I was sitting on the beach during a family vacation in Belize, taking in the beauty of the Caribbean as it splashed its way onto the sandy shore. Children were playing along the shoreline, running to stay ahead of the waves as if chased by a ferocious beast. Some of it was play, but some was a real fear of the power of the incoming waves. Older kids had conquered that fear and were splashing in the waves, even riding the occasional small one onto the shore. They stayed in water that was still shallow, but they were out in the waves. Still older kids and some adults had paddled out beyond the first sets of waves and were swimming in deeper water, riding larger waves and having the time of their lives. As I looked further out, I could see groups of snorkelers, heads down, occasional spurts of water shooting from their breathing tubes. Once in a while, one would stick his head up and shout to his comrades about the beauty of the fish.
Meanwhile, just leaving the dock was a boat filled with scuba divers heading out to the famous Blue Hole. A brochure on the various dives had told me that novices could go out and do shallow dives to see incredible fish and coral that the snorkelers would never see. The more experienced could dive further to where schools of rays and other wonders could be seen. Finally, the most experienced divers could use the oxygen-nitrogen mixture to dive well past the others into the Blue Hole and see wonders that few on the planet would ever witness.
As I considered this beautiful scene, it seemed that there was a powerful theological lesson to be learned here. (Why we theologians can’t just sit on a beach without coming up with some theological analogy, I’ll never know!) Everyone wants to go deeper. Occasionally, one of the youngest kids, coaxed by the older ones, would cautiously venture out to try to join those swimming in deeper water, only to scurry back to the safer place where she could always feel the sand under her feet.
Swimmers looked out to the snorkelers and wondered what amazing sights they were missing. Snorkelers watched the scuba divers motoring past, wishing they could join them on a dive. And I am sure that at the Blue Hole, while those on the shallower dives were awestruck by the scenes swimming by in front of them, they couldn’t help but wish that they could join the experienced divers who disappeared into the deep blue waters below.
So it should be in our life with God. Our transformation is a journey, and journeys are, by definition, movements. When you sit down, your journey is placed on hold. When you stop growing, your transformation stalls. When you ignore your guide and go your own way, your journey may turn into a nightmare. Jesus promised us, “When . . . the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). As the Holy Spirit guides us into truth, along this journey of transformation, he always beckons us into deeper water.
Now, deeper water can be a scary place to journey. Deeper water means less control. Remember the first time you swam into the waves and suddenly couldn’t feel the sand under your feet? Scary stuff! Deeper water challenges our faith in our guide. Have you ever tried to teach a young child to snorkel? It is completely unnatural to put your face in the water and breathe. I have seen parents almost screaming at their kids, “Just take a breath, for crying out loud!” For all their trust in their parents, it’s just not right to them.
Yet the Spirit calls us, beckons us and gently leads us out into deeper water than we have ever experienced. He calls us to trust, to cling even more tightly to him, to put our face in the water and breathe. When we do, we also slowly open our eyes, and before us is a sight like we have never seen before. The rewards for going deeper are immeasurable, and God wants that for every one of us. He wants such a level of intimacy that we will walk out into deeper water with him.
The question for the steward leader is, what for you is the next deeper step? No matter where we are in our spiritual journey, no matter how seasoned, how spiritually mature, how biblically knowledgeable or how revered, there is for each of us a “next deeper step.” Whatever it may be, it will require of us a new level of intimacy with our Savior. We can go deeper when we draw closer, hold tighter and trust more deeply in the one who calls us out beyond the waves.
Leaders who remain content to splash along in the ankle-deep waves are heading for trouble. And leaders who venture out into deeper water without their guide will surely drown. Where are you?
This image of the call to deeper water demonstrates again the magnificent gift of freedom that is ours in Christ. Intimacy with God requires a freedom of spirit that comes only as a gift from God. He not only has saved us, but also has equipped us to respond to him with an open heart, free to love and trust and obey. Our transformation is a journey to freedom.
As we are freed, we are able through God’s power to journey to depths beyond our wildest dreams. Paul describes Christ as the one “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, ac- cording to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). Christ wants to do in you immeasurably more than you could even imagine. That means richer intimacy, greater freedom and deeper water.
There is a question that is logical to ask about this deeper water: “Is it safe out there?” After all, there are sharks out there, and stinging jellyfish and strong currents. If we are to go plunging into the deeper waters into which God is calling us, can we be sure the journey will be safe? The answer is an unequivocal ‘No!’ Jesus does not promise us safety. In fact he warns us that going deeper will cost us everything: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Going deeper means living even more completely the values of the kingdom of God, which place us in direct conflict with the values of this world. Going deeper means loving more, sacrificing more and standing even more firmly as our faith requires. All of these are not safe places to live, not at all.
Perhaps the most accurate words spoken on this subject came from the mouth of a beaver. In C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy Pevensie is learning about Aslan, the great lion who rules Narnia. In hearing him described by Mr. Beaver as a King of the Beasts and the Great Lion, and that anyone approaching him will have her knees knocking, Lucy replies, “Then he isn’t safe?” And Mr. Beaver replies incredulously, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But He is good. He is the King, I tell you.”
The one who stands in deeper water and calls us to come to him does not promise us a calm and safe journey . . . but he is good, he is the King! And for that reason, we come. In our journey of transformation we are daily being freed for this work. It is only in freedom that we grow, that we journey out to the Blue Hole and prepare for the deep dives of life. When we set aside our penchant for control, even in our relationship to God, we are set free to wade out beyond our comfort level.
Intimacy is the foundation for this freedom. Do not let this gift become a burden or a duty. It is in our freedom that we joyfully respond to God’s call to deeper intimacy. Our devotional time, our prayer life, our worship and our meditation on God’s Word are free and joyous responses. And they are the foundation on which every steward leader must stand. (excerpted from The Steward Leader, IVP, 2010).