06/01/2016

If you want to walk on water, you've got to get out of the boat (by John Ortberg)

It’s about ten years since I started reading the American pastor John Ortberg’s books. I don’t remember if a friend recommended them, or whether I picked one up at random; whatever the original reason, I’m very pleased that I discovered his writing, and over the intervening years have collected most of his books.

So now it’s time to re-read some of them, and my choice fell on the one with the rather lengthy title: ‘If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat’, which I last read in the summer of 2006. Ortberg is not known for snappy book titles. Yet it’s quite thought-provoking in itself; like many I grew up knowing most of the anecdotes in the Gospels, including the one about Peter walking on water - for a few seconds. I’ve heard sermons on the topic now and again, but literally walking on water isn’t something that I’ve heard of anyone doing, other than Jesus himself and, briefly, Peter.

But John Ortberg doesn’t expect us to attempt this feat literally; instead, he takes it as a metaphor for living life more productively, more in tune with what God wants of us. Each chapter focuses on a small part of the passage about Peter’s brief attempt at water-walking, giving insights into how Peter might have felt, and why, perhaps, he did what he did, along with applications for today.

That might sound worthy but a little dull; however, in Ortberg’s hands the story takes on a life of its own. He peppers his writing with personal anecdotes, some pointing out his own foibles, some about others, some quoting from books that have inspired and helped him along his path. He has a light-hearted style with a few unexpected asides which made me smile, and he keeps the whole very readable and accessible to anyone.

This isn’t a book for those without faith of any kind; it’s written from an assumed Christian perspective, with the idea that readers are on a path, similar to that of the author, wanting to be better at listening to the voice of God, more willing to take risks if it appears that he wants us to. I don’t know that reading it will have changed me, but I hope it’s helped me become more open to God’s leading, and - as a committed risk-phobic - more willing to say ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’ to suggestions of something unusual or different, if they seem to be right for me.

I read about half a chapter per day over a very busy period, and found it both encouraging and thought-provoking.

Still in print on both sides of the Atlantic, and now available in Kindle form too. There are participants' guides which can be bought too, as well as the book itself.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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