By Ps Lee Kok Wah
I spent the first week of my undergraduate life not by attending lectures but by swimming and floating. No, I was not playing truant. I was representing NUS as a member of the university’s swim team that was in Jakarta for the Intervarsity Games. After the swim meet was over, the team from The University of Indonesia invited us to spend a day with them at a waterpark. Our Indonesian hosts invited us to join them in a swim against the current in a flow-pool that meandered around the park. It took what felt like forever for us to complete the approximately 400m. Following that exhausting swim, we just relaxed, floated and allowed the current to take us in the opposite direction. Chatting and laughing with our new friends, we all experienced what we already knew in theory – that going with the flow was more natural than going against it.
We are familiar with the Holy Spirit being described as “like the blowing of a violent wind” and “what seemed to be tongues of fire” (Acts 2:2-3). It is interesting that the Bible also describes the Spirit as a stream of flowing water and a spring that wells up inside us (John 4:10-14; 7:37-39). Some interpret “the river of the water of life” that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Revelation 22:1-2) to be an image of the Holy Spirit as well.
Early Christian writers visualized the Christian life in terms of living in water like a fish. Tertullian (c. 160-220) called Christians “little fish” who follow Christ the “Heavenly Fish”. According to these writers, Christians are born and live within the divine waters of the Spirit and by living the Christian life, they learn to be supported by these waters. In other words, living the Spirit-led life is like floating in the river of God’s love.
We cannot float until we let go. We can only float when we willingly let go of the life buoy or the side of a deep pool that we are clinging on to. When we float, we allow the water to carry our full weight. We may be able to explain Archimedes’ Principle, but if we do not surrender and allow the water’s buoyant force to support us, we will never experience the wonderful sensation of floating.
God is love (1 John 4:8) and because God is perfect, God is perfect love. Surrendering to God’s perfect love involves letting go – a release of effort, tension and fear. And it involves trust. We cannot let go of self-dependence and start depending on another without trust. But why is this easier said than done?
I suspect one reason for our fear is our mistaken view of God. We are influenced by a view held by the majority of humanity that the universe is unfriendly. The gods they believe in seem either to be indifferent or hostile to humans. Even amongst many Christians, their confession that “God is love” often does not translate well from theory into practice, from theology into real life experience. For these Christians, their God is still a God who requires continuous appeasement.
Pause for a moment and ask yourself these questions. In expressing your Christian faith, why do you do what you do? Why do you read the Bible? Why do you pray? Why do you attend worship services? Why do you join a CARE Group? Why do you bring a pre-believer to the Alpha Course? Why do you witness and make disciples for Jesus Christ? And why do you find it so difficult and tiresome to do some or all of the above even if you agree that these activities are “what Christians ought to do”?
I suggest that too often, we see Christianity in terms of rules, morality and performance, complying with a system of obligations and prohibitions. We miss the point of Christian discipleship. “Christian obedience is more like what lovers give each other than what soldiers give their superiors. Lovers demonstrate their love by doing what each other wants. And so, it should be with Christians and their God.” [David Benner, Surrender To Love (IVP, 2015), 63].
I pray that we will know experientially what it is like to be floating in the river of Perfect Love. When we let go and surrender to God’s love; when we trust the Holy Spirit and go with His flow; when we rediscover that we are God’s beloved, I believe our tired willfulness to comply can be transformed into a life-giving willingness to obey, motivated by love for God and for one another.