You Can’t Teach a Frog to Fly

by Steve Brown

cliffjumping

I’ve had a lousy job for most of my life.

As you know, I’m a preacher/pastor and my job description is to keep people from doing what they obviously want to do. I’ve often felt like an overwhelmed police officer at a rock concert charged with keeping the concert goers from using drugs.

With a job description like mine, you hardly ever get invited to parties, people are not very honest, and sometimes you feel like a wet shaggy dog shaking himself at a wedding. I tell them that I’m trying to help and that God anointed me to reach out to them, but they simply don’t care.

Preachers are supposed to keep people from sinning.

I haven’t been very successful so far.

There are times when I feel like I’m standing by a cliff where people come to dance. “Be careful,” I tell them. “It’s a long way down and the stop will be quite unpleasant.” They look at me. They sometimes even thank me.

Then they jump.

But I keep at it. “Hey,” I say to the next group who approach the cliff, “not too long ago, I saw people go off that cliff and if you’ll bend over and look, you can see the bloody mess they made.” Like everybody else, since I’ve been standing beside the cliff, they seem grateful for my concern. They maybe even say something about my compassion and wisdom.

Then they jump.

Frankly, I’m tired of it. In fact, I’ve given up standing by this stupid cliff. I’m tired of being people’s mother. I’m tired of trying to prevent the unpreventable. I’m tired of talking to people who don’t want to listen. And I’m tired of pointing out the obvious.

Just when I determine to leave my position by the cliff, to my horror and surprise…

I jump!

What’s with that?

Let me tell you. There is a very human and undeniable proclivity of human beings to sin—to jump off the cliff. We’re drawn to it. We love it (at least for awhile). No matter who tries to keep us from doing it or how much pain it will cause, we are irresistibly drawn to that cliff. Maybe we want to fly. Could be that we have a masochistic streak in our DNA. Could be that our default position is jumping off cliffs. I don’t know. But for whatever reason, we do jump, we do get hurt, and if we survive, we then climb back up the cliff and jump again.

There is a parable (author unknown) about Felix, the flying frog. Even if I mix the metaphor a bit, let me tell you the parable.

Once upon a time, there lived a man named Clarence who had a pet frog named Felix. Clarence lived a modestly comfortable existence on what he earned working at the Wal-Mart, but he always dreamed of being rich. “Felix!” he said one day, hit by sudden inspiration, “We’re going to be rich! I’m going to teach you to fly!”

Felix, of course, was terrified at the prospect. “I can’t fly, you twit! I’m a frog, not a canary!”

Clarence, disappointed at the initial response, told Felix: “That negative attitude of yours could be a real problem. We’re going to remain poor, and it will be your fault.”

So Felix and Clarence began their work on flying.

On the first day of the “flying lessons,” Clarence could barely control his excitement (and Felix could barely control his bladder). Clarence explained that their apartment building had 15 floors, and each day Felix would jump out of a window, starting with the first floor and eventually getting to the top floor. After each jump, they would analyze how well he flew, isolate the most effective flying techniques, and implement the improved process for the next flight. By the time they reached the top floor, Felix would surely be able to fly.

Felix pleaded for his life, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. “He just doesn’t understand how important this is,” thought Clarence. “He can’t see the big picture.”

So, with that, Clarence opened the window and threw Felix out. He landed with a thud.

The next day, poised for his second flying lesson, Felix again begged not to be thrown out of the window. Clarence told Felix about how one must always expect resistance when introducing new, innovative plans.

With that, he threw Felix out the window. THUD!

Now this is not to say that Felix wasn’t trying his best. On the fifth day, he flapped his legs madly in a vain attempt at flying. On the sixth day, he tied a small red cape around his neck and tried to think “Superman” thoughts. It didn’t help.

By the seventh day, Felix, accepting his fate, no longer begged for mercy. He simply looked at Clarence and said, “You know you’re killing me, don’t you?”

Clarence pointed out that Felix’s performance so far had been less than exemplary, failing to meet any of the milestone goals he had set for him.

With that, Felix said quietly, “Shut up and open the window,” and he leaped out, taking careful aim at the large jagged rock by the corner of the building.

Felix went to that great lily pad in the sky.

Clarence was extremely upset, as his project had failed to meet a single objective that he had set out to accomplish. Felix had not only failed to fly, he hadn’t even learned to steer his fall as he dropped like a sack of cement, nor had he heeded Clarence’s advice to “Fall smarter, not harder.”

The only thing left for Clarence to do was to analyze the process and try to determine where it had gone wrong. After much thought, Clarence smiled and said…

“Next time, I’m getting a smarter frog!”

A number of years ago, I realized that I was, as it were, trying to teach frogs to fly. Frogs can’t fly. Not only that, they get angry when you try to teach them. The gullible ones will try, but they eventually get hurt so badly they quit trying. And the really sad thing about being a “frog flying teacher” is that I can’t fly either.

Let me tell you a secret. If one is a teacher trying to teach frogs to fly, nobody ever bothers to ask if you can fly. In fact, if you pretend that you’re an expert and tell a lot of stories about flying; if you can throw in a bit of aeronautical jargon about stalls, spins and flight maneuvers; and if you carry around a “Flight Manual” and know your way around it, nobody will question your ability to fly. You just pretend you’re an expert and tell stories, and the students will think you can fly.

The problem is that you become so phony you can’t stand yourself.

