop? Because I chose the security of the boat and what I, and we, are more comfortable with. Will they become part of our worship again? I don’t know, it depends on what we feel God is saying and on whether I am willing to take the risk of stepping out of the safety of the boat!
I’d like to finish this post by quoting a most remarkable description of the church that John Ortberg includes in his book, it is well worth reading:
If I wait until I’m feeling 100 percent certain about having a spiritual conversation with somebody who is far from God, I may never have it. I will have to take the risk first. I have to get my feet wet.
Jeffrey Cotter tells about one time—an unforgettable plane ride—when he took the risk. As a pastor returning from a job interview and dressed in blue jeans, he found himself sitting next to a pinstripe-wearing, attaché case–carrying, Wall Street Journal-reading businessman. Cotter’s initial impulse was to avoid all conversation (especially about jobs), but when Mr. MBA greeted him, that option was lost. The man worked in what he called the figure salon business. He spoke of how they could change a woman’s self-concept by changing her body; he talked of his excitement about the power and significance of what he did.
Cotter was struck by the man’s pride in his work and accomplishments. He wondered why Christians are not more like that; why we are so often apologetic about our faith. He realized he had been in avoidance mode during the whole flight because of fear.
Looking skeptically at Cotter’s clothing, Mr. MBA asked about his line of work. Let Cotter tell it from here:
The Spirit began to brood over the face of the deep. Order and power emerged from chaos! A voice, in a whisper reminded me: “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
“It’s interesting that we have similar business interests,” I said. “You are in the body-changing business; I’m in the personality-changing business. We apply basic theocratic principles to accomplish indigenous personality modification.”
He was hooked, but I knew he would never admit it. (Pride is powerful.)
“You know, I’ve heard of that,” he replied hesitantly. “But do you have an office here in the city?”
“Oh, we have many offices. We have offices up and down the state. In fact, we’re national; we have at least one in every state of the union, including Alaska and Hawaii.”
He had this puzzled look on his face. He was searching his mind to identify this huge company he must have read or heard about, perhaps in his Wall Street Journal.
“As a matter of fact, we’ve gone international. And Management has a plan to put at least one office in every country of the world by the end of this business era.” I paused. “Do you have that in your business?”
“Well, no. Not yet,” he answered. “But you mentioned management. How do they make it work?”
“It’s a family concern. There’s a Father and a Son . . . and they run everything.”
“It must take a lot of capital,” he asked, skeptically.
“You mean money?” I asked. “Yes, I suppose so. No one knows just how much it takes, but we never worry because there’s never a shortage. The Boss always seems to have enough. He’s a very creative guy. . . . And the money is, well, just there. In fact, those of us in the organization have a saying about our Boss, ‘He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.’”
“Oh, he’s into ranching, too?” asked my captive friend.
“No, it’s just a saying we use to indicate his wealth.”
My friend sat back in his seat. “What about with you?” he asked.
“The employees? They’re something to see,” I said. “They have a ‘Spirit’ that pervades the organization. It works like this: The Father and Son love each other so much that their love filters down through the organization so that we all find ourselves loving one another too. I know this sounds old fashioned in a world like ours, but I have people in the organization who are willing to die for me. Do you have that in your business?” I was almost shouting now. People were starting to shift noticeably in their seats.
“Not yet,” he said. Quickly changing strategies, he asked “But do you have good benefits?”
“They’re substantial,” I countered with a gleam. “I have complete life insurance, fire insurance—all the basics. You might not believe this, but it’s true: I have holdings in a mansion that’s being built for me right now for my retirement. Do you have that in your business?”
“Not yet” he answered wistfully. The light was dawning. “You know, one thing bothers me. I’ve read journals, and if your business is all that you say it is, why haven’t I heard about it before now?”
“That’s a good question,” I said. “After all, we have a 2,000 year old tradition. . . . Want to sign up?”