Three Faith Lessons from USMC Small Boat Training!
Years ago I was a student in a small boat training exercise with the United States Marine Corps. We had been training to use small boats in beach assaults, reconnaissance tactics, etc . . . It was a lot of fun really. In the midst of a sweltering summer in southern Virginia we got play with boats. One day stands out against the rest. That day we had practiced assaulting the beach. Repeatedly. At least a dozen times we got in the boats as we had been instructed, then drove them as close to the beach as possible, exited the boats and ran or crawled up the beach, then we practiced extraction from the beach, and back out to the safety of the sea. Only to do it all over again, and again, and again. But it was the night time exercise that sometimes haunts me.
After practicing through the day, it was time to try it all at night. As happens sometimes during the summer months, the calm weather and still seas of the day had ended. A storm was approaching in the distance. Leadership believed we had plenty of time to get at least one exercise in before it would be too dangerous. So, not long after darkness had settled, we boarded the boats. No problem yet, the water was still and calm, in the harbor. Our boat driver was an expert, having done this very exercise for years, and in even more extreme circumstances. Yet, when we turned out of the harbor and into the open seas everything changed. The calm still waters were suddenly large and violent swells.
As we made the initial turn toward the direction of the beach we would practice assaulting, a large swell, (shoot as I remember it, it was a massive wave) poured over the top of the boat filling the it to the brim with sea water. Did I mention that the distant storm had arrived and rain was now falling? It was. I don’t think I had ever been as scared as I was in that moment. But I’ll never forget the next few moments… the boat driver yelled a few choice expletives followed by ‘Grab on! Hold tight!’ and then he turned the boat completely around and gunned the engine effectively standing the boat on end and draining the water out the back. The boat landed with a thud, I can’t believe that none of us fell off the boat! But then, he yelled, ‘Well that was fun, let’s try it again from a different direction!’ I was not in favor of that idea, but we did it anyway, and it worked, we finished our exercise and returned to base safe, and soaked, but safe.
What does that have to do with ministry or faith? Well, I don’t know about you but I face times in life and ministry where I feel I’m about to be swallowed up in the waves of life. Like I’m going to drown under all the stuff going on. Like the challenges before me are going to drag me under. And in those moments I remember this story. I remember these three lessons:
1. Trust the driver. Even when I don’t understand what’s happening, or when I tend to think, ‘let’s not try that again,’ I remember the driver who knew what do and turned everything around. You can Trust God to know and do whatever is best. Let Him turn it all around, gun it, drain out the stuff, and lead in a new direction! Seems easy to say, but hard to do. That’s the very nature of faith, trust. Trust God in the midst of the trials and challenges.
2. Trust your training. We practiced those exercises over and over again for a reason. We needed to have every potential situation drilled into our muscle memory, into instinct. So that when the trial and challenge came we would know what to do. We could trust our training. In the church, in faith, in life, what we practice is what we’ll do when the trial comes. Are you practicing living by faith? Are you practicing trusting God? When the trial comes, what you practice is what you’ll do.
3. Take action! Sometimes in the church we want to discuss things to death. We form committees and strategic teams to address the challenges we face. Sometimes those work out well. Often, however, they distract and immobilize us. When what we need to do is take action. Make a decision. Move. The boat driver that night didn’t form a committee, he didn’t radio for permission, he took action, made a decision, and by doing so, literally avoided disaster and ultimately led us to success. Develop a ‘bias for action’ in order to meet the challenges of today, I promise, it’s better than inaction. And the mistakes that might come are wonderful learning opportunities!
There you go, three ways to keep afloat, to meet the challenges of life and ministry. Trust your drive. Trust your training. Take action! What challenges are you facing that these might help with? What do you do when faced with trials and challenges? Do you have a plan of action? Share your thoughts . . .
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Grace and Peace, Rich