So I’ve repented.

Now I just send them to Jesus and try to get out of the way.

Come to think of it, if you’re struggling with sin and aren’t getting better, don’t come to me. I like you okay, but that kind of depends on how my day is going. Instead of coming to me, run to Jesus. He’ll love you and maybe even make you better.

 

Steve Brown is President of Key Life Network. He is Professor Emeritus of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry at Reformed Theological Seminary and is the author of numerous books, including A Scandalous Freedom: The Radical Nature of the Gospel (Howard Books, 2004) and more recently, Three Free Sins (Howard Books, 2012). He is the former pastor of Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Miami.

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6 Responses to “You Can’t Teach a Frog to Fly”

  1. David Rossiter says:

    Hi Steven,
    I am drawn to comment without knowing anything about you. I am sure you are a wonderful and nice person. However as I also am a pastor and bible teacher, I am confronted by your description of your job – to keep people from doing what they want to do (sinning). I am disappointed that someone could have that perception of a ministry role. I don’t know what your aim is, whether you are taking a literary licence for the sake of a good story or whether you are serious.
    My comment is based on the latter. If your real perception is otherwise, then all the better.
    So here goes, briefly.
    Eph 4:9-13 says the ministry is to bring people into the stature of the fullness of Christ. That is an awesome job description. Its positive and its rewarding. Sin is not our responsibility. Bringing people into the fullness of Christ is. There is a world of difference.
    Your summary of your life and current outlook is actually sounding quite sad. As I said I don’t know you and this is not an attack – it’s feedback on how this comes across.
    I am a qualified civil engineer and an ordained minister. My hope, my pride and my satisfaction is in my calling as a preacher, not in my wonderful engineering experiences. The most wonderful thing for me was to be called by God to preach – not to be his policeman, but to be his voice.
    So with that, I’ll leave you with it, and hope that you can see your calling in a more positive light.
    bless you

  2. Loved this…so raw, honest and wise. How often do we heap burdens upon the people with our man made expectations of perfection?

    Thank you so much for sharing, Steve. I so understand where you are coming from. I think this is why the scripture “Grace covers a multitude of wrongs” is included in the bible. Where would we be without his Grace and Mercy?

  3. jack snow says:

    i hear this a lot in grace talk “go to jesus” and “run to jesus” and “turn it all over to jesus”

    well, how do you actually do that? what action do you take? study scripture, pray?

    it’s all so vague.

    • Bonnie Petroschuk says:

      Oh Gosh, Jack! I can so identify with your question! For many years I was desperate to understand what was meant by phrases like that. I wanted to understand how to do it! And, the reason I wanted to know how to do it was because I was a life-long Christian who wanted so badly to please God yet it was quite obvious that I was failing miserably at it. I felt guilty and ashamed because of the lack of “fruit” in my life. I was sick of my failure, and “running to Jesus” made no sense to me, because he was the one I was letting down. He was the one who was disappointed in me.
      I have no idea whether my experience is similar to yours or not, but God finally sent someone to tell me the good news, that not only was it going to be too hard for me to do enough to please God, it was impossible! And that was okay, because Jesus had already pleased God for me. Completely. Eternally. And when God looked at me he said, “This is my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased”, because of what Jesus did for me at the cross. I no longer had to feel guilty and ashamed about my failures. In God’s eyes, they no longer existed. Now, running to Jesus makes all the sense in the world, because I don’t see him standing there with his arms crossed and his foot tapping in disapproval, I see him with arms wide open ready to scoop me up and whirl me around with delight because I came to him. So, Jack, the first thing you do is to believe the good news that Jesus pleased God for you, and the next thing you do is keep on believing that, and then keep on believing that, and soon you will find yourself running to him in joyful abandonment. I promise.

  4. Ryan V says:

    I love this website and it’s ministry and have found it eminently edifying. Tullian and those who minister alongside him through liberatenet have been wonderfully encouraging in my life and the lives of my friends. I thank God for them and the faithful job they are doing to feed His sheep.

    However i am a bit worried that this post seems to indicate a shirking of a shepherd’s responsibility to feed and care for the flock. I know it might not have been intended that way, but it does seem at the least, cavalier about a pastors God-given responsibilities in the care of His sheep.

    I wouldn’t comment if I didn’t care and realize this blog post is an exception to the wonderful work of liberatenet. keep up the beautiful work and be encouraged that you are truly making a difference in the lives of Christians around the world.

  5. Bonnie Petroschuk says:

    I certainly didn’t start out with the intention of monopolizing these comments, but I just had to jump in with a word in defense of my good friend Steve Brown (We’ve never met, but he says stuff like that all the time, so I didn’t think he would mind). Steve was preaching grace when it wasn’t cool. Steve has been and still is a mentor on grace to most of the people who created and post on this site. This post, taken from his book Three Free Sins (which would probably also offend you…) most certainly is not about some sad pastor’s shirking of his pastoral duties. It is about the impossibility for humans to be perfect. Even when we recognize and are warned about the sin, we sin anyway, over and over; everyone does, including the pastor! Certainly, ministers of the gospel are charged with admonishing against sin, but it is a losing proposition. It’s like trying to force a frog to fly. The results are inevitable, which is the whole point of this post. The whole point of the cross. The whole point of grace. The only thing a pastor can do is point us to Jesus and step out of the way. Thank you, as always, Steve!

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