A number of years ago, I was a youth pastor in a church that was surrounded by the homes of many poor families. The children used the church parking lot as a playground, and we spent time with them playing games and telling them about Jesus. I noticed that their parents never took them anywhere—they spent every day playing on our parking lot—so I planned a daycamp adventure for them. MacDonald’s restaurant lent us a bus and driver, and Whistler Mountain ski hill, venue of the 2010 Winter Olympics, agreed to let us ride up the mountain on their cable car for free.
On the day of the trip, about 40 children climbed onto the bus with a number of our leaders, and away we went. The kids were so excited, the bus ride alone was enough for them. We arrived at the mountain and got into the cable car, seven or eight children with a leader in each car, and their eyes became big as we left the ground and traveled up the mountain, forty to sixty meters in the air.
When we reached the top, we hiked everywhere and threw snowballs from the snow left over from the winter. As we turned back toward the cable car, I saw big dark clouds coming, so I hurried the children back to the building at the top. We got back into the cars and started down the mountain again as the wind began to blow and lightning flashed.
I was in the first car with eight children, and just as we reached the place that was highest above the ground, the cable car suddenly stopped. Rain and hail were falling heavily, thunder and lightning were all around us, and the wind was making the car sway back and forth violently, sixty meters in the air.
The children were terrified and screaming. I had them all sit down, and I told them that we were safe, because the door was closed and wouldn’t open. That was the wrong thing to say. Just as I said that, the wind came violently under the door—and it opened! I remember holding on and looking at the ground far below me. Everyone screamed, and finally the door closed again.
I said, “Okay everyone, we’re going to pray.” Their screams were suddenly silent as I asked God to get the car moving again and keep us safe. The very moment I said, “Amen,” we heard a click and the car started moving again! Everyone cheered.
But it wasn’t over yet. We traveled only a hundred meters along the cable and the car stopped again. This time the wind was furious, and I could see it tugging at the door again as I tried to hold it closed. Through the screams I heard one little voice yell to me, “Pray!”
So I did. I prayed and once again, to my amazement, the minute I said “Amen” the car started again. The children looked at me with wide eyes. This time the car carried us almost to the bottom of the mountain—and stopped again. The wind had died down, the clouds passed and the sun came out, and the children chattered excitedly about what had just happened.
After about twenty minutes of waiting, one of them looked up and me and said, “Hey, you didn’t pray!” So I did, and right on cue the car started again, and this time took us all the way to the bottom. When the kids got back to the church parking lot, I saw them run as fast as they could to their waiting parents to tell them about their amazing adventure—and the power of prayer.
If your camp offers adventure activities, your instructors know the difference between “perceived risk”—for example as a camper is belayed up a climbing wall—and “real risk,” which we work hard to keep to a minimum. I want to ask you: was that experience in the cable car “real risk,” or only “perceived risk”? Humanly speaking, when a cable car opens its doors at 60 meters in a thunderstorm, it is a real risk. But the answers to prayer that we witnessed suggest there was no real risk. I imagine that we were surrounded by angels that held on tight, and opened the door just to be funny. To ask to do have this experience again would be to tempt God, but he proved that there was no real risk on that trip down the mountain.
Think about Peter when Jesus invited him to get out of the boat and walk on the water with him. “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” What was that like, riding up and down on the waves? Perhaps from the boat it looked fun, but I am sure that once Peter stepped out of the boat, it was pretty frightening.
To step out of the boat into the storm—was it real risk, or only perceived risk? Did it only feel dangerous, or was it really dangerous? Humanly speaking, it was a foolish and risky thing to do. But because it was Jesus who called Peter out of the boat, and Jesus who was waiting for him to respond, there was no real risk at all. Peter was perfectly safe in a very dangerous place.
When God calls you into a place that is risky, he is responsible and faithful to guard you in all your ways. When trouble comes, he will need to give you grace to handle it. When there are obstacles, we will pray and God will overcome. Even if we stumble, as Peter did, he will be there to lift us up. We serve a faithful God.
Following Jesus is not a safe thing to do, as you have likely already discovered, but it is good and worth the risk. When we are truly following Jesus, it is only a perceived risk, like in the high ropes course, because Jesus is holding the rope and he will not let us fall.
Is there some action that you believe God wants you to take but it seems to carry too much risk? We hesitate because we don’t know will happen if we step out of the boat. We are afraid, perhaps even more afraid than Peter.
If Jesus is truly calling you to do this thing, if he is the one who has put this idea in your heart, then it is only a perceived risk, not a real risk. Step out of the boat! Obey his call! Jesus is there, holding out his hand.