Recently my doctor told me that the only exercise he wants me to do is swimming. Based on my age, wear and tear on my joints, etc., he said that swimming was the only option. And he told me that it would make me feel much better. Apparently even just being in the water is beneficial. “It’s like a massage all over,” he said.
There are much worse things a doctor can say to you than “I want you to swim.” In fact, I like to swim. I love being in the water. The problem is, I haven’t done much swimming in a long time.
We used to go all the time when I was a kid. To me, the best part of our family vacations was when Mom and Dad would take us back to the motel after a day’s sight-seeing, and we’d change into our swimsuits and go to the pool for a couple of hours. Eventually my parents realized they didn’t have to drive all the way to Colorado to keep us entertained, and we started going on weekend trips to exotic places like Jasper, Indiana, to stay in their brand-new Holiday Inn and swim in their pool. That made us kids happy. Back then, we were way more impressed with a swimming pool than Colorado.
I swam a lot when I was a kid. In fact, I would ride my bike about four miles from our house in the country to the Greenwood City Pool. I’d swim for a couple of hours, then ride back home. I got to be a fairly good swimmer.
But I haven’t done a lot of swimming over the past couple of decades. I’ve puddled around in a hotel pool here and there, but I haven’t done much real swimming. And I’ve made a profound discovery: it’s easier to keep it than it is to get it back.
When I first got back in a pool to do some serious swimming recently, I couldn’t believe how much I could kick and move my arms, and how little distance I’d cover. I remember as a teen when my swimming strokes felt really strong. They don’t feel like that anymore. At least, they didn’t at first. Little by little, unused muscles are relearning their old tasks. I get a little better each time I go.
When I first started back swimming, I couldn’t swim and breathe at the same time. I would finally make it to the end of the pool, and I’d have to hang there on the edge of the deep end and take 25 or 30 deep breaths before I could do it again. But I’m making progress here, too. I still can’t swim and breathe at the same time, but I can now swim and gasp at the same time.
There are some significant parallels between swimming and living for Jesus.
First of all, you have to trust the water to hold you up. That’s really hard to do when you’re sinking. But the fact is, you can float in the water. I said, in the water, not on top of the water. Even floating on your back, you can keep your face above the water, but your ears and the rest of you are going to get wet. It’s just the way it is. The water can hold you up, but you have to commit yourself completely to it. And fighting the water is a great way to sink.
God asks us to trust Him to hold us up, too. He wants us to trust Him completely. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge the LORD in all of your ways, and He will keep your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) Sometimes your circumstances will overwhelm you, but God will hold you up. Trust Him. Make a full commitment. Jump in with both feet and stretch out in the faithfulness of God.
Second, to do any real swimming you have to learn to breathe while you swim. That’s the only way you’ll keep going. You have to have air. And it’s a continuous thing. You can take a big gulp of air and then swim underwater for a few feet. That’s fun to do if you want to sneak up on someone. But if you really want to keep moving forward, you have to keep taking breaths. Some swimmers take a breath with every stroke. Some take a breath every other stroke, or after every third one. But you can’t keep going unless you keep breathing.
We can’t keep going in our spiritual life unless we learn to continually breathe in God’s Holy Spirit, moment-by-moment letting Him have control of our thoughts, words and actions. My wife calls this “spiritual breathing”. It isn’t a one-time, once-for-all experience. It is a moment-by-moment dependence on God’s Spirit to sustain us spiritually. Bob Dylan sings, “Breathe deep, breathe deep the breath of God.” In both Hebrew and Greek, the words for breath and spirit are the same. We have to learn to breathe deep the Spirit of God. “Be filled with the Spirit…” (Ephesians 5:18).
Third, when you swim, you have to keep moving. If you stop moving, you will sink. You have to keep moving forward. It isn’t hard to understand: keep moving your arms and legs, or you get to see what the bottom of the pool looks like.
And in the Christian life, we have to keep moving forward, too. We’re saved entirely by God’s grace to us through Jesus Christ, and not by any thing that we do. But after we’re saved, if we’re going to live like a Christian, we have to do the things we’re supposed to do. They aren’t hard to understand, really. Don’t do things God said not to do (i.e., sin). Read the Bible at least a little every day. Talk to God in prayer. Worship with other believers on the Lord’s Day, and develop strong relationships with other Christians. These things are basic, and you’ve heard them over and over. But if you stop doing them, well, you’re sunk.
One final thing: what I love most about swimming is the freedom of movement you have when you’re in the water. It’s like flying.
When I was a kid, some of us in the neighborhood would try to imitate how Superman flew in the old black and white TV series starring George Reeves. We’d get a running start, jump and launch ourselves horizontally into the air, and then land hard on our stomachs in the grass. Actually, we didn’t play this game very long. You were only “airborne” for a quick second, and then the landing knocked the air out of you. After a couple or three tries, we decided to find something else to do.
But when you’re in the water, the water supports you, and it’s almost like you are flying. Especially when you swim over into the deep end of the pool: you’re gliding through the water 7 or 8 feet above the bottom of the pool. You can move through the water in ways you never could on land. At least until you have to come up for air.
We can grow to the point in our experience with God where we can glide easy in His grace and peace. Maybe not continually; circumstances have a way of intruding and drawing our focus off of our God. I suppose we’ll never be able to experience this kind of freedom and peace in God without end until we’re in Heaven.
But as we grow closer to Him, we can experience this freedom and peace more and more, even in the midst of difficulties. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you: let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) I’ve only been able to experience this for brief moments here and there, but oh! how I want to experience Jesus’ peace more and more! Just to launch out and glide free in the peace of our Lord Jesus! To fly freely in His favor!
I’m not a great swimmer yet. But I have moments every time I’m in the water that make me want to come back and experience them again.
And I haven’t “arrived” in my Christian life, either. But I have moments with the Lord Jesus that make me want to keep coming back to Him and experience His love again and again.
Soli Deo Gloria!
– Pastor David