Stepping out of the Boat: Taking the Risk of Failure

Peter_walks_on_water50To get good at anything always means risking being bad at it at first. And one of the biggest things that separates the two stages is overcoming our fear of failing.

A while back I wrote about that famous scene in the Gospels where Jesus comes walking on the water in the midst of a storm to his disciples huddled terrified in a boat, and Peter tried his hand at water-walking too (Walking on Water). I noticed 3 things in Peter’s successful adventure: his chutzpah, the divine go-ahead, and his reckless obedience. Most of us will probably never actually get to stroll across a lake without the help of some floatation device, but we’ve all got our own version of tempestuous seas to deal with. And our biggest hurdle in becoming good at water-walking is almost always taking that initial step out of the boat. It’s the first — and maybe the biggest — test of who succeeds and who doesn’t: who’s got the guts to try? And the invisible ropes that keep people tied to the safety and comfort of the boat are their fears: fear of looking foolish, and fear of failing. Fear is natural. Everybody has it; everybody has to deal with it. But if we want to be like Peter, we can’t let our fears stop us. We’ve got to overcome them or remain permanently stuck where we are.

A few weeks ago, my pastor asked me to do something. Actually, after he casually mentioned one day a new program he wanted to implement, I grabbed the initiative and asked if I could help with it. I have to admit that thoughts of looking presumptuous crossed my mind. We hadn’t known each other very long, and it wasn’t like he was asking for help; it was just a plan for the future. And how do you tell someone you think that job has your name written all over it without sounding a bit boastful or with an ego that could stand some readjusting? But sensing that this project was something related to my particular gifts and calling, I summoned my chutzpah and made the offer. A few days later, after I assume some prayerful consideration, he told he felt I was the right man for the job.

Okay, great. Now I’m stuck; no backing out now. I was excited about the prospect: a new door, a new opportunity, room for growth, and a bold step in the direction I’m looking to take my life. But I was (and am) also terrified. It’s going to take a lot of work on my part; it’s going to take a lot of time, and it’s going to be inconvenient. And it could bomb. I could fail miserably. Then, not only would I look a little foolish, but it could also throw open the door for a lot of confusion and self-doubt about my abilities, my gifts, my calling, and my dreams for the future. In reality, it may be no big deal, but from my perspective here and now, at the very beginning of this journey, it has the intimidating look and feel of my own personal little stormy sea. Do I step out of the boat and risk putting my weight on that one foot dangling in the water, or do I jerk back, withdraw my offer, and pretend like it all never happened?

But I’ve been asking God for bigger things, for a life that is more impactful, more helpful, and more fulfilling. How ever this thing may ultimately turn out, I’m committed to doing it. And if I fail, I fail. But I will fail spectacularly and aggressively. And if I succeed, well, I’ll have taken that long sought after “next step” into my future, others will be better trained and equipped to deal with their own gifts and callings, even more people will be touched in turn by them, and God’s presence and power will penetrate more aggressively on this planet.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is forcefully advancing, and forceful people lay hold of it” (Mt 11:12) — but only if we overcome our fear of failing and take that first tenuous step out of the boat.