You’ve Never Done This Before

I have this embarrassing fear of heights. My earliest memory of this was a swimming class, where I was one of the few boys in a class of mostly girls. On the last day of class, the instructor thought it’d be fun to get the class to put on life-jackets and jump off the diving board. I wasn’t the best swimmer, so the thought of life-jackets seemed very securing, but having to jump off the diving board into the deep end was suicide.

The instructor asked us to make our way over to the diving board, and one by one every student jumped off. Confident and with swagger it seemed like no one was scared at all. I kept putting it off and waited to see if anyone noticed that I hadn’t jumped off. I thought about slipping back into the water to make it look like I had already jumped off. Eventually I found myself the last kid on deck to jump.

I made my way over to the diving board and methodically climbed up the ladder. My heart was pounding and I wasn’t sure if I could do this. I kept thinking, all the girls jumped and now they were down there in the water, watching me. Also watching, was my mother in the stands. Everyone wanted me to jump and I knew I couldn’t.

Overthinking had me paralyzed. Time stood still and my feet were frozen to the diving board. Clutching my life jacket, my entire body felt like an immovable brick that couldn’t do anything. By this point, time had passed and people were cheering for me to jump. I couldn’t distinguish whether they were encouraging or making fun of me. I could hear my mom screaming loudly, “Jump Ashish!” The last thing I wanted to do was jump. I couldn’t do it. I walked off the diving board, defeated and embarrassed.

The instructor thought it would help ease the tension if she had the group jump off the board a second time. I wanted to sink back into the walls and disappear while everyone jumped again. Finally it came down to me being the last one to jump again. Collective amnesia hit the class; they encouraged me to jump again. “You can do it Ashish!” and “Jump Ashish!” had me climbing up the ladder again. I don’t know why everyone thought a second attempt would be different from the first, but here I was again, scared and totally afraid.

A different thought ran through my head this time. Everyone had jumped twice, and I hadn’t jumped once. The same physical handicap of frozen feet had me embarrassed yet again. I couldn’t do it and glumly walked back off the diving board. Only this time it was even more awkward. I hadn’t failed once, but twice.

For most people, the sense of doing something you’ve never done evokes a sense of adventure. It’s that sense of stepping into something new and unfamiliar. The fact is, you don’t have any experiences to help orient you to what’s about to happen. That reality of adventure leads to further thoughts and emotions.

Some people love adventures, and you know who you are. You love the thought of doing something you’ve never done before. The adrenaline rush you get is exhilarating and you get giddy. You love how you feel and your senses are heightened to what’s happening all around you. You take it all in like a kid in a candy store.

There are other people like me, who absolutely despise doing what they’ve never done before. You know who you are. The thought of changing what you’re used to, and stepping out into the unknown actually disorients you. You get a pit in your stomach and it seems like negative adrenaline is paralyzing you from enjoying the adventure at all. You can’t wait to run away from everything you’re forced to do.

Your journey of following Jesus is often similar to how you handle doing something you’ve never done before. For some, it’s a fantastical adventure that knows no bounds. For others it’s scarier than anything you’ve ever faced. I’m not here to give you a step-by-step plan to overcome your fears or chip away at your fearlessness.

If there was a metaphor to help us as step into unfamiliar territory of relationship, it would take us back to the very words of Jesus.

I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.

Mark 10:15 NLT

Children can be supremely overconfident or incredibly insecure. The one constant that solidifies a child’s place is their parent’s guiding love, admiration, and grace. What a parent does for a child is undeserved and so crucial. It is in this place that our journey begins.

Small children live amazed by little things, experiencing the nuances of joy and wonder and happiness. They have soft hearts that are quick to respond. They understand their dependence on their parents, and have great faith in their ability to provide for them. Young children respond quickly to the love they receive; they know nothing more fulfilling in their lives.

Jesus’ kingdom is less about ‘experts’ who have it all figured out, and more about ‘children’ who live in wide-eyed wonder. Jesus asks us to realize our place as God’s daughters and sons. We live in the joy and fellowship of the family of God. Jesus reminds us our journey with him begins as helpless babies. We desperately require God to provide for us, lead us, and direct our lives. We are children holding on to every word spoken and the provision given by our Heavenly Father.

