Conditioned to be Commissioned

“Do you know what that means for all of you?”

“We’ve failed?”

“Yes. We will be failing all of you from the weekend.”

Twenty five years on I can still remember my eleven year old heart dropping on hearing these words while sat in the dated, bare white-washed sea cadets office.

It was hard to take this outcome of our ‘Able Cadet’ training weekend.

Abrupt 5am wake up calls were followed by quick-marching in formation along the quiet dawn-breaking navy base roads.

We had fallen in line for flash inspections of our ‘quarters’, carefully created the crease down the middle of our starched white ‘full blues’ shirts, and successfully scrambled through stench swamp trenches and tight tunnels.

After all of these completed tasks and more, it was while reclining in my chair in the small office awaiting my turn for the ‘oral exam’ by a panel of cadet leaders in another room down the hall, where we learned of our fate.

I was recalling this story on a ‘Creative Team’ social night last week at church. It came up in conversation with a sister there that had signed up to the navy and was due to start training in the next few months.

I could still sense a slight bitterness a quarter of a century later in being failed for sitting in a waiting room that received three warnings for talking loud enough that it was heard down the hall in the examination room.

To this day my recollection is that I was not an active part of the noisy party. Even so, I was still struck off by association in sitting in that space.

I began to piece together the feelings of shame, disappointment, and embarrassment in this wasted weekend. This soon led to an early departure altogether from cadets and ideas of a life at sea. I was never commissioned as an ‘Able Cadet’.

Whether or not I was really part of the problem, an early life lesson was learnt by losing focus and failing at the last hurdle of a long and hard fought weekend.

To qualify as ‘able’, we have to stay alert. To be commissioned to go out, we first need to be conditioned within.

The Case of Samson

At a time when the Israelites were doing evil things and had been handed over to the Philistines for forty years, an angel spoke to an Israelite woman who was unable to conceive and told her she will indeed conceive and have a son.

After sharing the exciting but seemingly impossible prospect, the angel quickly followed up with a warning and clear instruction for the woman — to please be careful not to drink wine or beer or eat anything unclean.

This is sensible advice for anyone who is having a baby. But perhaps it was particularly difficult to comply in those ‘evil’ times as part of a wicked generation, and when the promise seems so out of reach, unbelievable and without evidence.

Not only was this barren lady going to be able to give birth to a son, the angel continued, but this son was going to help the Israelites on the road out of captivity from the Philistines.

The woman and her husband wanted to know more and so prayed for the angel to return. When their prayers were answered, the husband asked what the boy’s responsibilities and work will be. But the angel only repeated the instructions in response regarding what not to drink and eat.

The excited couple wanted to show their gratitude to this angel of the Lord, but their offering of a young goat was rejected by the angel who instead suggested they should give an offering to the Lord himself.

The son was indeed born and the couple called him Samson — a Bible character who is known for his physical strength. Samson went on to have his own struggles in life. This included in his romantic relationships both in and out of marriage, and the impact this had on his strength and his connection with and service to God.

But by God’s grace Samson did indeed begin to help save the Israelites from the Philistines’ enslavement. What started with a clear promise and instructions to his parents, ended with the beginning of a new freedom for the Israelites.

Conditioned Before Commissioned

Before a vessel can be commissioned and leave the harbour, it has to be conditioned for whatever it’s long journey at sea may throw at it.

Vessels in the harbour on a calm and clear morning ride

We too are like these vessels. God chooses people who don’t have things all together and appear unprepared and unable to carry out what they have been tasked to do.

As with Samson’s parents’ impossible pregnancy, rather than be fixated on the responsibilities and work ahead — especially when they appear impossible — there are four areas that we can apply in allowing the conditioning to take place, so that we have the capacity to handle what lies before us.

Believe in the promise. When we receive a word from God about ‘the son’ he will bless our ‘barren wombs’ with, He wants us to have faith that through Him it is indeed possible.

Follow the instruction. It seems God deliberately shares a promise with us first, and when he has our attention, an instruction normally follows in what is needed from us in order to allow the promise to come to be.

Come back for clarity. God is absolutely happy for us to come back to Him to ask for more information, to give a clearer picture, to see if there is anything else we need to know in the process.

Give thanks. Even before any promise bears fruit, even in the drawn out trials along the way, and even if once our ‘Samson’ arrives it is still not plain sailing, we can offer our gratitude for what He has done, what He is doing right now, and what He has promised to do.

Perhaps twenty five years ago, had I not only believed I was ‘able’ to become ‘Able’ in ranking, but also listened clearly to the instructions and followed them right to the end, sought clarity where needed, and remained thankful for the opportunity before me, I may today be enjoying one of those sturdy vessels out in the open ocean.

Maybe I could have been captain, enduring battles, steering the ship through stormy seas, traveling the world.

Jesus told his disciples to ‘be ready for service and have your lamps lit’. He knew of the tough challenges, the great responsibilities, and the wearisome work his followers had ahead of them.

He asked them — us — to be like people waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet. He wants them — us — to be ready to open the door for him the moment he comes and knocks. “Blessed will be those servants the master finds alert when he comes”, Jesus promises.

For those who believe, obey, seek, and give thanks to the Lord, his promise is that he will have us recline at the table and even come and serve us.

Twenty five years ago, it appears I reclined too soon in the long and drawn out wait for the examiner to come to the door and knock for my turn to finish the weekend and be ready to be commissioned as ‘Able Cadet’.

To be able to leave the harbour and handle the open sea — to be commissioned — we first need to be conditioned.

I am ‘in training’ for a London to Brighton bike ride with an aim to raise £150 towards the Catering, Hospitality & Education Fund (CHEF) which assists entrepreneurs starting up in Lesotho. Follow my journey in the run up to the event and please consider contributing here
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