To Lay Down Our Lives

Dawson TrotmanWe know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. (1 John 3:16)

In thinking about this verse recently, I was reminded of Dawson Trotman. Tomorrow (June 18, 2024) is the 68th anniversary of his death.

Dawson served as a Christian leader during the 1930s, 40s and 50s. His ministry was focused primarily on reaching young people — high school students and college students, as well as those serving in the military, specifically the Navy. His ministry was called the Navigators.

In the summer of 1956 Dawson was speaking at a Bible camp in upstate New York when he and a few students went for a boat ride around the lake. Dawson asked one of the students, Allene Beck, if she could swim. She said she couldn’t. He suggested they trade places, since his seat would be more secure in the event of an accident.

A short time later, the boat made a turn into some choppy waves, almost capsizing. Dawson and Allene were both thrown into the water. Dawson, remembering she couldn’t swim, helped keep her head above water while the boat turned around and circled back.

Those on deck were able to lift Allene to safety, but as they reached for Dawson, he was pulled away by the current. He slipped beneath the surface and drowned.

In his death, we see how Dawson Trotman put the Apostle John’s words into action. In the most literal sense, he laid died his life for a fellow believer. It was both a heart-breaking tragedy and a Christ-honoring sacrifice.

A few days later, when Billy Graham preached Dawson’s funeral, he said, “Daws died the same way he lived: holding others up.”

That’s certainly true.

I would also contend that Dawson’s entire ministry was spent fulfilling this Biblical exhortation to lay down one’s life for our brothers and sisters. In the years and decades before that fateful afternoon in 1956, every day of Dawson Trotman’s life was spent in the service of others.

I don’t know if any of us will ever be in a position in which we’re faced with the possibility of literally laying down our lives for another. For the vast majority, it never happens.

But I’ll tell you what will happen, and it will happen to all of us, and no doubt it will happen sometime this week. You’ll be called upon — not to lay down your life — but to lay down some of your time for the sake of another.

Or to let go of a few dollars for the sake of another. Or to give a ride. Or make a call. Or prepare a meal. Or clean up someone’s mess. Or any number of things.

It comes to us just about every day: we each have the opportunity to lay down our lives in a spiritual sense.

There’s an old hymn that goes:

Lord, help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for others.

We’re called to a life of service and sacrifice for the sake of others. It’s the life that Dawson Trotman led. May we follow his example.

Today’s memo was adapted from Steve’s message OTHERS, originally published at