Everyday Encounter with God

Pastor Sylvia's Encounters with God in the Midst of Everyday Life


Is It Time to Tap Out?

For several months I’ve been watching the extreme survival shows on the Discovery channel. If the country plummets into the chaos that is predicted by “conspiracy theorists,” I might need to know how to start a fire with sticks in a typhoon, or catch and eat a poisonous snake with my bare hands, or how to make a snare that is strong enough to trap an 8-foot Iguana.

These could be vital skills in my lifetime.

Survivalists who exceed their physical and emotional endurance have one final option—they can “tap out.” With the push of a button the production staff will rush in, rescue them, and book their flights home.

Contestants rarely compete for money. I’m not sure how anyone could put a value on weeks alone in the Belize rainforest or a fortnight in the Moroccan desert with a whiney soon-to-be-ex fiancé.  Participants accept the challenge for a bigger motivator: honor. 

“Tapping out” is a gut-wrenching decision. Regardless of the cause, to quit early is failure. 

Evangelism and extreme survival have a lot in common. Armed only with belief in God’s sovereign providence, the apologist willingly enters an often hostile environment and attempts to proclaim and defend the faith. It is a calling that can challenge the limits of spiritual, emotional, and psychological endurance.

Just like survivalists, evangelists need to know when to “tap out.”

Jesus sent out his disciples to spread the gospel to unbelievers. Matthew wrote:  

“If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day.     (Mat 10:14-15)

Shaking the dust off one’s feet conveys the same idea as our modern phrase, “I wash my hands of it.” It is a symbolic indication that one has done all that can be done in a situation and therefore carries no further responsibility.

Jesus told his followers that where they were received with joy, they should stay and teach. But when they were rejected they could walk away with a clear conscience. The dust of such people was an abomination and shouldn’t even be allowed to cling to the bottom of their feet.    

There are situations where God calls us to stand firm, proclaim truth, and give patient testimony, preaching the gospel with our actions, not necessarily our words. Some relationships mandate that we stay longer than others. As long as abuse is not evident, spouses and children can demand a lifetime of love. We remain through excruciating disappointments because our commitment to them is life-long.

Other times God gives us the freedom to move on. We “shake the dust” as directed by the Holy Spirit, surrender those people to the Lord, and emotionally let go. We “tap out” when we’ve done everything we can. Jesus’ instruction to his disciples reminds us that we are only responsible for our obedience to God, not for the results of that obedience.

In my life the “tap outs” are always gut-wrenching.

When healthy boundaries have been irretrievably blurred, the relationship has devolved into abuse, when every word and action has been criticized and forgiveness rejected, we have no choice.

In later interviews with the survivalists who left before their assigned time, they all say the same thing. “I thought ‘tapping out’ meant that I had failed, but now I see the experience as a triumph. I accepted the challenge. I did everything I could. And I don’t regret any of the choices I made.”