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John Ortberg's call to 'water walking' is a very fantastic book to read, written in John's accessible style and sprinkled with his fascinating sense of humour. I must admit that I really did enjoy the humour. Relating a story about when he had fainted in the middle of delivering a sermon, Ortberg says "No one interpreted it as being "slain in the Spirit". When you're a Baptist, fainting is just fainting."[p25] I love the book, I loved the humour, but I was confronted and challenged by it too.
John Ortberg identifies five steps in stepping out of the boat:
1. There is always a call from God. We may initiate an action, but only as Peter did. "Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to you on the water." That qualifier is essential: "Lord, if it's you. . . ." How do we know if it's the Lord? We learn to listen.
2. There is always fear. No wonder that the most commonly given command in the New Testament is "Don't be afraid." Almost always an angel has to say that. And Jesus says it frequently to his disciples. Stepping out in faith is usually a fearful thing. What if it doesn't work? What if I look like a fool?
3. There is always reassurance. "'Come,' he said." I don't know how the Lord speaks the word of reassurance every time, but we need it. When God calls, even in a whisper, his voice echoes. We can't forget it.
4. There is always a decision. "Then Peter got down out of the boat. . . ." The hard decision was not asking if he could walk on the water; the hard decision was getting out of the boat. We never make a step of faith in this congregation's life on the basis of a sudden impulse or on the basis of one person's idea. It must go through some hoops. If we keep hearing that same urge to move in a direction, we eventually give it the green light and go.
5. There is always life-change. "But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, 'Lord, save me!'" How will we learn anything unless we're willing to step out? When we step out we will learn. We will learn that the same Jesus who is in the boat with us is also on the water with us and sometimes in the water with us. We will learn that he alone is the saviour. We will learn that he alone is Lord over creation. We will learn there is a better way than merely opting for safety. When Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, he walked on water.
Based around the Gospel story of Simon Peter walking on water at the invitation of his Lord, ("Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." He said "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and started walking on the water....") Ortberg's book is a call for us to step out in faith, to step out of our comfort zone and to experience the sheer exhilaration of living as Jesus lived and doing the things he did. It's about conquering our fears and uncertainties and choosing to have the last word over fear. It's about fully embracing the call of Christ on our lives and experiencing his power which enables us to do things which we simply would not be capable of doing without his power at work in our lives.
Ortberg forces his readers to consider what is the 'boat' that Jesus may call us to step out of? A comfortable home? A career with status? Personal wealth? The approval of friends and neighbours? Ortberg leaves the reader in no doubt that each time the call comes, we (the ones called) are changed in some way. It is unavoidable. Those who accept the call learn to walk on water; they grow and become part of God's plan of redemption for this world. Those who say "No" are also changed. They become a little harder, a little more resistant to his calling, a little more likely to say "No" again, next time he calls them. Far too many of us are what Ortberg would call "boat potatoes"[p21,p31]; we've put our faith in a comfortable Christianity that never compels us to leave our comfort zone, to step out of the boat. And yet, deep within our hearts we know that Jesus has not called us to a life of stagnation, even comfortable stagnation, but has said that he came so that we would have "life in abundance." Ortberg's book tells us that you won't find that "life in abundance" in the boat. Jesus calls us to step out of the boat and to walk with him on the water.
Of course, getting out of the boat involves risk. It can be quite comfortable in the boat, and it's relatively safe in the boat. Safe and comfortable, but boring and stagnating! The cost of staying in the boat is stagnation and lack of growth and there are few things sadder. As you read this book you come to fully understand that if you choose not to get out of the boat you may be missing out on the most wonderful, exciting and rewarding things in this life. For me, one of the most poignant moments comes early in the book when Ortberg relates the story of the rich young ruler who came asking Jesus what he must do to be saved. Jesus asked him to get out of the boat ("Sell all that you have, give the money to the poor, and come and follow me.") [p18] but, as we know, that rich young man decided not to do that. He had a very nice boat. It was comfortable in the boat and he liked it too much to give it up. "I wonder sometimes," Ortberg ponders "if he ever thought about that encounter with Jesus when he reached the end of his life - when he was an old man and his bank account, stock portfolio, and trophy case were full. Did he remember the day a carpenter's son called him to risk the whole thing for one wild bet on the Kingdom of God - and he said no?"
Ortberg's message is this: You are one step away from the adventure of your life; but first you have to get out of the boat! On April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., ended a speech in Memphis in an unforgettable way. "We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. . . .Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."  He stepped out of the boat to fight for freedom for the oppressed and the next morning he was assassinated.
At this end of this journey when I see the Lord Jesus face-to-face, I don't want to say to Him that I always chose safety. That I never took a faith-inspired risk. That I hoarded the resources entrusted to me. That I found the boat so comfortable that I was afraid to step out. I'd hate to stand before the Lord in that day bone dry because I was afraid to step out of the boat. I want to stand before him soaking wet and clasping his hand and worshiping him. Peter, do you really want to get out of that boat? Do you want to step out of the boat and meet Jesus on the waters?