"Hey! Over Here!"
I looked off to starboard to see who was hollering. A 60-something, barrel-chested man in a blue sleeveless t-shirt was waving his arms at me from his dinghy. I adjusted course in my own dinghy to approach him and see what sort of assistance he might need.
A short conversation revealed that he was returning his dinghy to someone on shore, and would then need a ride back out to his vessel. He also had an errand to run so it would be about 45 minutes before he'd be ready. I had just dropped Amy off on shore for work, and I had nothing pressing to do until I had to be to work at 3:00, so I told him I would be happy to pick him up at the dock in 45 minutes and give him a ride back to his boat. I then continued on my way back to Born Again.
I was glad to have a little time before I was going to pick him up. There was something about the whole interaction with him that seemed to particularly have God's fingerprints on it. I awoke early this morning, and as I tend to do, I lay there in bed over-thinking our current situation, recent decisions made, what projects are most important to tackle next, when should we leave Marathon, and where should we go. This morning's thoughts were on the ministry aspect of our journey, and I was feeling some disappointment at the slowness with which things were happening in that regard. My thoughts turned to prayer and I asked some questions of God.
"God, are you really going to use us out here? Did I mistake my desires for your will? Are we waiting on you, or are we just being lazy? Should we be pushing more and working harder, or being patient and letting you open the doors?
As I sat in the cockpit, waiting for the 45 minutes to pass, it occurred to me that it would not be unlike my God to immediately send some response or encouragement to my prayer, so I prayed again.
"Father, please help me to shine your light and show your love to this man. Give me the words to say to him. I believe it was in your providence that I passed him on the water when I did, and if you will just crack the door of opportunity, I promise to step through it."
God did not crack the door of opportunity. He opened the floodgates.
I arrived back at the dock about 40 minutes after our conversation, but saw no sign of the man. I tied up my dinghy and waited about 15 minutes; still no sign of him. I got out for a stroll around the marina office and parking lot to see if I could find him, and just as I was about to give up and assume he had got a ride from someone else, I saw him coming from the far end of the parking lot. The "errand" he had to run was evident now as he carried an 11 pack of beer in one hand and the 12th already open in the other.
"Ok God...here we go."
As he approached, he thanked me profusely for coming back for him and being patient enough to wait. I assured him I was glad I could help, and as we walked back toward my dinghy he began to talk. His name was Jeff, he was leaving in his boat for Cuba this very morning and if I happened to believe in Jesus, maybe I could pray for his voyage.
I told him that as a matter of fact, my wife and I were Christians, and had come to these parts to shine the light of Jesus to the cruising community. When he heard this, he immediately started apologizing for being a hypocrite.
"I usually don't even tell people I'm a Christian because I'm such a bad one. Here I am drinking beer at 8:00 in the morning, cussing, I'm a real wreck - a real loser"
"We're all losers" I said, "That's why we need Jesus, right!"
"No, you don't understand! I'm REALLY screwed up! God will never forgive the things I've done!"
"Don't do that!" I said with a conviction that surprised me. Apparently my prayer was being answered, and the Spirit was giving me the words, because that was not a Russ response.
"Don't do what?" he said. We were climbing into the dinghy at this point, and he looked around trying to figure out what he was doing wrong in the dinghy.
"Don't make your personal sin out to be greater than God's grace"
"Oh." A moment of silence then, "I never thought of it that way."
I didn't tell him that I had never thought of it that way either.
On the ride to his vessel, his story poured out like a flood. I learned more about Jeff's life in 10 minutes than some people's that I've known for 10 years.
The story was no more shocking than my own, but was peppered with a constant doubt that he could ever be forgiven all this sin he had indulged in, and continued to struggle with. He had received Christ whole-heartedly at 21 and spent the rest of his life running from God and into the arms of the world every time life led him into a valley. There had been periods of faithfulness, but they were mostly short-lived, and any sort of tragedy would send him into a tailspin. He seemed to have given up any hope of victory in his life.
As we arrived at his 32 foot sloop, an obese man appeared in the cockpit and bellowed in an impatient, New Zealand accent, "C'mon! Let's get under way!"
"Just a minute!" Jeff replied with equal impatience.
For the next 10 minutes, Jeff listened as I shared parts of my story with him. I pulled out my phone and opened my bible app, and we looked at God's word together as I assured him that he really could have victory in Christ, and that the blood of Jesus really was enough to cover all of his sin.
As we bowed our heads to pray together, there was another grumbling from the man in the cockpit as he angrily headed below decks as if unwilling to witness anything godly taking place.
The amens were said, our heads were raised, and Jeff had tears streaming down his face as he climbed aboard his boat. I handed him one of our boat cards with all the Born Again in Blue Water contact information on it and told him to reach out whenever he wanted, and I motored away.
20 minutes later, as I sat in the cockpit of Born Again once more, pondering the significance of the morning's events, a 32 footer slipped by on its way out of the harbor. Jeff and the Kiwi were still barking impatiently at each other as the vessel turned to starboard into the channel, eventually disappearing from sight.
I don't know if I'll ever see or hear from Jeff again. I don't know if the words that God gave me to say will have any long term effect on his relationship with Jesus, or lead to any victory in his life. I don't know if the blessing was meant for Jeff or for myself, even though I know I was definitely blessed. I do know that God's word doesn't return void, and He works all things for good to those that know Him and are called according to His purpose.
Most of all, what I know and I'm thankful for this morning is that God is in control. I believe He has us where He wants us, and He will use us how and when He sees fit. We needn't go manufacturing ways to help Him achieve His ends. We simply need to follow Jesus. God, please help us to do that well.