My friends on service projects in Iowa and Kentucky are almost done. Today is my last post in solidarity with them on these trips. You may be amused to learn that while posting this I realized that the Kentucky folks reading this entry this morning will read my misprint: "Jesus told his followers to be afraid." That sentence is missing a really important "not".
I was sitting in my office, listening to a local mainstream radio station, when singer Mindy Smith struck a chorus: “Worry not my daughters; worry not my sons. Child, when life don’t seem worth living, come to Jesus—let him hold you in his arms.” I turned up the volume in disbelief. This was what some Christians refer to as an “altar call”—right there on the radio, on a station not prone to altar calls. My coworker called me from his car: “Dude, turn on WXRT right now.” “Dude,” I responded, “I know.”
“Come to Jesus” is the simple sort of thing a young parent might sing to small children at bedtime, but it still shocks adults. “How bold!” “How awkward!” “How dare she?!?” Polite, civil conversation is meant to be ordinary: Should we talk about the weather? Should we talk about the government? But talk about Jesus can’t be ordinary, because Jesus and his claims on the world are undeniably extraordinary. Jesus regularly—almost predictably—takes people into turbulent waters of uncertainty and discomfort.
This week you’ve chosen to take the uncomfortable step of being publicly associated with Jesus. For a week you’ve been known as “the church group from Illinois.” You’ve worn shirts with references to Jesus on them. Everything you’ve done—from the public projects to the private group interactions at your home base—has been filtered through your association with Jesus. That can get intimidating; you can start to feel just a little bit like a freak.
You chose this life for a week, I’d like to suggest, in part because Jesus was beckoning you with one simple command that has directed the steps of his followers for millennia: “Come.” Sometimes that command comes from a need Jesus wants you to address: the extreme poverty of strangers, the desperate loneliness of acquaintances. But sometimes the command is for you alone, a challenge between you and Jesus to test the boundaries of your faithfulness—and his.
“Come,” Jesus once said to one of his earliest followers. They were both on a lake—Peter on a boat, Jesus on the water. Peter and his shipmates had more than one reason to be filled with fear: they were being tossed about by the waves and the wind, so that they weren’t confident they’d stay afloat; it was nighttime, with all the unidentifiable sounds and fill-in-the-blank anxieties that surface in the dark; and Jesus looked less like a Savior and more like a ghost.
Jesus told his followers not to be afraid, but sometimes you need a little assurance. So Peter gave him a dare: “Lord, if it’s you . . . tell me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus complied and said to him, “Come.”
“If you want to walk on water,” author John Ortberg writes, “you have to get out of the boat.” Sometimes—in order to remind ourselves that life with Jesus is not only good but extraordinary—we need to do some daring, outlandish things with our faith. Like spending a week in an unfamiliar, uncomfortable environment. Like inviting our friends into a conversation about God and eternity. Like befriending people who are embarrassing or difficult to befriend. Like walking on water during a nighttime storm.
If that’s what we want—a slightly more daring life—Jesus will take our dare. If that’s what we need—a faith more extraordinary than we’ve settled for to date—that’s where Jesus will dare us to come. So not just this week but whenever you’re willing, dare Jesus to dare you. You won’t believe where you’ll wind up.