I think it was Rally Day at our church when I first remember hearing the story of Jesus telling his disciples that in order to truly follow him they would have to basically eschew everything they had ever known, cared for, sought after, or held dear. I recall our pastor remarking at the time at how scary that must have sounded. During a time when family meant survival Jesus was calling his disciples to abandon their family and friends. He told them to give away their possessions because no one who owned anything would follow because they would otherwise assess the values of their possessions lost and weigh them against the “value” of pursuing a life of faith. Frankly I couldn’t really blame them. How could Jesus ask them to give away so much? But, as our pastor continued, I realized the truth, though I remember reminding myself to come back to it a later date, essentially postponing the inevitable I guess.
The truth of course is simple, though not terribly easy to accept. What we “own” here is of little real value. They say that what you own eventually ends up owning you. Well, that I think was very true in my life. I sought riches, not of the biblical but of the commercial sense. I set goals for myself focused on material success. Taking a helicopter to work, owning houses in multiple seasonal locations, boats, cars, a sizable bank account. Funny thing is that when I set these goals I actually started to achieve them. Miraculously or not when I set my mind to it I was able to accomplish some great things. Great through the lens of my worldy self. I was still well short of my big targets of course but I had a large house, a boat, pool table, a bank account that could sustain me for several months, and the future looked bright.
But something in my goals was missing. I can’t put my finger on it but I think it was close to around the time my first child was nearing her due date. Sara and I talked more and more as the date was coming that we were missing religion and that we felt we should really reconsider our faiths and how we wanted to raise our daughter. We started looking at all sorts of religions: Taoism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, you name it we considered it. And then it happened, God came into my life for the first time that I, in hindsight, can remember. I didn’t realize it at first but now I know why I found an audio cd. Yes I was searching for books on religion so to be sure it was not total coincidence, but this particular book, this particular day, everything was right. The book was WhereGod was Born by Bruce Fieler. I started listening and quickly found myself completely hooked. Bruce Fieler was telling my story, except it wasn’t mine, it was of course his. But the circumstances were striking. He questioned his faith, like me. He had not really turned away from God as much as not really pursued a relationship with God, just like me. And just like me, he was looking to find his faith or at least to find out if something was missing in his life. And of course it was. God was there all along, waiting patiently. Like the prodigal son coming home, Bruce Fieler found his faith again, and I was starting to as well. Sara and I talked at length and I remember distinctly sitting in our kitchen one evening, explaining to her that I felt like this book had been a calling to me. I felt like a great hole in my life was being filled and that God was calling me home.
Fast forward and now I am back at it, I guess. I feel like God called me home and brought me in. God comforted me and reminded me how wonderful life with God is. God let me become comfortable in his grace to see how I would respond. But I also think this was a time of preparation. God needed me to have some time with my faith, to strengthen it and to realize that it was a part of me that I needed. If God had asked me to cast off my material wealth and to forego those goals I had set so long ago and pursued with such vigor I might have turned away from God. My faith was still in its infancy. I needed time, practice, and belief that the faith I was pursuing was strong enough. So this September day, when our pastor told me to cast everything I knew aside, I got it. I knew what God was saying, though at the time I wasn’t ready to admit it. But like a catchy tune that sticks in your brain that you can’t seem to forget this thought kept coming back. It kept creeping in when I most wanted it gone. It made me question myself, my goals, my image of self worth. And then it reared it’s head with an authoritative thump when Sara brought to my attention the thought of traveling the country and serving.
Casting off is no easy thing, but once you hear God ask you to do it, it’s awfully hard not to, right? There is nothing that I could possibly own anymore that could compare to the feeling that I get when I feel the call of God to act out his will in this world. It is a sensation of love that is utterly overwhelming, sustaining, and empowering. I have never bought anything that could create the same sensation nor wanted anything more. And at the same time I have never felt so anxious about it. My brain is telling me this is a terrible idea. It’s unsafe, it is too risky, I am being absentminded of my long term benefit. But then my heart steps in and reminds my head that God hears all, sees all, and knows all. If I just put my faith in God that which is meant for me will occur. I cannot be sure it will resemble anything I ever imagined in store for me. Frankly I kind of hope it isn’t. Who needs to take a helicopter to get to work anyway? I am not suggesting that because I haven’t hit those goals that I am giving up and looking for an excuse in God. Rather, I am owning up to the fact that those were never good goals at the start. They would never sustain me in the long run and ultimately would have left me in constant want for more. I have never felt so full as when I turned myself to God. I now believe I never will.
Today, our pastor told us the story of Jesus walking on water. At least, that’s how I always remembered it. “See, kids, Jesus must have been divine because he could walk on water”. This time I heard it from Peter’s perspective. Jesus, appearing almost as a ghost wades through the stormy seas, a beacon of hope and serenity for a group of terrified fishermen who were drifting farther and farther from shore. Farther from home, farther from peace, farther from what they needed. Jesus approaches and tells them to not be afraid, all will be fine. Peter calls out to Jesus and asks, and in my interpretation maybe even begs him, if it is you lord call me out of the boat. Well of course Jesus does just that and in that very instant Peter leaves the boat. The part that gets overlooked often is that initially Peter is walking on water too! He is not divine but his faith has carried him over the danger of the deep and tumultuous seas. And then he feels the wind and turbulence and he begins to doubt and immediately starts to sink. But rather than drown and give up he calls out to Jesus, again begging, for his hand to save him. Jesus lifts Peter to safety and with, again in my interpretation a bit of a joking admonishment says to him, “ye of little faith….”
Lord, I am Peter. I am calling to you and asking you to call me from the boat. Take me from safety and that which I am told is comfort and security. Lead me into the stormy seas where only your peace, your serenity, and your grace can be found. I know my faith will be tested and I know I will doubt at some point along the path, but I have enough faith to know too that if I take that plunge you will be there to reach out your hand to lift me up again. I put my life and my love in your hands, Lord, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.