The adult Sunday School class is going through John Ortberg’s If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. The class is reading the book by way of the video series connected to it. I initially went to class on a whim and I’m staying to see where it goes (I found the book on Bookmooch). You see, the topic of the book has thrown a heaviness—I don’t know what else to call it—on me since the first class.
From the blurb on the back cover:
John Ortberg invites you to to consider the incredible potential that awaits you outside your comfort zone. Out on the risky waters of faith, Jesus is waiting to meet you in ways that will change you forever, deepening your character and your trust in God.
The book is based on the story of Peter walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33, more commonly remembered for Jesus walking on the water). Ortberg takes that story and runs with it.
I’ve heard that Ortberg is a good author, so I’m trying to stay positive, but I generally regard this kind of book with deep suspicion. It sounds too much like all the 9-steps-to-riches books and self-help books and their ilk (the back-cover blurb doesn’t help), which are always on the bestseller lists. They exist in the Christian market, too. (But John is tricksy: another book he wrote has a deceptive title: “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” sets off warning bells in my head, but the subtitle tells a more comforting story: “Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People”. So there might be more to this book than meets the eye.) I’m also suspicious because I wonder how a person could write a whole book of lessons and truths from one isolated event. Can Ortberg really turn a historical event into a parable? And won’t he have to do a lot of squeezing to get a book’s worth of material out of one paragraph of scripture which the other Gospel writers either didn’t hear about or didn’t think worthy of mention (the parallel Jesus walks on water passages in Mark and John fail to mention Peter’s attempt)? That remains to be seen.
I’m trying to give Ortberg the benefit of the doubt in spite of all this. As I say, it has placed a heaviness upon me and turned me to reflection. What are my gifts? What are my fears? Do I have a calling? What am I doing here? How do I figure any of that out? Do I even have to? Is Ortberg full of it? (It’s too early to tell.)
From time to time I’ve been told to listen to what people are telling me about my gifts, as a clue for my direction. Over the years I’ve had people say that I would be a great teacher (and, later, a great doctor or pastor), that I have the mind to be a lawyer, that I should write a book (I would love to). A couple of weeks ago, the Sunday school class leader turned to me and inquired about my gifts. That made me unexpectedly uncomfortable. “I don’t know what my gifts are,” I stammered, probably red in the face. Last week after I led worship in church, that person shook my hand and said somewhat rhetorically, “Your gift, yes?” She was nodding her head as she said so. “I don’t think so!” was my reply.
It occurred to me today that I am indeed a postmodern man, because I regard much in life with suspicion, including myself and those around me. People will say, “You’re really good at X, you should pursue that.” I assume that they think I’m good at X only because they are gifted in something other than X, which makes what they say just a self-comparative judgment, not an objective fact. In any event, I never know how to take that next step or whether I even want to. Or maybe I’m just afraid of taking that step. Or maybe I’m too worried about (not?) fitting in with the western way of thinking, which is more or less about attaining material wealth and status (or at least that was the way of thinking until recently).
More thoughts on this to follow. My mind has been in gloomy and self-assessing places.