Are You Living By Creative Risk?
October 20, 1991
It was Helen Keller who said, “Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing at all.” Those words would ring true no matter who said them, but coming from someone who lived a life like Helen Keller, they merit special consideration. Born blind, deaf and unable to speak, she somehow found a way out of the darkness and into the world around her. Her story is one of the great miracles of the twentieth century. By the way, she was a fervent Christian and a deep believer in God. Millions of people have drawn inspiration from her example.
So I ask you to consider her words a second time: “Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing at all.”
This morning as I drove to church, I heard about a great event that took place yesterday in Fayetteville, North Carolina. It seems that the second-highest bridge in America is right outside Fayetteville. The bridge is nearly 900 feet above the bottom of a gorge. Because the distance is so great, people like to parachute off the bridge. It’s obviously dangerous, and over the years three people have died after crashing into the rocks. Now 875 feet would not normally be considered high enough to parachute, but that hasn’t stopped the daredevils. A lot of them have made it, but three people so far have died after crashing into the rocks.
In order to put an end to that, the authorities decided they would have a yearly parachute-jump off the bridge. On a certain day, anyone who was qualified would be allowed to parachute off the bridge. Yesterday 300 people parachuted off the second-highest bridge in America. I am happy to report that nobody was killed, although three people did fracture their bones because they landed wrong.
That would seem strange, except for another fact. Not only were there 300 people parachuting off the bridge, but as they jumped, thousands of people lined the sides of the gorge to the watch the action. It is, I suppose, the big event of the year in that part of the country.
We smile when we hear that, but we’re not any different. Every year in Chicago, there is a great air show. This year nearly a million people jammed the shoreline of Lake Michigan to watch the pilots go through their acrobatics and aerobatics.
“I Like Being Around Those Who Like To Do It.”
Why do we come and why do we watch? Why are we fascinated by thrillseekers and daredevils? The same thing that makes us go out to Lake Michigan is the same thing that made thousands of people go out to that bridge in North Carolina. We want to see what’s going to happen. Not only what will happen, but what might happen. It’s the bare possibility that something unusual or untoward might happen that draws us irresistibly to watch the daredevils tempt fate.
That’s why we watch shows like That’s Incredible or The Thrillseekers or Rescue 911 or Top Cops or any of the other so-called reality shows that are so popular today. That’s why shows about hang-gliders and bungee jumpers and people who swim with sharks draw such high ratings. Americans have an insatiable hunger for stories about those crazy folks who spend their lives pushing the edge of the envelope.
We know of course that we would never do anything like that. But we like to talk about the people who do. It reminds me of the young man who joined the paratroopers. One day as his commanding general was inspecting the troops, he stopped and asked the young man, “Do you like jumping out of airplanes?” To which the reply came, “No sir, I don’t. I just like being around the guys who do like it.” Most of us fit into that category. We like being around the thrillseekers.
The Human Pyramid
“Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.” Most of you recognize the name Karl Wallenda. By all accounts he was one of the greatest high-wire artists of all time. For many years his troop—the Flying Wallendas—went from town to town thrilling thousands with their death-defying acrobatics. Some of you may remember that their signature act was the amazing Living Pyramid. Two men on the wire holding the pole. Three above them. Two above them. One at the very top. All this while poised far above the ground, on the thinnest of wires, with no net underneath. Time and again they performed this feat with no mistakes. But eventually the day came when one of the performers stumbled and the pyramid collapsed, killing two members of the troop and injuring two others for life.
Many people thought that would be the end of the Flying Wallendas. But not many weeks later Karl Wallenda led his now-decimated family back out on the high wire once again, building the Human Pyramid as they had done so many times before. When reporters asked Karl Wallenda why he would get back up on the wire after such a terrible tragedy, he was surprised by the question. His answer was simple: “To be on the wire is life. All else is waiting.”
Live Until You Die!
“Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.” Let me rephrase that another way. “The life of safety is no life at all.” This week while preparing for this message I ran across an amazing statement by Bruce Larson. He said (I’m paraphrasing him) that an inordinate desire for safety and security can be a sign of mental illness. Wow! That shocked me when I first read it. But upon further examination it makes perfect sense. He’s talking about those people who are so fearful and frightened that they never take any chances at all. They never stick their necks out, they never go out on a limb, they never try anything new, they live their lives doing the same old things over and over again. They are stuck in the rut of predictable, boring routine. When they die, their tombstone reads, “She died years ago, but we didn’t get around to burying her until now.”
There is an important corollary to Bruce Larson’s statement. It goes like this: “The ability to intelligently choose risk and danger is one mark of mental health.” The key word is “intelligently.” Healthy people aren’t afraid to take reasonable chances in pursuit of their larger dreams. They take on jobs that seem too big for them. They make investments that have an element of risk. They dream big dreams. They refuse to be intimidated by the word “impossible.” They will go ahead with a project while other people walk away from it. Why? In large part because they refuse to be paralyzed by the possibility of failure. Consequently they fail more than the average person simply because they attempt more than the average person. And since they attempt more than most people, they usually end up succeeding more than most people.
Risk-Takers For God
When you bring this observation over into the spiritual realm it looks something like this: The life of faith is inherently a life of risk. Go back to the Bible and take a look at the men and women who did great things for God. They were all—without exception—risk-takers. They were people who weren’t afraid to lay it all on the line for God.
Consider Noah, who built an ark when it had never rained in the history of the world. People thought he was crazy, but here’s old Noah with his three boys cutting down that gopher wood and nailing the planks into place. Not only that, but he had to wait 120 years for the rains to finally come. In the end, he was saved and his family along with him, but it wasn’t easy waiting for the first drops to fall from the heavens.
Consider Abraham, who at the height of his prosperity was called to leave Ur of the Chaldees. Taking his wife with him, he set out for regions unknown because God had promised to show him a better land. Although he had it all from a material point of view, and although he was well-liked and well-respected, when God called, he left it all behind. He said goodbye to safety and security, setting out across the trackless desert in search of a city which has foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God. (Hebrews 11:10)
Consider Moses, who led the nation of Israel to the shores of the Red Sea, then across the Red Sea, then into the Sinai Desert. He was 80 years old at the time! At an age when most men are cranking back the La-Z-Boy and reading the sports page, Moses is up on the mountain having a discussion with God.
“The Walls Came a Tumblin’ Down”
Consider Joshua, who after 3000 years is remembered primarily for that stunt he pulled at Jericho. For seven days he marched around the walls of that impregnable city. For seven days the people inside laughed at that lunatic Jew and his lunatic followers. For seven days it appeared that he had lost his mind. But then Joshua told the priests on the seventh day, “This time march around seven times.” After the seventh time around on the seventh day, the priests blew their trumpets and Joshua called out, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city.” With a mighty roar, the people shouted … “And the walls came a tumblin’ down.”
Consider David, who walked into the Valley of Elah to face the mighty giant Goliath. Stopping at the stream, he picked up five smooth stones. When no one else in the whole nation would go down into the valley, David walked in alone. It was a suicide mission, a hopeless cause. How could a teenager do what brave men were afraid to do? But he did, and the rest is history.
Consider Esther, who was queen in Babylon. Although her life was at stake, she risked it all by going in to see the king. If he didn’t extend the scepter, she would immediately be put to death. But taking her heart in her hands, she went to see the king in order to save her people. Risky? Yes. Crazy? Perhaps. But she did it anyway because she believed it was the right thing to do.
Consider Nehemiah, who left a prosperous career in Susa to return to the rundown city of Jerusalem, there to rally the dispirited people of God to rebuild the Temple. Rousing the nation from its stupor, and overcoming hostility at every turn, the walls were rebuilt in only 52 days.
