A Facebook friend posted something today about a spiritual struggle she’s facing. Her conclusion was, instead of flopping around like a wounded fish simply trying to survive, she would “go down deeper.” The image is a good one, I think.
I’m not a strong swimmer, but years ago I used to spend a good amount of time at the beach during the summer. When it got hot sitting on the sand, I’d jump into the water and ride the waves for a while to cool off. I learned that when you were facing a breaker, the only way to survive was to dive down and let the wave roll over you.
One year that bit of knowledge probably saved my life. I was with a group at a beach with really big waves. I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say they were eight to ten feet, maybe more. Remember, I’m not a strong swimmer. I was following a friend out past the break line where I could catch a wave and ride it in, but on the way out, an especially big set of waves came tumbling toward shore. (The waves were big and they came one right after the other with little break.) No problem, I knew to dive down deep.
Over and over I came up for a gulp of air only to see a new wave bearing down on me. Down I dove. You know the water is pretty deep when you open your eyes and everything is black. Light is not making it all the way to the bottom. And the wave was rumbling and tossing me about as it rolled over me. I was beginning to wonder how to get a lifeguard’s attention because I was getting tired and didn’t know how much longer I could dive then struggle up for air. But the set subsided and I was able to ride a normal-sized wave to shore.
I learned a scary lesson—when you’re a weak swimmer, play to who you are, not what you wish you could be. I stayed on the beach for the rest of the day.
Still, I’m glad I learned to dive deeper.
For the Christian just like the body surfer, diving deeper might seem antithetical. You want to get up and over and beyond the break line, so why would you dive into the wave instead? Because it’s not as dangerous to be under the water when the wave breaks. Water reduces the force of the water.
For the Christian that spiritual struggle can be because of suffering or temptation or some set of circumstances that pull at our spiritual underpinnings. Diving deeper is a way of living out Paul’s statement, When I am weak, then I am strong:
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:10)
Paul made this statement in the context of what we might consider unanswered prayer. He’d asked God three times to remove a “thorn in the flesh,” some physical ailment, apparently, that Paul believed hampered his ministry or was simply difficult for him to manage. Some think it may have been poor eyesight, some the illness he mentions in Galatians 4:13-14. At any rate, God told him to live with it. Well, He said a little more than that!
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (v 9a)
And Paul’s response? He went down deeper:
Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (v 9b)
A blogger I follow talked about leaning into Christ, which I think is another way of saying, Go down deeper.
You see, it is in yielding, in surrendering to the water that a swimmer can survive the breakers. (*Note: this may or may not be true of the giant thirty foot waves off Hawaii. I simply have no knowledge of how anyone survives those!) In the same way, the believer can survive life’s tumult by surrendering—not to the circumstances, but to our God who knows all about these circumstances long before we realize they’re upon us. It is He we lean into. We yield to Him.
Because He is sovereign, because He has promised to use whatever comes into our life as part of the refining process to make us like His Son, we can know that “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” There is no way we can lose.
It’s part of the new life we experience in Christ. We are saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. So while we are forgiven and God puts our sin away—as far as the east is from the west—we now have the mandate to live up to our calling, to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects.
Paul says it this way in his first letter to the Thessalonians:
Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. (4:1)
So we struggle, and often it seems as if we struggle with the same thing all over again, but each time we lean into Jesus, each time we go a little deeper, we are becoming more like the Son in whom we are to abide.
I so often wish I could say, There, I’ve got that one mastered, now we can move on to the next one. Ah, but no. God will continue to bring me back to whatever it is I need in order that I may once again yield to Him. Because in reality, when I am weak, then I am strong. The only way to handle the struggle is to give in—not to the circumstances or the temptation, but to the Sovereign Lord who is over the circumstances and will provide the way of escape from the temptation.