In our helplessness and smallness, we approach God in His great compassion and love for us. God’s family only accepts those who come as ‘little children’. If we are to embrace the journey and begin, it must start as children dependent upon our Heavenly Father.

Some time ago, the pastoral team at the church I work at had a team-building day. It was our scheduled once-a-year event. We decided to go to a ropes course in Salem with a variety of team-building elements. It definitely taught us to work together, and we learned a lot about each other.

The craziest part of the entire day was the high element: a 93 foot jump from high up in the forest tree line. As we made our way to this jump, the instructor described what we were about to do. We would be harnessed to a rope, climb up onto a platform 93 feet off the ground, then transferred to another rope, and finally jump off the platform whenever we were ready to.

As I listened to the instructor, I felt that familiar pit developing in my stomach. Could I really do this? Was I going to embarrass myself? The instructor split us into two groups of four. The first group climbed up into the platform, while my group of four stayed on the ground and helped belay them up.

This first group had one person who wasn’t too excited about jumping and had to wait for the others to go before she jumped. I got to see her overcome her fears and jump like the rest of her group. I saw fear in her eyes, but after that moment of initial free-fall she was completely enjoying herself.

I was taking mental notes this whole time. I could see how my friends were conquering their fears and jumping. I saw that each person absolutely enjoyed this, whether they were fearful or confident before they jumped. It was eventually my group’s turn to climb up into the platform and jump.

As I stood on that platform, the instructor switched me over from the climbing rope, to the swing rope, which had a strong tension trying to pull me forward. That pull toward the end of the platform was absolutely horrifying. I had no clue what to do. I was instructed to stand at the edge of the platform, and the pull of the rope beyond the platform was strong.

The instructor saw me struggling and had me sit down at the edge of the platform. He held the rope back and got me situated, and then simply said, “Go whenever you’re ready.” I was half hoping he would push me, because scary situations aren’t as scary when someone is pushing you into it. Instead he waited for me to go.

As I sat there, I remembered that scary moment years before on that diving board as a little kid. Would I jump? Would I overcome my fears, or would my fears overcome me? So many questions raged on inside, and I sat there for a little while. I was mentally preparing myself for what was to follow, but I had no prior experience. It was disorienting and I wasn’t sure if I would follow through.

What pulled me out of the moment was something very simple. I realized that I had to stop overthinking it, and just jump. I had enough evidence to know this was safe and my friends enjoyed it. I had to trust what was in front of me, trust my instructor, receive the encouragement of the team, and then do what only I could do… jump.

When I’m scared, I don’t talk or scream, but get really quiet. I sat there for twenty seconds and then simply jumped. It was the quietest jump compared to everyone else on the team who jumped, but that was because I was freaked out. I clutched onto the rope holding me for dear life. And somewhere after that first drop, I realized how much I enjoyed it. I had overcome my fears and done what I would never ever do! It was exhilarating and confidence building, and I learned so much in the process.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.

Colossians 2:6 NLT

Following Jesus is a journey of you growing to trust him, and letting him lead your life. It is when you continue to take steps forward, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense. It’s where you put one foot in front of the other, quiet the noise, ignore your fears, and do what no one else can do for you. In your decision to jump into this new life with Jesus, what matters most is that you continue to follow him.

It’s been so much fun watching my son learn to roll over, crawl, walk, run, climb, jump and learn new things. I can see that overcoming obstacles doesn’t come naturally to him. It takes time for him to learn and be comfortable doing new things. He doesn’t have it all figured out, but the simple process of continuing to grow and learn is exciting to watch.

The journey of following Jesus is no different. Expect to fall, expect to fail, and then expect to get back up. You’ll learn and grow as you continue to follow Jesus. It’s when you stop the progress forward, that you go backward in your faith. If you’re willing to take it one day at a time, and simply keep at it, you’ll see growth and maturity in your faith.

