Monday, August 11, 2008

Peter got out of the boat

Several years ago I was a member of a small band called "God Sent Ministries". We played a lot of music for a lot of different kinds of people, had tons of fun, and learned a great deal about ourselves in light of God.

Our leader was a burly, six foot long-haired paramedic by the name of Dave who had served in Vietnam as a medic. When he returned from his tour, he went directly into emergency medicine where he continues to work to this day. I had the good fortune to see him handle a few accidents and observed with awe as the panic and confusion dissipated the minute he walked onto the scene. Every paramedic or EMT present seemed defer to him without hesitation, or without his asking for it (in one instance we were on our way home from a motorcycle rally and he decided to stop and help at the scene of someones motorcycle accident. None of the emergency people knew who he was, but they recognized his experience immediately). The funny thing is, he's completely unaware of the effect. Dave is just doing what comes naturally and doing it with all his heart. This is Dave in all his essence.

Unfortunately he also came home from Vietnam with a drug and alcohol problem that stayed with him for nearly twenty years. Five years before I met him, he had an experience with God that profoundly changed his life. He sobered up, quit doing drugs and immediately went in search of a way to serve a God who quite literally pulled him from the waters when he drunkenly ran his car off a bluff into the lake. (He took me to see that car once. He asked a friend to store it for him so he could go look at it from time to time and remind himself that it had really happened)

Dave was an enthusiastic, if sometimes unfocused, leader with a huge heart. He was full of great ideas and plans, but details were for other people (read: me). My husband once joked that in his earlier years Dave would have been the kind of guy who bought rounds for the entire bar just because he didn't want to drink alone. As a (sober) Christian, he never wanted the high to end. He wanted everyone to be joyous all the time and thought it was his mission to help them get that way. But he was also a teacher at heart and the same concern that drove him to serve in emergency medicine, drove him to want everyone around him to understand and believe.

Dave was good for me. I'm not a risk taker by nature. I often doubt my own ability to handle decisions and new situations. When he met me, I preferred to work behind the scenes and had no desire to lead anything. A few bad experiences with leaders at previous church where I'd been a secretary had convinced me that I was a pretty good Indian, but not much of a chief (it was pretty much said to me by a minister who probably thought he was helping me define my roll in the church).

Dave had other ideas. I would have been contented to just jam with him in my livingroom surrounded by family and friends. Dave wanted to play in front of groups. Before I knew what was happening, we were playing music for a local bikers church. I tried my darndest to back out. When I lost my place during the intro to our first song, I decided just to let him play guitar and I'd sing along. Dave stopped, smiled at the audience, and said, "Hold on a sec. She's supposed to be playing too." He then started the song over with me playing along and when we finished everyone stood up and clapped and asked for more.

Late that night, the phone rang, waking me from a sound sleep. Just sure it had to be something awful, I rushed to answer it.

Dave half-shouted into the phone, "PETER GOT OUT OF THE BOAT!"

"What?" I wiped the sleep from my eyes and tried to wake up enough to ask who Peter was and why he'd jumped out of his boat (it was November after all and what kind of idiot was he?) and why it should matter to me at nearly midnight.

He laughed. "Listen!" And he read. Matthew 14:23-33 to me. Then he repeated verse twenty-nine.

Jesus said, "Come on!" So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came to Jesus.

"Okay," I was wondering why on earth this scripture reading couldn't wait until morning.

"Don't you see? The most important part of that sentence is Peter got out of the boat.

"Umm . . . the walking on water was kind of important too," I replied.

"But it started with Peter deciding to get out."

The light began to dawn.

"All growth has to start with someone somewhere getting out of the boat. They have to decide to trust God enough to step out onto the waves. So this is what I called you up to tell you Sis: PETER GOT OUT OF THE BOAT. Now go thou and do likewise." And he hung up, leaving me standing in my livingroom, looking at the phone and wondering what I'd gotten myself into.

Over the next few years, Dave challenged me to get out of the boat lots of times. And I did, at first because he believed in me and later on because I believed in myself. First just singing and playing guitar, then giving talks (I got especially good at those), organizing meetings and events. I found out I was a good leader.

This discovery led me to jobs that put me in charge of huge programs and people. And though I'm currently taking a rest from being in charge of anything other than my family, the confidence it gave me is very much a part of who I am these days.

But I'm not sure Dave's crazy late night statement truly made an impact until Friday when I was watching the closing ceremonies of a community VBS program my son had attended. I arrived a little late on purpose and sat in the back as I was having a low day, but it was impossible to be in the presence of the kids and not be lifted. They were singing a catchy little song called "Where ever you go". inspired by Joshua 1:9 (Have I not commanded you to be strong and courageous?). . I was singing along and worshiping quietly when I heard Dave's voice in my ear, "PETER GOT OUT OF THE BOAT!" It was so vivid I actually looked around to see if he was there.

Then Sunday morning our minister took his Bible point from Matthew 14 and though his emphasis was on the miracle of Jesus walking on water and on Peter's lapse in faith, the sentence "Peter got out of the boat" was there right in the middle of it.

Strangely, as he spoke about having faith and trusting God, the minister turned his head and looked at me (I was sitting in the front way off to the side), and said, "Don't trust your feelings to guide you through the storm. Have faith that God is there for you. Be strong and courageous in the knowledge that he won't let you fall" and he continued on with his sermon, probably completely unaware of the fact that he'd just delivered a vital message.

And, no, this kind of thing does not happen to me all the time.

So I've been dwelling on this since yesterday and contemplating what's pretty obviously a message I'm supposed to be getting about courage and faith. It's greatly reassuring to know that God isn't missing what I'm going through, that he hasn't turned his back (deep seated fear), that I haven't fallen beyond his reach. That all I have to do is reach out. And there's the thing--the getting out of the boat, the trusting him and not looking at the waves part of faith. The part I suck at. But since he's gone to the trouble to all but sky write it, I suppose I should honor his request and concentrate on trusting him during this difficult period of time.

But first, I think I'm going to call Dave up (after all it's only almost midnight) and tell him that "I GOT OUT OF THE BOAT" and then hang up. I'm sure he'll be thrilled.


Anonymous said...

Oh, I DO love the way you write, so stirring. Thank you!

Debby said...

If you want to walk on water, you need to get out of the boat. I'm learning the same lesson myself. Come on out, Mary. The water's great!

jeanie said...

Hmm- this was just the message I needed this morning, so thank you very much for sharing it!

Pencil Writer said...

Excellent analogy. I love it. Love the message that faith not only begins with the desire to get out of the boat, but that we must for sure get out and test "the waters" the one's God created, the waters . . . wow! This analogy could go on on so many levels.

When you DO talk to Dave, thank him for me, too, will you? It's such a great message. AND, knowing that God is always, always waiting there to give that hand that lifts us up and out of danger and fear.

Thanks, to Jeanie for her link to your blog, and to you for sharing your experiences.

Maude Lynn said...

This post speaks directly to me. Thank you!