When people become Christians they are often given a picture of the Christian life as being a Disney cruise liner. “Everything from now on will be smooth sailing, sunshine, beautiful sunsets, and waking up to ocean views.” Who would not find this depiction appealing? Yet, this isn’t the picture Jesus seems to paint of the Christian life in the Gospels. And, this certainly wasn’t the experience the apostle Paul had as an ambassador for Christ and kingdom.
I like to think the more realistic picture of discipleship is that of the Coast Guard. Also out on the seas is the smaller rescue boat, which is sent out into the most dangerous situations…in order to save people, even some who’ve been on a Disney cruise liner. The Coast Guard is a group of people who risk their own lives for the lives of others. They are a courageous bunch for sure, but if you and I were the ones being rescued from a perilous situation, we’d find ourselves grateful for the rescuers and undoubtedly view them as having hearts that care about us and want us to be safe once again. We might even feel they deserve our love and gratitude for the rest of our lives. After all, without them, what would’ve happened to us?
Discipleship then, is preparing people who have committed themselves to the cause of rescuing others. The training will need to be extensive. Imagine a helicopter pilots’ skill set needed to be steadying a multi-million dollar machine during storms while waiting for rescue operators to pull someone off of a sinking vessel. Imagine how galvanized those pilots need to be. We wouldn’t expect someone without proper training to leave a perfectly safe helicopter pad in order to head out into freezing conditions and high shifting winds. There are lives at stake and trust in the pilot is an essential element for rescue operators to accomplish rescues.
After becoming a Christian we should find Jesus as a helicopter pilot for the Coast Guard and ourselves as critical operators assisting in rescue missions. We should often expect to be heading out into adverse weather; sometimes freezing conditions and high shifting winds, braving icy waters and unpredictable situations. The Christian’s reward is that of having been able to act with courage, care, and most importantly, costly love, at times risking our lives for the sake of some we’ve never even met. Hopefully, those saved will be grateful for being delivered from a life threatening experience. Hopefully, they’ll want to remember and love their heroes for the rest of their lives.
Do we imagine the Christian life in this way? Do we imagine discipleship to a heart pounding series of potentially perilous rescue missions? The Coast Guard is not a part time job where operators only work on weekends. Rescue missions require constant preparation and training. Teams of operators must build trust with one another also. This requires time and discipline, dedication and stamina. We don’t imagine Disney cruise liner captains preparing passengers for danger. The point of a cruise is to enjoy the ride. And, we can’t imagine the Coast Guard as anything other than heroic. They exist to save lives.
Jesus’ disciples seemed to have confused these two portrayals. The disciples seemed to have expected their captain, the Messiah, to lead them into smooth sailing, beautiful sunsets, and luxurious suites with ocean views as far as the eye could see. Instead, their captain depicted their future as being genuinely heroic. They would need to prepare and train constantly. They needed to trust him. He would lead them on rescue missions that required the ability to act with true courage, care, and most importantly, costly love, often risking their lives for the sake of others, even enemies. Discipleship for the disciples often ended in giving their lives for the sake of others, often their enemies. Truly heroic. Just like their captain. Do we imagine the Christian life in this way? Are we depicting discipleship in this way?