Consider Daniel, who when he was thrown into the lion’s den, feared not for his own life, but turned the lions into pillows and slept like a baby all night long.
Faith Without Risk is No Faith At All
When you read the Bible, again and again you discover that the men and women who accomplished great things for God were also great risk-takers. They weren’t content to accept the status quo. They thought that more could be done if only someone would lead the way. And when no one else stepped forward, they themselves volunteered.
Often no one followed. And sometimes they suffered greatly for their actions. It was rarely easy, and often cost them their own reputations, but they did what they did because they weren’t afraid to look foolish in the eyes of their countrymen.
And here’s a fact worth noting. When our little children come to Sunday School, what stories do we tell them? The very stories I have just mentioned to you. We tell them about the great heroes of the faith—Noah and Abraham and Moses and David and Daniel and all the rest. We don’t talk about the ordinary men and women; we talk about those brave souls who laid it all on the line for God. These are the people we hold up before our children. These are the models we want them to follow.
That is only right and proper because the life of faith is inherently a life of risk. If you are unwilling to take a chance, you can never discover what living by faith is all about. If you have to have all the answers before you make a decision, if you’re afraid to take a step unless you know things will work out to your advantage, faith will always be a mystery to you.
“Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.” “The life of safety is no life at all.”
Belief Plus Unbelief
In the past I’ve told you about my favorite definition of faith. It’s not original with me, but I have found it very helpful in my own life. Here it is: Faith is Belief Plus Unbelief and Acting on the Belief Part. That’s helpful because it clears up so many prevalent misconceptions about faith. Most people think that faith means having 100% certainty before you do anything. And they think that if you have any doubt, you can’t have faith. The only problem is that 100% certainty is hard to come by in a world like ours. Just when you think you’ve gotten rid of all your doubts, they come creeping back in through the back door.
Do you really think Noah never doubted during those 120 years while he was building the ark?
Do you think that Abraham never doubted when he said goodbye to Ur of the Chaldees?
Do you think David never had a second thought when he stepped down into the valley?
Do you think Joshua never questioned God’s instructions when he marched around Jericho?
Doubt is not sinful. It’s a normal and natural reaction to an apparently impossible situation. Doubt only becomes sinful when you choose to act on your doubts. Most of us live our lives poised somewhere between belief and unbelief—”I think God wants me to do this but I’m not totally sure.” “I believe this is a good project but there are lots of factors we can’t control.” “Part of me wants to go and part of me wants to stay.” “I think so, I hope so, maybe so, maybe not.” That’s reality. That’s where most of us live most of the time.
Faith is not waiting for 100% certainty. Faith is weighing your doubts in light of your belief, and then consciously choosing to act on the belief part.
Faith Is …
- Faith is what you do when you cross the city limits of Ur of the Chaldees and turn to wave goodbye to your friends.
- Faith is what you do when you are standing on the shores of the Red Sea with the armies of Egypt behind you. At that moment you lay your staff on the water and pray to God that the water parts.
- Faith is what you do when you’re marching around Jericho while they are throwing garbage over the wall on top of you.
- Faith is what you do when you’re falling into the lion’s den and you can hear the roar of the lions who think you’re going to be the main dish that night.
- Faith is what you do when you step into the valley to face the giant.
- Faith is not a vague feeling about God. Nor it is simply an inner conviction that certain things are true. Faith in the final analysis is what happens when your inner conviction becomes the ground of outward action. At that moment you have stopped wavering between faith and doubt. You have decided to “act on the belief part.”
“The life of faith is inherently a life of risk.” That’s why the question—“Are You Living By Creative Risk?”—is so important. You will never become all that God wants you to be until you become a risk-taker for God.
“Let’s Go Sailing”
Of all the stories in the New Testament that point out this truth, I know of none more beloved than the story of Peter walking on the water in Matthew 14:22-33. You’ve heard this story over and over again and our children know it by heart. But somehow we never grow tired of it.
