While working last week to clear out some of what has accumulated in the back storage area of our office building, we came across several small posters from 1970. The messages on these posters are rather encouraging. Though, admittedly, they are a bit dated. I decided to hang on to the posters for reasons unknown to me at this time. I suppose their vintage vibe has sucked me in like a tractor beam. Nevertheless, they have been neatly stacked on my desk for several days now. The poster at the top of the stack, brown and faded as it is, has been speaking to me. Not literally. But, well, maybe quite literally. The poster offers a kind nudge to anyone who may be worried about trying something new or making a decision due to potential risk involved.
The picture on the poster is of a mossy green turtle holding a checkered flag in its mouth. But this is no ordinary turtle. This turtle has racing stripes on its "Number 9" shell. No doubt this turtle is enjoying a celebratory victory lap. But it's the caption at the top of the poster that makes this image meaningful. It reads, "...to advance you must first stick your neck out." This statement seems odd and out of place at first. Generally, when I think of messages regarding turtles the one that comes to mind is "Slow and steady wins the race." And maybe that's in the undertones of this poster's message. But the reality of taking a chance, taking risks, sticking your neck out is clearly seen in turtles. If we spend our days cowering inside our shells, afraid to make a move, advancement will not be a reality.
This poster has made me think about the experience the disciples had when Jesus sent them ahead of him in a boat while he dismissed the crowds (Matthew 14:22-32). The disciples were far from land, out in the sea of Galilee, when Jesus came to them, walking on the water. The Bible explains that they were terrified, thinking they were encountering some kind of apparition. They were crying out in fear, and Jesus said to them, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid" (Matthew 14:27). To this, Peter replied, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water" (Matthew 14:28). Jesus called Peter to come to him on the water, and the Bible tells us that Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus (Matthew 14:29).
Peter was willing to step out of the boat onto a sea that was being pushed around by wind. Peter knew that, physically speaking, he should not be able to stand on top of the water. But Peter knew that Jesus had the power to make him stand on top of the water. It took great courage and trust for Peter to step out of the boat. As the story continues, Peter began to look around him at the wind and the waves and he fear started creeping to consume his thoughts. The Bible says something interesting at this moment, "...and beginning to sink he cried out..." (Matthew 14:30). I wonder what this must have looked like. He must have been slowing finding himself deeper and deeper into the water. He looked at the waves driven by the wind and the more he thought about the fact that he shouldn't be standing there the water drew closer and closer to his neck. It was in that moment of fear that he cried out to Jesus for salvation. Jesus immediately took Peter by the hand and lifted him up.
All too often we are like the turtle who cowers inside the comfort of our shells. But if we never step out in faith and allow ourselves to be used by God we will not experience the growth and advancement of our faith that God desires. Jesus calls us to follow him. In order to be a true disciples of Jesus, we must move from our place of perceived comfort and safety, stepping out of the boat into the wind-tossed sea of life. This requires putting our complete trust and faith in the ability of Jesus to help us stand in places we never dreamed possible. Remember, "...to advance you must first stick your neck out."