If you fly with any regularity, even if you aren’t a pilot, you know the routines that every flight follows. The plane is pushed out from the gate. The pilots start the engines. The aircraft lumbers slowly down the taxiway behind a long line of other flights, all waiting their turn on the main runway. At long last the pilot announces that you have been cleared for takeoff. The plane turns to the center of a huge expanse of concrete and momentarily halts. The engines are throttled up, the fuselage hums, the brakes are released with a thud and you are pressed back into your seat as the plane accelerates down the runway with a roar.
I often look at my watch at this point and make a mental note of when the flight has begun. But the truth is, even as we are gaining speed, “flight” is still an open question. Up in the cockpit the decision to fly has not yet been made. The pilots are paying careful attention to the speed, distance and engine indicators for evidence that the plane is performing normally. Far down the runway at a calculated spot, a commitment will be required: either keep going and fly, or abort and stand on the brakes, hoping to stop before the plane runs out of pavement.
This decision point is the last opportunity to safely stop if things don’t seem right. It is the last opportunity to remain on the ground — beyond that point, the pilots must let go of the earth and put all of their skill into flying. Once committed to flying, they are all in, just like a poker player who bets all of his winnings on the 5 cards in his hand.
Most of us prefer some wiggle room in our decisions. We’d like some options, an escape hatch, some way of keeping a small mistake from becoming a fatal one.
We have seat belts in our cars, but should we forget to buckle up we also have airbags, collapsible steering columns and impact-absorbing crush zones. When we make a major purchase, we have a 3-day period for changing our minds and backing out of the deal.
The fear of making an all or nothing commitment has led many young men and women to cohabitate before marrying, giving each of them an easy way out if reality fails to live up expectations. What they fail to realize is that they are only playing house — real marriage is an all in, nothing-held-back commitment.
There are times when we have no choice but to go all in. A tattoo has no trial period; once the needle pierces your skin, you’re all in. If a parachutist leaps from the plane and then has second thoughts, it’s too late — he’s all in. Even with something as trivial as a new cellphone, once you’ve signed the 2-year service contract, you are all in and at the mercy of your cellular service provider.
God was all in with his Son, Jesus.
God himself was pleased to live fully in his Son. And God was pleased for him to make peace by sacrificing his blood on the cross, so that all beings in heaven and on earth would be brought back to God. — Colossians 1:19-20, CEV
God lived fully in his Son. Christians use the shorthand expression, “Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man.” It sounds contradictory, but the power of God, the character of God, the mind and heart of God completely filled this man, Jesus Christ. The Father committed himself to his Son without reservation, holding nothing back. God “was pleased” to go all in, and the Son repaid his Father’s faith by carrying out his wishes completely, even to the point of dying on the cross for our sake.
In the same way that God went all in with his Son, we, too, must go all in with God. Faith is an all in proposition. Yes, we may have doubts, but we may not hold anything back. Yes, we may have questions, but we can’t fail to respond to God’s call on our hearts and lives.
Faith can be small and weak, but what there is has to be lived out boldly, not clinging to what is safe, not standing back from controversy and danger, but risking everything by trusting God with everything.
That’s why Peter, to his great credit, got out of the boat and walked on water.
In Matthew 14:22, Jesus sent the disciples rowing across the Sea of Galilee while he stayed behind to pray. Later that night while the disciples were straining against heavy winds, Jesus walked across the lake beside them. The disciples were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. Not Peter. He challenged Jesus to let him, too, walk on the water and Jesus said, “Come on!”
It’s true that Peter soon regretted what he had done and panicked. But for a few moments there, Peter was all in, and in those few moments Jesus showed him what true faith really looked and felt like.
I’ll be honest with you: I would not have stepped over the side of that boat. I’m too self-protective, too slow to trust God in situations where my mind screams at me to be cautious. I am all in with God when it’s easy, but when things get hard I have a tendency to pull back, to hesitate. I think a lot of us live that way.
Later in the same letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote this:
And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him. Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. — Colossians 2:6-7, NLT
Let your roots grow down into Jesus, let your life be built on Jesus — these are metaphors describing a lifelong process. As I live more and more boldly in Christ, my faith grows stronger. As I see God at work in my life, I’m less inclined to be panicked by the waves crashing around me.
Over time our faith grows, our faith is strengthened, our faith learns that God is trustworthy.
Hebrews 12:2 says that we learn to be all in by “keeping our eyes on Jesus.” Instead of locking my gaze on the source of my fears and doubts, I keep my eyes on the source of my hope. He is trustworthy, he sets our hearts at peace, he is sovereign over everything, especially those things that are beyond my control.
Faith is not for the fainthearted. Christians never know what lies ahead in life, but we go all in, trusting in the name of Jesus, trusting God to lift us off the runway when we pull back on the yoke.