The title of this week’s episode of The Leftovers was “Two Boats and a Helicopter.” For those unaware of the title’s origin, it’s based on the punch line to a classic joke about prayer and belief in God. The earth once started to flood and a man of prayer climbed to the top of a mountain and prayed “God, please stop the flood!” But the rains continued. A man in a rowboat came by and urged the man to come down from the mountain, join him in the boat, and he would row them to safety. The man on top of the mountain refused and again cried out to God, “God, please stop the flood!” It began to rain even harder. The water had now risen halfway up the mountain. A rescue boat came by and told the man to come down and they would whisk him away to safety. Again, the man refused and prayed aloud, “God, please stop this flood!” Finally, the waters were only a few feet from the man at the top of the mountain. No boats could safely rescue anyone. But a helicopter came to save the man. The pilot threw down a rope and called to him, “Climb up the rope and I’ll take you to safety!” The man stood steadfast and refused the rope. He cried out one final prayer, “God, PLEASE stop the flood! My life now depends on it!” Within a few hours, the waters again rose and the man drowned. He went to heaven and met God. The man asked “Why didn’t you answer me when I cried out to you?” God asked the man “Didn’t you hear me answering when I sent the two boats and a helicopter?”

No one who hears the story is surprised by the ending. The punch line is only a revelation to the person in the position of the man on the mountain. Matt Jamison’s revelation arrives one night after he cries out to God, when he is reminded about a fraction of the money he needs being buried in a friend’s backyard. In a most unrighteous move that almost every person of faith has considered at some point in their life, Matt takes his loaves and fishes, places them on a roulette wheel and asks God to return enough to feed five thousand. The shocking moment in The Leftovers occurs when this might actually be EXACTLY what God was telling him to do. I love stories like this and yet they also scare the hell out of me. I have a friend who’s often said that if God asks him to do something of this magnitude, He will need to show up in person and present some ID. Most of us would avoid what Matt feels God is directing him to do, writing it off as foolish. And most times we would be right. In the end, the money that Matt wins at the roulette wheel doesn’t save his church, calling us to question whether this was a boat God actually sent at all. But what about that one in a million chance that the most foolish thing we could do is EXACTLY what we are supposed to do – what we are called to do. Have you ever figuratively put everything on the roulette table, because something deep inside you was challenging you to do something your reason battled vigorously? While this shouldn’t be common practice, it also should be extinct in our lives.

Most times, when we think we hear God telling us to do something outlandish, it’s our own desperation trying to wish something into existence. We end up empty-handed like Matt Jamison. This isn’t a call for the financially desperate to go throwing their earnings on the roulette wheel. Instead it’s a challenge. I sometimes wonder how many people have missed that once in a lifetime opportunity because they dismissed the opportunity as foolish, even though something deep inside called on them to take the chance.  As a person who believes that one day I’ll meet God, face to face, (though hopefully not as a result of a flood I ignored) I hope He won’t need to point out the boats and helicopters he sent my way when I called out for Him. Instead, I hope he congratulates me on the marina of boats and the fleet of helicopters I created to help others when I understood the ones He sent my way.