During my freshman year of Bible college I had a breaking point in my journey with Jesus. I was that prototypical young adult who couldn’t stop navel-gazing enough to see what was right in front of me. My faith was shallow and immature, and God wanted me to go deeper. I remember assuming that when God asked me to adjust and grow it would be an easy process. And then reality hit…

God placed specific mentors and pastors in my life, and I was thankful for them. But I didn’t realize how much their example would impact me in those formative years. Wayne Little was one of my mentors. Wayne and my dad worked together in the software industry years prior. After my dad died and I came to Bible college, Wayne decided to simply love on me and speak into my life. He challenged me in ways I had never been challenged before. As mentors should, he pushed me and demand greatness of me. Mentors don’t like it when you’re shallow or when you give up all too easily. Wayne was this mentor and so much more, and someone God had specifically placed in my life.

Wayne had this thing he would do every Saturday morning with a few of his close friends. Wayne and three other guys would wake up at the crack of dawn and walk around a local golf course and pray loud and passionate prayers. Now these weren’t your average, quiet, introverted prayers; these were shouting and crying and proclaiming prayers with passion and excitement. It was, dare I say, Pentecostal praying at 6am every Saturday morning. It didn’t matter if the weather was bad or someone was sick. Without fail these guys would get together and pray.

Wayne invited me to join them, but it wasn’t a typical invitation. It was more of a coercive suggestion I really couldn’t refuse. And I thought, “What the heck… why not?” I recognized that I was at that point in my journey where I needed to go deeper, so I gladly obliged. I had no clue what I was signing up for.

My first time walking with these men around a golf course was unlike any other. They would pray and shout, laugh and cry, and hold nothing back as they walked around praying for families, careers, friends, church, and whatever else. Whenever someone else walking the course would come by, the men would pause praying and smile as if nothing was going on, and then immediately after begin praying again. I’m sure people who saw us wondered what was going on and if we were some crazy people.

Nevertheless, those Saturday morning prayer times were formative experiences for my faith. Even when I didn’t want to go, Wayne would drive up to the college dorms and wait until I got myself out of bed and joined him. God placed those men in my life during that season because he knew I needed them.

I remember learning how to pray with faith and passion; to not being afraid of leaning into the Holy Spirit, and pushing through to that place of spiritual growth. It felt like open heart surgery in a spiritual sense. God was adjusting me on the inside and it hurt, but I knew that it was right. God was doing what only he could do in my heart. He was re-ordering my root system, and teaching me how to draw in closer to him.

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him.

Colossians 2:7

Jesus wants your life to be built on him. That doesn’t start from the outside in, but from inside out. Jesus wants the unseen, hidden parts of you, to grow deep into him. Jesus doesn’t want to inform how you speak or what you do, but to be intimately involved with how you think and feel.

The roots of a tree provide food and foundation. There are nutrients from the soil that travel up through the roots, and the root structure provides strength and durability for continued growth and life.

The root system of your life has much to do with what you feed your spirit. What and who are you listening to? Who are you modeling your life after? What are you watching or reading? What do you fill your heart and mind with? What your spirit feeds on is what your life will reproduce.

The root system of your life also has a lot to do with how you structure your life. What do you spend your time doing? Who do you spend your time with? What does your average day look like? Does Jesus have place in your life? How you structure your life determines what your life will end up looking like.

It is so important to develop the spiritual root system of prayer, scripture-reading, meditation, worship, and community around you. It is important to think critically about what you do with your time and how you are going after what God has called you to go after. It matters who you spend your time with, and whether they are leading you away from God or toward him.

You’ve never done this before, but God won’t leave you helpless and alone. He wants to help you grow spiritually. As a brand-new baby Christian, what matters most is that you grow deep roots into Christ. If you feed on God’s word and structure your life around him then your life can handle growth and fruitfulness. Let God pull out rocks and other debris from the soil of your life. Then you’ll begin to see your life change in dramatic and powerful ways. Lean into God and let him lead you. Learn to trust him with every area of your life.

Do this, and you’ll be amazed at what God does in you and through you. The best is yet to come, you’ve only just begun.