My latest book is Gordon MacDonald’s ‘The Life God Blesses’. Well, actually I’m rereading it because a leadership reading group at church is about to discuss it in a few weeks. It affected me the first time I read it and there is one thought that continues to resonate with me.
MacDonald says that for a boat to avoid capsizing, it must have more weight below the waterline than above it. It’s simple, really, and yet so easy not to consider the implications of that. We never look below the waterline on a boat; instead, we compliment the owner on its interior, its decks, its bridge. This is where everything happens, we think; the bridge is the control centre for the boat; the interior is what makes it a luxury ship or not.
Yet that stuff doesn’t matter. Not really. Not when you are facing waves which are higher than the boat is. Not when you are facing the difference between shipwreck and survival. Then all that matters is how much weight you put below the waterline before you set sail.
MacDonald suggests that our soul is the part of us which equates to the weight below the waterline. The rest of our life – what people see – is all that pretty stuff above the water. It matters (or seems to) for a time. But then we go out on the water and the storms come and we have to face the waves. Then a beautiful deck, a sail above all other sails, a well-appointed bridge…those things don’t matter anymore.
All that matters is how deep below the waterline my soul goes. And the only way to be sure is to invest now when there are no storms. The weight below the waterline in my life is not going to increase by chance. It depends on me choosing to deepen my walk with God, to read the Bible, to learn verses of it, to think about it and chew over it, to discuss it with my friends. It depends on me choosing to pray, to talk to God even when there are no words and my soul is drier than I ever thought possible, to sing to God, to chat to him. When I serve someone else and I don’t want to or when I praise God despite my circumstances, those things deepen my soul too. It seems like it’s always the hard stuff that does it (like fasting and time alone and holding my tongue when I want to criticise) but that’s probably not totally true.
MacDonald puts it like this: there’s a ‘challenge to discern the difference between a developing authentic spirituality…and the almost empty promises of spiritual experiences’. Spiritual experiences are easy – they are emotional, offer me a momentary encounter with God and make me feel great. But they don’t last and they don’t build weight below the waterline. Only spirituality does that – it’s a journey of disciplined choices, of holy practices, of consistently walking with the one who created me.
I think a deep spirituality is part of finishing well. It’s a pay now, play later kind of thing – if I build well now, finishing well will be easier. That’s what I want…remind me when I seem to forget though, please?