“The mark of a great ship handler is never getting in a situation that requires great ship handling skills” (Retired Admiral James Stavridis in his new book Sea Power).
I heard this gem during an interview with Admiral Stavridis on NPR’s Morning Edition. It immediately caught my attention. At first, I thought about Donald Trump, whose lack of knowledge of the relationship of a president to the Congress, the Supreme Court, the FBI, and even the news media (and evident refusal to gain that knowledge) has caused him to be swept up in a whirlwind of controversy in his first six months in office. A corollary to the comment on a great ship handler could be: The mark of a great president is never getting in a situation that requires great presidential skills.
And then I thought of Eugene Peterson’s definition of discipleship: “a long obedience in the same direction.” Our spiritual formation requires a commitment to training, to daily becoming more like Jesus, to choosing to walk in the Way of Jesus. If, as apprentices of Jesus, we develop the wisdom, the maturity, and the skills to live obediently “in the same direction,” we will never face a situation that requires us to quickly learn discipleship skills to survive.
For example, if we have practiced a life-long commitment to the truth, we probably won’t get caught in a huge lie that affects all our relationships. If we have practiced forgiveness, a sudden betrayal won’t result in a lifetime of bitterness. If we have practiced the example of the “good Samaritan,” we won’t face a crisis if a family of color or a Muslim family moves into our neighborhood.
The Christian life is the daily choice of a lifestyle, not just the choice of a set of intellectual concepts. Perhaps the mark of a great disciple is never getting into a situation that requires great discipleship skills.