Joel Stepanek

365: A Year on the Water

The doctor looks at you grimly. In the weeks leading up to this moment, you knew that this conversation was a possibility. With medical terms that sound cold and precise, she tells you that the prognosis is not good. There is not much that can be done.

You have one year left to live. She encourages you to use this time to be with loved ones, take up new hobbies, engage in adventures and experiences that you have never had. She encourages you to truly live.

As you walk out of her office and into the sunlight you stand for a moment in a daze. Every person has a clock ticking on his or her life; physical death is a reality that we cannot escape. This is a different feeling, death has become a reality for you. Suddenly, the excuses, “when I have more time,” “next year, when things calm down,” “it is part of my five-year plan,” and all variations of them are meaningless. You get today, not necessarily tomorrow or next year.

What will you do with your 365 days?

I hope that you aren’t having that conversation with a doctor anytime soon. I pray that you live a long life filled with all the blessings that God offers us. I also pray that you don’t just move through life as a spectator – I pray that you really live.

Litany of Excuses

Unfortunately, many of us are not really living but are simply getting by. We are getting by in our ministry with “good enough,” we are passive disciples in our faith rather than active evangelists, and we buoy this passive lifestyle with excuses that act as life preservers; they keep us afloat but they aren’t going to get us anywhere.

I’ve heard excuses destroy the faith and ministry of many youth ministers. Excuses are deadly because they seem logical and born of reason. Have any of these variations ever passed through your lips?

Well, this year just isn’t the time to re-evaluate our methods and practices in ministry. Next year we will be in a better position.

I want to continue my education and grow as a minister, but things are so busy right now.

Our ministry needs a greater presence at the high schools, but we just don’t have the people to do it right now. We will regroup for next year.

I’ll have that conversation with my family about Christ later. Now isn’t a good time.

They are all comfortable phrases and seem very reasonable. We say them and sound like great planners, waiting for the right moment to say that perfect thing or make the right call in ministry. We put on the life preservers and start to stay afloat.

The Adventure of Discipleship

Jesus doesn’t hand out life preservers. If he did, we would have missed one of the most incredible moments in the life of the disciples.

A storm has raged at the sea that the disciples are upon. Jesus went to a mountain to pray and was not with them. Things did not look good. Suddenly, Jesus appears walking on the water and the disciples become afraid. “It is a ghost!” they say. Peter, always bold, calls out to the Lord and does something incredible.

He doesn’t ask for the storm to stop.

He doesn’t ask Jesus to save the boat from sinking.

He doesn’t beg for water wings to stay afloat.

Peter asks Jesus to walk on water and come out toward Him.

The safest place on that lake, in that storm, was not the boat. It wasn’t logical – it was out on the waves with Christ. Peter wanted to be like Christ, walking on water, in that very moment. He wasn’t waiting until tomorrow, or next year, or when he had a better life insurance policy.

Too many of us are hanging out in the boat of our ministry and our discipleship. What would you do if you decided that, for the next year, you were going to ditch the boat and step out onto that water? What if you took the adventure of discipleship seriously, took off the water wings, and decided to make things happen?

What if your discipleship and ministry became active rather than passive?

What if (to borrow a cliché line from a country song) you “lived like you were dyin’?”

365 Evangelization

We are all going to die. The teens you serve – one day they will pass away. Death is a reality, but it doesn’t have to be eternal. Jesus Christ gives us abundant life (John 10:10), not only here and now, but eternally.

So let’s say you only have one year left – one year to live as the disciple God called you to be, to love fully, to prepare your heart for heaven and to put as many people on the path there before you go. What if we really lived our faith for the next year as though we ran out of excuses, out of reasons why we can’t minister at the highest level right now, reasons why we “just don’t have time.”

Today, Christ calls you to greatness. Not tomorrow. Not next week or next year. Right here, right now. Drop the life-preserver. Walk out on the water. Christ is waiting for the adventure to begin.

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Joel Stepanek

About the Author

I spent most of my 8th grade year in detention because there wasn’t a dare I wouldn’t accept. But in high school, my youth minister dared me to follow Christ and I haven’t looked back. I love all things Wisconsin, especially the Green Bay Packers. I can probably eat more cheese than you. (Please don’t dare me to prove it.)