The background of the story is very simple. Jesus is up on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is late in the day and Jesus has just performed the great miracle of Feeding the Five Thousand. The people are understandably amazed and enthralled by this miracle and they want to make him king. But Jesus, knowing that their enthusiasm is shallow, refuses them and instead goes off to pray by himself. After dismissing the crowd, he sends the disciples on ahead to the other side of the lake, telling them that he would meet them later.
Matthew tells the story this way: “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he dismissed them, he went up on the mountainside by himself to pray.” (14:22-23)
So far, so good. As the disciples begin to sail across the lake, an enormous storm blows up. From the way the gospel writers tell the story, it seems as if the storm began around 8:00 P.M. and continued all night long. Given the fact that the Sea of Galilee is nestled against the mountains, such a storm would not be unusual, except for the fact that such storms usually blow up and quickly blow over.
The disciples are in the boat struggling against the storm. 9 p.m. . . . 10 p.m. . . . 11 p.m. . . . 12 Midnight . . . 1 a.m. . . . 2 a.m. . . . 3 a.m. . . . Still the storm continues with no sign of letting up. Even though some of the disciples had made their living on this very lake as fishermen, they had never seen anything quite like this. After eight or nine exhausting hours, they were stuck in the middle of the lake, dirty, drenched, chilled to the bone, weary to the point that they began to wonder if they would ever make it to shore alive.
“Shut Up and Keep Rowing”
We pick up Matthew’s story in verse 25: “During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.” By Roman reckoning, the “fourth watch” was between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.—the worst hours of the night. It was sometime during that three-hour period that Jesus began walking on the water. (I hardly need to comment that this is a literal miracle—not a symbol or a parable or a vision. Jesus the man—not a vision or an apparition—was literally walking on top of the rolling waves. I don’t know how he did it, but that he did it I have no doubt. After all, he is the Lord of earth and heaven, the Lord of the natural and the supernatural. Walking on water would not be difficult for the Son of God.)
When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. I don’t blame them. It would have scared any normal person. Someone cried out, “It’s a ghost.” They were wrong, but it’s wasn’t a bad guess. After all, it’s not everyday that you see someone taking a midnight stroll across a lake in the middle of a storm—without getting wet.
We can understand their fear, can’t we? They’ve been rowing and rowing and rowing and getting nowhere. And they can’t seem to make it to shore. It’s 4 or 4:30 in the morning. They are dead tired. Every muscle is aching. The wind is blowing. The rain pelts them from every angle. They are cold and tired and waterlogged. Plus they are grumpy and hungry and frustrated. Here they are in the middle of the lake going nowhere fast.
Suddenly someone sees a figure walking across the water. I think in that situation I would say exactly what they said, “It’s a ghost.” I cannot blame them a bit. My first thought would not be, “Well, here comes Jesus. He’s decided to walk on the water in the middle of this storm.” I think I’d be one of the fellows saying, “Shut up and keep rowing.”
“Walk on Water, Pete!”
We pick up Matthew’s story in verse 27: “But Jesus immediately said to them, ‘Take Courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said.”
It’s very interesting to read the commentators on this passage. You find out a lot about a person’s attitude toward life by the way they discuss what Peter does. This week I had a chance to go back and read a number of commentaries written at the end of the 19th century. I noticed one fact immediately: Most of them reacted very negatively to what Peter did. They called him impulsive and headstrong and foolish for even wanting to walk on water. Some even suggested that Peter thought he was better than the others. Most of them wanted to make Peter look bad for what he did.
That, I think, completely misses the point. Comments like that tell us more about the commentator than they do about Peter. There is nothing in the text that even remotely suggests that Peter was wrong for wanting to walk on water. Nothing even slightly points that way. Everything points in the other direction. The reason some commentators don’t like what Peter did is because they are the kind of people who never would have dreamed about getting out of the boat in the first place!
