I love the ocean! As a child and then teenager, body surfing at the Atlantic coast in Florida gave me great joy and occasional panic. Sometimes in a half hour I could end up way down the beach from where I started because of the current. Surfing along with the current…that’s the easy thing to do. It requires little effort. But try going against it and you begin to understand struggle and effort and pain. After a while it’s just easier to give up and quit resisting. Go with the flow. When the current gains strength, however, fear begins to set in and the struggle begins. No one wants to be totally swept away, losing all control or even life.
Born in the flesh on this earth, humans have an inclination toward good or evil. Everyone begins innocent, aware of only the basic needs and having them fulfilled. But the longer one lives on this earth, innocence slowly but surely erodes. Gradually, the current of the world gains a foothold in the heart and mind. One resists, being created to know when the direction is wrong, something known as conscience. It doesn’t ‘feel’ right to go in that direction. Some beaches have danger signs posted saying, ‘Rip Tide Currents. Stay Out of Water.’ How foolish not to heed the warning! But all too easily, with practice, one can learn to ignore the voice of right-doing, finding it more desirable to flow along with the flesh as countless others have done before. The older one becomes, the more the voice can get drowned out by the world’s standards: morality of today is relative; what may be wrong for one person to do may not be wrong for someone else – it depends on the circumstances.
At Clearwater Beach as a child I remember putting my foot in the water and watching tiny fish scurry away. One turns, they all turn, as though in harmony. Likewise, people making wrong decisions, choosing not to do good when they should, giving in to desire instead of restraint, follow in the worldly direction together, going with the flow. Giving into the flesh is like moving with the current, easier to do. The after effects are not always pleasant but are shared by those in the group so one doesn’t feel so badly. But when the current gains strength the eyes are opened and one feels on the brink of a precipice. “Do I really want this for my life? What am I doing? Why am I here?” Doing good things and choosing not to follow evil desires appease the conscience for a time, but IT’S SO HARD GOING AGAINST THE CURRENT!
And so the battle resumes, doing what is right or giving into the flesh. It doesn’t take long to realize how powerless anyone is against the pull of this world. “Oh, wretched man that I am! Who can deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7: 24) This cry comes when someone realizes time and time again his weakness to swim against the current. The dilemma is spelled out: “What I want to do, I do not. And the very things I hate, I do.” (Romans 7: 15) I have become my greatest obstacle! So how do I learn to move away from the pull of the flesh, to swim against the current for a lifetime, not just every blue moon when a long look at life is taken? It’s not enough to try, try again if at first you don’t succeed.
The strategy for overcoming the obstacle known as self is surrender. But it’s like telling a pregnant woman in labor to relax during a contraction. It’s the last thing she feels like doing but it’s the best thing she can do to work through the pain. Surrender means letting go. Ironically, it’s the only way to enjoy and be successful going against the current. Surrender means finding yourself by dying. “He who seeks to save his life will lose it. But he who chooses to lose his life for my sake will find it.” (Luke 9:24) Jesus spoke these words. He also said that unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
Years ago while in Hawaii, my husband warned me about the power of the ocean and the need to respect it. He knew from experience, and listening to him paid off. Although a strong swimmer, I chose to follow his words and avoid danger. When you’ve faced the damage in your life from going with the flow, listening and choosing to follow One more wise and powerful makes sense. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28 – 30) What if you could erase the past and follow someone like Jesus? It begins with a willingness to trust him and decide to turn completely around and begin swimming upstream, against the current. That’s the death part, a decision to let go of those things that kept you stuck in the current, powerless to change course. “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies…”
Years later, I took our children into the Atlantic Ocean to teach them to body surf. They swallowed salt water as I had but enjoyed the thrill of riding the waves into shore. The more they practiced, the better they became. In the same way, swimming upstream develops muscles in your heart and mind. The longer you do it, the stronger you become. I was with our children, making sure they were safe, that the current wouldn’t pull them out into deep water. Every minute of every day, the One who is gentle and humble in heart wades out into the current of the world and says, “Come to me. Learn from me. If you die you will truly live, and you will find rest for your soul.”