The dog paddle is one of my best swimming techniques. So I was nervous when I stepped into the American Dive Institute showroom and met my scuba instructor, Alex. He had me fill out a liability waiver in case of injury, accident or—gulp—death.
As Alex and I chit-chatted, I grew more anxious. My throat tightened. I coughed.
Alex asked if I was OK. "I'm just a little nervous," I said. "I'm not the strongest swimmer." Alex assured me everything would be fine. Fun even. He would help me learn.
Just like I needed Alex, I need help in the Christian life, too—the Holy Spirit. I can't live the Christian life in my own power because when I do, I get stuck and weighted down.
Kind of like the 70-pound scuba suit Alex made me wear that morning.
We started with the basics. Above the water, I don't normally think about breathing. But below the water's surface, I had to think about breathing regularly before it became second nature. I learned how to breathe again through the scuba gear while submerged four feet under water, kneeling on the bottom of a blue-tiled pool. Humble beginnings, but I wasn't ready yet for the deep end.
As I watched Alex's hand signals, I remembered, Oh, yeah! I had better start breathing. But instead of inhaling and exhaling normally, I overemphasized exhaling. Air bubbles rose rapidly to the surface in a rolling boil. Alex gave me a thumbs-up sign, which in diving lingo means, "Time to surface."
"Your breathing is a little labored," Alex said. "But you are getting the hang of it."
I think Alex was being extra kind. OK, I wasn't drowning, but I didn't feel like I had the hang of it. Living the Christian life can also be hard. So how do I avoid drowning as I try to follow Jesus? He gave me the Holy Spirit as my Helper. The Holy Spirit abides forever with me and in me (John 14:16,17). I have to depend on the Holy Spirit, not myself. If I don't, my spiritual life suffers and suffocates. When I do, I'm freed from the weight of sin. I can breathe.
Campus Crusade for Christ co-founder Bill Bright coined the term "spiritual breathing" as a metaphor for how to live a life empowered by the Holy Spirit and in abundant fellowship with God. My two-hour scuba lesson really got me thinking about this parallel to the Christian life. Spiritual breathing includes two parts: confession, like exhaling, and appropriation, like inhaling. This process enables me to stay in fellowship with God and live the Christian life.
First comes exhaling, or the important process of confession. I've learned that confession is a three-step process. First, I agree with God that I have sinned—in this case, my sin was my fear. My confession must always be specific. Second, I agree with God about His provision for my sin. He promises in 1 John 1:9 to provide His forgiveness and complete cleansing, in spite of myself: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Third, I repent and turn away from my sin. Therein lies the rub.
Before I started the scuba lesson, I was fearful. I choked up two or three times—enough that Alex noticed. I was not trusting God (or Alex!); when I commit the same sin over and over, I sometimes feel discouraged and powerless. With no other options, I repeat the confession process and think, Here I am again. However, this inevitable cycle actually sets me up for the second part of spiritual breathing: inhaling.
After some practice, Alex seemed convinced that I was ready to swim to the deep end of the pool. There, I needed to learn trust. I wanted to paddle over to the side and hold on, but he told me to let my scuba suit hold me up.
Similarly, the second part of spiritual breathing is to inhale or appropriate the Holy Spirit's power. In this case, I need to trust God's Spirit to empower me. It is amazing how, when I maintain this fellowship with God, He directs me. It is about relying on and surrendering my will to Him. Ephesians 5:18 commands me to "be filled with the Spirit" and to let Him influence me.
As Christians, we can be assured that the Holy Spirit never leaves us. So, asking God to fill me with His Spirit is me yielding to Him instead of to what I want. I can thank Him for empowering me, even if I don't feel differently after my prayer, because of 1 John 5:14,15: "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him."
I was tired mentally and physically at the end of my scuba lesson. Spiritual breathing can be exhausting especially at first, but it is worth the effort. It deepens my relationship with God and increases my dependence on Him.
Just like I didn't sign up to breathe—I signed up to scuba dive—the Christian life is not just about spiritual breathing, but rather following Jesus faithfully. However, I can't deny the basics. Without mastering how to breathe, I won't grow.
Some day I may try scuba diving again, but I know I want to go "Spirit-filled diving" every day. Dive into living the Spirit-filled life with Jesus. It is a breath-taking journey.
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