At this point Peter is not being impetuous. It’s not as if he just jumps out of the boat and starts walking. That would have been presumptuous and foolish. Matthew is very clear that Peter asks for permission first. If Jesus says no, then Peter stays in the boat. But Jesus didn’t say no. He said, “Come.” So Peter came. How can you criticize him for that?
It’s a basic rule of the spiritual life that when Jesus says, “Come,” you’d better obey. When he says, “Walk,” you’d better walk. When he says, “Come toward me,” you’d better come toward him. In Peter’s case, he’d be safer out on the water in obedience than staying in the boat in disobedience. Once Jesus gave the command, the safest thing Peter could do was to get out of the boat.
In my opinion, it is impossible to make Peter look bad for getting out of the boat. All he did was to obey the words of Jesus. How can you criticize a man for a thing like that?
So Peter gets up from his seat in the boat and makes his way to the side. The waves are rolling, the wind is howling about him, and the rain is coming down in buckets. Carefully he throws one foot over the railing, and with his toes tests the water to see if it will hold him up. Meanwhile one of the other disciples yells, “Sit down, man. Are you crazy? You’ll drown out there.” It is the voice of caution seeking to overrule the voice of faith.
When Peter gingerly sticks his toes down to the water, he makes an amazing discovery. The water is as hard as a concrete playground. It’s so solid that he couldn’t put his foot into the water even if he wanted to. He taps the surface to be sure. No problem. Something has happened so that the surface of the water is like a rock.
Peter can’t believe it. The other guys are looking over the edge waiting for him to start sinking. Once he’s entirely certain the water will hold him, he lets go of the railing. Unbelievable! Peter is standing on the surface of the water. Not far away Jesus stands on the water watching this entire scene.
What do you think Peter did once he let go of the boat? I think maybe he did a little tap dance on the Sea of Galilee. Or maybe he yelled to one of the other guys to follow him. “What do you say, boys? Look at me. I’m walking on water?” Or maybe he jumped up and down to see if the water would really hold him.
The Second Law of Hydrodynamics
The text is fairly clear about what happened next. Once Peter was fully on the water, he turns to walk toward Jesus. As he walks toward Jesus, his Master walks toward him. Everything is going okay, until a mighty wind starting blowing. Remember, the storm has never stopped. During all this commotion, the rain has been coming down in sheets. It’s still about 4:30 a.m.
At that exact moment, a mighty wind blows across the lake, a wind stronger than anything before it, a wind so strong that it distracts Peter. And for an instant, he forgets about Jesus and remembers who he is and where he is. He is Peter, a Galilean fisherman who belongs back in the boat. In that instant he looks down at his feet and sees nothing but water underneath. His mind comes to a quick conclusion: “I’m not supposed to be walking on water. This is impossible.”
Before we go any farther, let’s analyze that thought. From one point of view, Peter was entirely correct. Looked at from the purely human perspective, what Peter was doing was indeed impossible. Walking on water is contrary to all the known laws of science. It contradicts scientific theory and the history of human experience. You might call it the Second Law of Hydrodynamics: People Don’t Walk on Water. In all of human history, no one (except Jesus) had ever walked on water before. So you can hardly blame Peter for coming to that conclusion.
There was only one thing wrong with his logic. Peter was walking on water. Therefore, it couldn’t be impossible. Unlikely, yes. So rare as to be unheard of, yes. But impossible? No.
Walking on water was not impossible because Peter himself was doing it.
But Peter hardly had time to think the matter through logically. He saw the wind blowing, he panicked, and in that split second, he came to the wrong conclusion. That’s when he began to sink.
Pray Quick—Or Else!
As he goes down into the water, he prays what is perhaps the shortest prayer in all the Bible: “Lord, save me.” In this case, brevity was the course of wisdom. After all, when you are sinking you don’t have time to pray a long prayer. If you aren’t quick about it, you’ll drown before you get to the point.
