Following my first experience with scuba diving off the Colombian coast, I realized there are a number of similarities between the new world of deep blue sea and learning to live in the largely uncharted waters of the Spirit. Both exhausted and exhilarated, the boat ride back to shore provided me with an overwhelming awareness that learning to live and walk in the Spirit requires a similar learning curve, and a new awareness of why so many choose to stay safely on the spiritual shores.
Chiqui and I were enjoying a short 4-day vacation in Santa Marta, Colombia, and found the opportunity to experience a “first” that was too good to pass up. We signed up for the scuba lessons and dive, and showed up at the hotel pool the next day anxiously eager to take our first lesson. The instructor provided his credentials, fitted us with our equipment, and began to explain how it works. We learned about buoyancy, clearing the mask, and steady breathing. The underwater swim in the pool was fun (and controlled), making even a West Texas non-swimmer feel fairly confident. We swam back and forth in the large pool a few times. The real dive in the ocean was a different story.
1. The Lesson in the Pool, much like keeping our Christianity in the church building, was helpful but nothing like dropping into the waves, currents, and living sea creatures. Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t have taken the dive without the pool lesson, but when I dropped into the ocean, though only 50 yards or so from a small island, I realized there was little comparison. I was in a foreign atmosphere – an unknown world below me –I had the keen sense that I was on someone else’s turf. Reflecting on this, I wonder if we either fail to realize the reality of the spiritual battle in the unseen world (the spirit dimension), or we discount the effectiveness of the equipment we’ve been given for that battle.
2. The Equipment is heavy out of the water. The tank, vest, weight belt, array of hoses and mouthpiece feel confining and awkward out of water. It was difficult to rationalize how so much equipment would actually free me to enjoy the unseen world. Of course, decades of learning and technology have made the equipment fairly carefree once you actually drop in. It caused me to ponder how much training we do in church – how much teaching on the gifts of the Spirit, the authority of the believer, the inheritance as sons – which may become more weight than glory if we are not willing to venture into the unseen world.
3. My Incompetence in General in the area of swimming set me up for self-doubt. You see, I have never been a good swimmer. I can’t float, and when I try my legs just sink to the bottom. So, I quickly learned to play sports in which I could excel and avoid the struggle. Perhaps I’m overstating the case, but the fact is, I convinced myself that I don’t like to swim. This adventure was an attempt to “replace the lie” I had believed. When I dropped into the water, however, I recognized my lack of confidence in my swimming ability and equipment – so the brief panic attack was probably evident on my face. I think this happens to us spiritually as well. We grow up in church, hearing sermons and testimonies of those who have great experiences with God. But our first attempts to get acclimated to the world of the Spirit can be daunting. It is easy to convince ourselves to “never try that again.” “It’s not for me.”
4. The Dive Master took me by the Wrist. After I cleared my mask and breather, I gave the instructor a reluctant “OK.” He took both Chiqui and me by the wrist and we headed below the surface. Honestly, everything in me was saying, “You can’t do this! Go back to the boat now!” But the calmness and certainty of the dive master gave me the time to learn how to regulate my breathing and clear my ears. We learned later that dive masters take psychology courses to learn human behavior in stress and crisis situations. He later told us that it has been proven that “the power of simple human touch, like taking someone by the hand or wrist, calms fears.” What’s more, he said, “This is why when little children are afraid, they lift their hands to their father.” When he said it, I saw the genius of Jesus sending the Holy Spirit, the Dive Master, who “dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). I never have to dive alone.
5. I Found Myself Suffocating on Too Much Air. The compressed air in the tank automatically forces its way into the lungs. The natural tendency for the novice diver is to take in air and hold on to it, fearful to let too much out. But the opposite is true. The real work for the diver is to concentrate on exhaling rather than inhaling. The first ten minutes of my dive I was not exhaling enough and consequently felt like my lungs were packed. Eventually, I slowed down my breathing and concentrated on letting out as much air as possible, until my body asked for fresh intake. I had to learn to breathe again. I think the same sense of suffocation is a reality in many believers’ lives. We take in so much teaching, so many great sermons, blogs, and books – but we may not be giving out as much as we are taking in. Believers can feel like they can’t take a deep breath – but it’s not because they are deficient on taking in, but on giving out. When we balance our spiritual intake with our generous sharing, living, and giving, we can begin to relax and enjoy the beauty with which God has surrounded us.
6. I Began to Focus on the Beauty of the glorious underwater world. Even if you’ve never been snorkeling or scuba diving, you have likely seen enough National Geographic or Discovery Channel documentaries to know the brilliant incandescent colors below. I began to relax, with slow steady breathing and the dive master’s grip still on my wrist, and to notice the glories of the unseen: moray eels, puffer fish, brilliant blue mackerel, hundreds of species I had never seen before, and gorgeous coral which keep divers going back again and again. I couldn’t help but feel the Father’s delight in the fact that we were enjoying the beauty of His creation.
The clear water of the swimming pool may seem nice until you see the life of the ocean. The equipment may feel bulky until you get in the water. You may be convinced you can’t swim well in the things of the Spirit. There may be voices around you that sneer at the idea of “going deeper,” but nothing can match the glories of the risen Christ being revealed to those who will dare leave the well-worn paths onshore for what “has been revealed to us by the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:9-10). This life in the Spirit may initially feel strange, uncomfortable, perhaps even dangerous. But He will stay with you, teach you to breathe a different way. A compelling vision of the glorious Christ comes by the Dive Master, the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Kerry Wood | All Rights Reserved 2018