“You want me to do what?”
I said skeptically, under my breath.
Before me sat a rickety, tar-patched tin boat not more than ten feet by two feet wide. In it was piled all measure of equally questionable things—bent fishing poles, splintered oars, rusted worm cans and a corroded handleless tackle box. It was the kind of sight moonshine-guzzling hillbillies might admire.
But not me.
No, on the banks of that placid Missouri lake, I stood trembling. Every inch of that liquid landscape brought fear. And when I sized up my father’s two-hundred-and-ten-pound frame, my lanky self, and that slipshod contraption he was beckoning me to enter, I knew we were doomed. Without a doubt, we were going to sink.
Yet into that boat I was supposed to go.
I was expected to have faith. To trust my father knew a little more about fishing, about nautical maneuvering, about weight distribution than I did. To believe that vessel would hold us up even when all evidence pointed to the contrary.
So, into that boat I went.
I climbed out over the pond’s edge, past the cattails until nothing but a thin slice of flimsy aluminum separated me from the water. And there I sat bouncing, quaking, gripping the boat’s side with white-knuckled hands as my father pushed off from the bank and stumbled in.
As I look back today, I wonder.
What if I hadn’t gotten in the boat?
For starters, I probably never would have experienced the simple joy of recreational fishing. But I also might have missed something altogether more significant.
Something about the simplicity of faith. About its uncomplicated nature.
In or out.
Which will it be?
So much of the time we obscure faith. We muddy it, overanalyze it, muck it up like we might some easily tangled fishing wire. Our feelings are mostly to blame. We want to feel sure. We want faith to feel easy and steady. But no matter how we feel, faith is ultimately as simple as getting in the boat.
Matthew 8 tells us that.
Here, we find two men with just that opportunity. Their situations were a little different, but both faced the same choice—in or out. Which will it be?
The first man, in fact, a teacher of the law, grandiosely announces to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But consider the context of this passage. Notice the simple choice of faith he can readily make.
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him (Matthew 8:18-23 NIV).
According to this passage, not more than a minute passes before Jesus sails off with His disciples in a boat. But does this teacher sail with them?
It reminds me of that classic phrase, “Those who can’t do, _______.” I’ll let you fill in the blank.
The second man doesn’t seem to do much better either. He’s quick to recuse himself telling Jesus, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But I can’t help wondering what he’s doing here loitering among the crowd in the first place. In those days, burial happened quickly and for obvious reasons—few preservation capabilities, decomposition.
You get the idea.
Scholars argue that this man’s father was probably severely ill or old-aged, “mostly dead” for all you Princess Bride fans out there. But even that doesn’t change the nature of this second man’s claim. Dead or mostly dead, he too didn’t get in the boat.
Jesus’ petition to the second man was simple.
All he had to do was put one foot in front of the other, to take one small step to begin living out his faith in Jesus. He didn’t need to have all the answers. He didn’t need a preconceived plan. And he didn’t have to feel like going.
The same is true for us today.
We don’t have to feel certain. We certainly don’t need a fourteen-step system in place before we’re willing to try a life of faith. We can question God, doubt Him, fear Him, even be angry with Him as long as we choose to climb into that boat or into whatever the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives right now.
In or out.
Which will it be?
That’s the simplicity of faith. And that’s the question Jesus is asking each one of us today.
Wobbly, white-knuckled grips are acceptable. Trembling, stumbling legs are no problem for Him too. You don’t even need to know how to swim.
Jesus, after all, can walk on water. He knows what He’s doing, and He’ll even do the rowing.
All we have to do is get in.
To get in and hang on for the ride.