Peter shouts “Lord, save me” as he is going under. The Bible says that immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. That means that Jesus caught him as he was going under. His words to Peter are very important. “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 13:31) In our English version, “You of little faith” comes out to four words. But in the Greek Jesus only used one word—“Little-faith.” It’s a title or a nickname. Jesus called Peter “Little-Faith.” “Little-faith, why did you doubt?”
By the way, where did this conversation take place? It took place out in the middle of the lake. It’s still pitch dark. The wind is still howling. The rain is still beating down. And the boat with the other disciples is rocking up and down a few yards away. Peter is sopping wet and scared to death. Jesus is standing on the water and Peter is grabbing his arm for dear life. After the Lord pulls Peter up from the drink, he decides that this is what the educators call a “teachable moment.” So while they are out on the lake, Jesus shares a few things that will help Peter in his spiritual life. No doubt Peter is muttering under his breath, “Get me back to the boat. I promise I’ll never pull a stunt like this again.”
Meanwhile back at the boat, the other fellows are watching this whole scene, their mouths wide open, their eyes as big as saucers. They never dreamed such a thing was possible.
The story is almost over. Verses 32-33 wrap up this little episode: “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”
Little Faith Versus No Faith
Before we leave this familiar story, let me make two observations about Peter.
- You must give Peter credit because he was willing to do what no one else was willing to do. Before you come down too hard on Peter for taking his eyes off Jesus, just remem-ber that there were 11 other guys back in the boat watching this whole affair. Before you sink, you’ve got to be out on the water. As long as you stay in the boat, you’ll never sink; but you’ll never walk on water either.
This is not the story of Bartholomew walking on the water . . . because Bartholomew stayed in the boat.
This is not the story of Matthew walking on the water . . . because Matthew stayed in the boat.
This is not the story of James walking on the water . . . because James stayed in the boat.
This is about Peter walking on the water . . . because he was the only one with the courage to get out of the boat. Maybe some of the others wanted to, maybe they would have if Peter had stayed out there longer. But give the man credit. He did it, and they didn’t. That’s why this story is about him and the other 11 aren’t even mentioned.
Before you criticize Peter for having “little faith,” you’d better remember that “little faith” is better than “no faith,” because that’s what those others guys had who stayed behind.
- When Jesus called Peter “Little-Faith,” he was not rebuking Peter for attempting too much, but for trusting too little. Do you see the difference? Jesus is not saying, “Peter, you should have stayed in the boat.” Jesus did not rebuke Peter for getting out of the boat. There is not one single hint in the text that Jesus was displeased with what Peter had done.
To the contrary, Jesus is really saying, “Peter, if you had just kept your eyes on me, you could have kept walking right on across the Atlantic Ocean.”
These are the words of Theodore Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and short-coming; who does actually try to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checked by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.
We live in a world that encourages us to stay in the boat. The message we hear over and over again is, “Stay in the boat. Play it safe. Be careful. Don’t take any chances.” When our children learn to walk, what do we say to them? “Be careful.” That’s almost the first thing we teach them. And the end result is a generation of passive young people who don’t know how to deal with the world as it really is.
Stay Home and Jog
I found a few other helpful words on this point in a recent issue of Reader’s Digest. Henry Fairlie was discussing what he called “the new timorousness” in American society.
The desire for a risk-free society is one of the debilitating influences in America today, enfeebling the economy with a mass of safety regulations and a fear of liability rulings.
Of course there is such a thing as a level of risk that is unacceptable. But in America the threshold of tolerable risk has now been set so low that the nation is refusing to pay the inevitable cost of human endeavor.
If America’s new timorousness had prevailed among the Vikings, their ships with the bold prows but frail hulls would have been judged unseaworthy. The Norsemen would have stayed home and jogged.
“Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.” “The life of safety is no life at all.” “The life of faith is inherently a life of risk.”
Do you remember the words of Jesus? “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) Those are radical words. They call us away from a life of safety and caution. They call us to get out of the boat of our own security.
“Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” What do these words mean? If you want to play it safe in order to conserve what you have, Jesus says you will be sadly disappointed in the end. By trying to “save” it all, you end up “losing” it all. Playing it safe doesn’t work in the spiritual realm.
How else do you explain Sharon Dix going to faraway Nepal?
Or Beth Tanis working with the river people in Peru?
Or Fred Stettler still working for the Lord in Switzerland at the age of 89?
Or Bill Dillon laying down his life for inner-city kids?
Or April Jahns leaving the comfort of family and friends to be a nurse in Niger?
There is only one possible explanation—These brave men and women have decided to lose their lives for Jesus’ sake that they might save their lives in the end. They have taken Jesus seriously. But the people who dare to lose their lives for the sake of Jesus Christ—although they have “lost” something—in the end they will discover that they have “saved” it after all. When we get to heaven, we’ll discover that the values of this world have been totally reversed. Many of the things that we thought to be so important will turn out not to have been important at all from God’s point of view. And many of the things that seemed so trivial to us will turn out to have mattered greatly to him.
Where is Jesus Today?
Let me wrap up my comments by asking a crucial question. Where is Jesus today? If you’re looking for Jesus, where should you go in order to find him? Our text suggests a very simple answer: He is not in the boat. He’s out on the water. If you want to be where Jesus is, you’ve got to get out of the boat and start walking on the water.
He’s not in Ur of the Chaldees. He on the road to the Promised Land.
He’s not in Egypt. He’s out there in the middle of the Red Sea.
He’s not in Jericho. He’s outside the walls.
He’s not in Jerusalem. He’s outside the camp at a place called Golgotha.
If your goal is to live a life of security and safety, you’ll end up with everything but Jesus. Our Lord never took the safe road. He never took the easy way. He never took a shortcut in order to play it safe. So if that’s what you’re looking for, you might as well forget about Jesus, because he doesn’t have any part with that.
We’ve been fed a lie of Satan on this point. We’ve been taught that to be saved means to be safe. To which the biblical answer is, Balderdash and Poppycock! Nothing could be further from the truth. There is such a thing as eternal security but that has to do with your standing before God; it has nothing at all to do with playing it safe in the decisions of life.
A more biblical view would be as follows: To be saved means to be so secure in the love of God that you never have to play it safe again. To me that’s a far superior perspective. Salvation puts you in such a position that you can afford to take big risks because you know that God loves you even when you fail.
Jesus is not in the boat. He’s out there on the water. The reward of spiritual growth goes to the man or woman who says, “I’m going to get out of the boat and I’m going to start walking.”
This perspective is crucial because at its heart, life basically boils down to a series of decisions we have to make. At almost every turn in the road, we can either choose to play it safe or we can choose to do the risky thing. One way will be easy, the other will seem much harder. One we know we can do; the other will test us completely. The lesson for today is simple: Jesus is almost always on the hard road. That’s usually where you’ll find Jesus.
That’s why when you take the easy road, you generally find out that it soon becomes the hard road. And when you take the hard road, it soon becomes the easy road because that’s where Jesus is.
Have a Blast While You Last
Once a month I meet with the Primetimers after the morning service. For those who don’t know, you have to be at least 55 years old to join the Primetimers. I’m an honorary member. Each month we meet together to have lunch in the Dining Room and listen to a guest speaker.
I enjoy it. In fact, spending a few hours with the Primetimers is one of the most enjoyable things I do. But I want you to know that I don’t go because there are old people there. To be perfectly honest, I don’t like being around old people. The reason I go to the Primetimers is because some of the youngest people I know go to the Primetimers.
People who are still young . . . still excited about life . . . still energetic . . . still active.
People like Shirley Banta who is . . . well, she’s a lot older than I am. Shirley and I have a running joke we repeat to each other. Last year when I did my series on Ecclesiastes, I gave a lesson called “Have a Blast While You Last.” Shirley liked it so much than whenever we see each other, she says, “Don’t forget, Pastor, have a blast while you last.” And if she forgets to say it to me, I say it to her.
