Like every other faithful, devoted member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I was sitting in front of the television, paper and pen in hand, ready to write the inspiring words I anticipated would spring forth from church leaders during General Conference. It was October 2014, and I was prepared to feast on the words of the Lord through the voice of His servants. One of talks, given by M. Russell Ballard, grabbed my attention. He stated:
President Brigham Young commonly employed “the Old Ship Zion” as a metaphor for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He said on one occasion: “We are in the midst of the ocean. A storm comes on, and, as sailors say, she labors very hard. ‘I am not going to stay here,’ says one; ‘I don’t believe this is the “Ship Zion.”’ ‘But we are in the midst of the ocean.’ ‘I don’t care, I am not going to stay here.’ Off goes the coat, and he jumps overboard. Will he not be drowned? Yes. So with those who leave this Church. It is the ‘Old Ship Zion,’ let us stay in it.”
I recommitted right then to staying in the boat. No matter what! Why would anyone want to abandon “Ship Zion” and risk drowning in the evils of the world? I would remain stalwart and steadfast! The Church could count on me!
Recently, I spoke at the new mission presidents’ seminar and counseled these leaders:
“Keep the eyes of the mission on the leaders of the Church. … We will not and … cannot lead [you] astray.
“And as you teach your missionaries to focus their eyes on us, teach them to never follow those who think they know more about how to administer the affairs of the Church than … Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ do” through the priesthood leaders who have the keys to preside.
“I have discovered in my ministry that those who have become lost [and] confused are typically those who have most often … forgotten that when the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve speak with a united voice, it is the voice of the Lord for that time. The Lord reminds us, ‘Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same’ [D&C 1:38].”
“In searching the scriptures and the words of past and current apostles and prophets, we should focus on studying, living, and loving the doctrine of Christ…stay in the boat, use your life jackets, and hold on with both hands. Avoid distractions!”
I was determined to follow the counsel given by one I considered to be an apostle of the Lord as he spoke from the pulpit in Salt Lake City. Never would I leave the safety of the boat! Both hands were gripped tightly to its mast. My life jacket, sewn together with scriptures and service, would keep me afloat through whatever storm may come. Or so I thought.
Until the day “Old Ship Zion” became the Titanic.
Three months after feeling inspired by this call to stay in the boat, I heard the warning bells of impending disaster. I saw the flames of destruction and felt the imminent demise of the boat, and I jumped ship. Did I have my eyes on the Savior? Not quite, but I knew staying in the boat was a death sentence. So I took a leap of faith, called out to Him in mid-air, and He caught me.
Fast forward another three months as I was running errands and listening to a Christian radio station in the car. The disc jockey mentioned the story of Peter walking on water to Jesus, and when he said the words, “Peter got out of the boat,” my heart leapt. The words kept repeating in my head in a continuous loop, “Peter got out of the boat!” The implications of this statement and the new insight that was flooding my mind had me reaching for my cell phone as soon as I came to a red light. I didn’t have time to rummage through my purse for paper and pen, so I quickly typed a text to a friend that read, “Peter got out of the boat and walked to Jesus. I’ll explain later.” I knew she’d understand that another flash of insight had occurred on my journey to know Christ. I hit the send button just as the light turned green.
Matthew 14, King James Version:
.25And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. 26And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. 27But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
28And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. 29And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. 31And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
When Peter heard the call of his beloved Jesus, he didn’t turn to the disciples in the boat and ask permission to get out. Neither did he wait for the waves to calm down or grab a life jacket. Giving no heed to anything but the call of Jesus to “Come,” he fixed his eyes on Christ and stepped out in faith to meet Him. He walked on the water through the wind and waves “to go to Jesus.” However, when Peter turned his attention away from Jesus and took notice of the elements of nature that were pounding around him, he began to fear and sink. At once, Peter cried out to be saved; and immediately, Jesus saved him!
IMMEDIATELY! Jesus didn’t wait to see how long Peter could stay afloat by his own efforts. He didn’t say, “Try a little harder, Peter. You can do better than that.” No! Peter called out, “Save me,” and Jesus “immediately” saved him. It doesn’t matter which version of the Bible a person reads, every account records an instantaneous rescue. Did the waves cease while they were in the water? No. Do I, like Peter, get distracted by the crashing waves and sink in fear? Yes. But the same unchangeable God that loved Peter, loves me too. The God that saved Peter, also saved me.
How many times have I tried to save myself with a white-knuckled grip on the riggings of church attendance, the paying of tithes, temple work, and more? How often have I cried out, “I’m doing my best, God. Is it good enough, yet? Am I doing enough to warrant rescue in this storm, or do I need to try harder before I’m deserving of Your help?”
I suspect there are many people clinging to the mast of “Old Ship Zion” who hear the voice of Jesus calling them to leave the boat. But fear and confusion have them mistaking His call for the song of a Siren leading them to certain death. They falsely believe that the disciples in the boat are correct in predicting a demise in a watery grave if they leave the safety of the boat. These good people are so distracted by the wind that stops their ears, and the waves that blind their eyes, they don’t see Jesus or recognize His voice. I wonder… maybe the wind and waves are intended to toss those of us with a death grip on the sails out of the boat so He can save us.
Elder Ballard included the following statement in his talk, “And if any one of you have fallen out of the boat, we will seek you, find you, minister to you, and pull you safely back onto the Old Ship Zion…” To any of my well-intentioned friends who may want to exemplify this admonition on my behalf, please don’t. I didn’t fall out of the boat. I purposely jumped and went to Jesus. I deliberately and knowingly traded a religion of man for a relationship with God. Please don’t try to pull me away from Him and anchor me in the boat again.
In fact, why don’t you join us? The water’s fine!