People like Minnie Fahler and Mabel Scheck, who are still going strong even though they are well over on the other side of 70. Or what about Ruth Bruce, who is a very spunky 88 years old?
Then I think about my dear friend John Sergey, with whom I traveled to Russia. He exhausted me on that trip. . . and he is nearly twice my age. The man never stops. He’s going strong from dawn til dusk. He’s been to Russia nearly 30 times, and he’s planning to go back again to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Dying Young at a Very Old Age
May I share with you the goal of my life? I want to die young at a very old age. That’s not just playing with words; that’s a philosophy of life. Growing old is not just a matter of chronology. It’s also a stage. You can be old at 20 and young at 85. My goal is to die young at a very old age, doing everything I can for Jesus Christ.
I want to go down kicking and screaming and fighting and singing and laughing and playing and having a good time living my life ‘til the day comes when they finally lower me into the ground.
The question is not “How old are you?” The question is “How old do you feel?”
How old was Abraham when he had Isaac? He was almost 100 years old.
How old was Moses when he led the Jews out of Egypt? He was 80 years old. Correction: He was 80 years young. An old man could never do what Moses did.
This chronology stuff is over-rated. You can be old by the calendar and young at heart if you understand that the life of faith is inherently a life of risk. If you adopt that philosophy, you go through life full speed, with the throttle wide open, going for broke all the time. Looked at in that light, the statement “Have a blast while you last” is far more than a slogan. It’s the most biblically-based philosophy of life I’ve ever discovered.
The life of faith means that you live until you die and you don’t die until you’re dead.
Let me wrap things up by giving you the best argument I know for living by creative risk. What I’m about to share is the best reason I know to get out of the boat, to listen to the call of God, to put yourself out of your comfort zone, to take the hard road and not the easy road in the decisions of life. Here it is: We’re all going to die someday. Since we’re all going to die someday, the only question is whether you’re going to die in the boat or out on the water.
I don’t want to die until I’m dead. I want to live until the very last moment, fully invested for Jesus Christ and for his kingdom, doing everything I can to advance his cause in the world, taking risks on the basis of kingdom principles, getting out of the boat and walking on the water. I don’t want to stay back in the boat. It may be comfortable. It may be safe. But that’s not what the life of faith is all about.
One last point. If you decide to get out of the boat, you may not be completely successful. Maybe things will work out for you, maybe they won’t. If you decide to become a risk-taker for Jesus Christ, will you see success in all that you do? Probably not. Most of the men and women in the Bible who took great risks saw only partial success for their efforts. Abraham made it to the Promised Land but lived his whole life in tents. Moses led his people to the Jordan River but could go no farther. Joshua conquered the land but not all the enemies were defeated. So it goes for those who live by faith.
Our great calling is to find out what God is doing in the world, and then to fling ourselves wholeheartedly into his cause. If we win, we win. If we lose, we lose. But in the end, the only losers will be those who held themselves back.
It’s Time To Get Out Of The Boat
Where is Jesus today? He’s not in the boat. He’s out on the water. And he’s saying to his children, “Come on out where I am. You’ve been in the boat too long. You’ve been gripped with fear too long. Just keep your eyes on me and you’ll be okay. O Little-Faith, get out of the boat and come to me.”
In the end, who looks better? Peter who tried and sank or the other 11 who wouldn’t even try? There’s a reason we don’t even preach about the other 11. They played it safe. Only Peter took the risk. That’s why we’re still talking about him after 2,000 years. I realize that it’s risky to walk on water. It’s possible that you might sink. But you’ll never know til you get out of the boat.
Heavenly Father, grant that we might be great risk-takers for the kingdom of God. Shake us loose from the security of staying in the boat. Help us to walk on the waters of faith because we believe that Jesus will hold us up. Amen.