A few years ago, I took it upon myself to learn to swim freestyle the right way. I’ve swam for as long as I can remember but never used any technique. So I started down the road of learning to swim freestyle.
I started slow and worked up speed and distance till I could swim a mile in about 40 minutes. Pleased with this, I kept hitting the pool, working on whittling down my time. One of these times, I was swimming with my daughter Madylynn, who is a swimmer. She swam for two Y teams and for Bucyrus High School. So she knows how to swim!
I was watching her swim in the lane beside me. She was working on her fly (butterfly stroke). Getting a little bored with freestyle, I asked her how hard fly was to swim. She laughed!
I wasn’t amused!
She explained the process, which was a bit more complicated than freestyle. But she made it look SO EASY! I figured I could do it with a little study online, watch some YouTube videos, and start with basic workouts to get up to swimming fly. My goal? To beat her in fly for 50 yards. Why? Because she laughed!
So I started down this process of learning to swim butterfly. I hit swimming blogs, watched videos, and even paid for an app for a month to give me insider tips on developing the technique.
I hit the water after about two weeks of land prep and training. I was ready. I was gonna crush it. I was gonna beat my daughter. I reserved a couple lanes for us and was gonna show her who was boss.
Do you know what happened? She laughed. Again.
She said I looked like a ridiculous fish out of the water, flopping and splashing but going nowhere. I gotta say, I was frustrated and a little scared from it all.
I’m still recovering from the trauma Madylynn caused me. 😉
Still determined to learn to fly, I decided it might be better for me to find a coach. I figured maybe knowledge of how to swim butterfly wasn’t enough. Perhaps I needed a guide to help me with that knowledge and correct my technique. And the coach I found is excellent. She’s patient and good at telling me what I’m not doing right and balancing that with what I am doing right.
I don’t know about you, but I like being able to teach myself stuff. I love YouTube for that. But as great as YouTube is, some things can’t be learned through video. I think we’ve all probably experienced this. The problem with it, at least for me, is it set up this expectation that I’d be able to swim instant butterfly. Not super fast, but at least swim it instead of clumsily flopping around in the water. I wanted instant butterfly. I had knowledge of swimming the stroke. But I missed one super important element.
The right environment.
The environment needed was disciplined practice with the proper guidance. If I wanted to go deep with not only swimming fly but have any chance in the world to beat my daughter (and yes, that’s still my goal), I had to commit to going deep and listening to my coach.
We all want to grow
While we all may not want to swim butterfly, we all want to go deeper relationally with others close to us – even if we aren’t always consciously aware of it. This is true of our earthly relationships but supremely true with Jesus. The psalmist writes in Psalm 42 that his soul longs for God, thirsting for Him. We all have that desire, even when we aren’t aware of it.
So how do we do that? Well, we can engage Scripture. That’s a biggie! There’s being part of a church family or a small group. That’s undoubtedly one! We can serve, pray, worship and praise! All contributors.
But here’s the thing – We need to have the discipline to put these and others into our everyday. Some we might be already doing. That’s great! But that doesn’t mean we’ve arrived. We’ve never truly arrived. In fact, we should always look to grow deeper, which happens in our everyday lives as we practice spiritual disciplines.
The disciplines we practice every day (not just on Sunday) prepare the environment for that deep intimacy our soul thirsts for and God desires to have. They prepare the environment for the Holy Spirit to do what He does best…take us deeper.
God desires relationship
I’ve always been fascinated with the Exodus story. I’ll not share the entire thing here, but set it up and give you the highlights.
God promises Abraham in Genesis that he’ll be the father of many nations. That promise starts with the birth of his son, Isaac. Isaac grows up, gets married, and Jacob is born to Isaac. Jacob has 12 sons (twelve tribes of Israel), one of which is Joseph, who becomes second in command over all of Egypt during a nasty seven years of famine. He ends up being the one who saves his family, and they all move to Egypt, escaping said famine.
Years pass, and the Israelites grow and multiply in Egypt, fulfilling the promise of God back in Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. Joseph is gone, and so is the Pharaoh who welcomed the Israelites into Egypt during Joseph’s leadership.
The new Pharaoh grows worrisome over the number of Israelites and enslaves them while ordering Israelite baby boys to be tossed into the Nile river. This was in hopes of preventing the Israelites from taking over Egypt. The Israelites cry out, and God answers by raising Moses to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt. God, through Moses, dramatically does this as God parts the Red Sea, so the Israelites cross safely. At the same time, Pharaoh and his armies are defeated.
The people are saved! Yay! Enter Exodus 15, which contains a praise song to God (maybe this was the first praise song!) called the Song of the Sea. In it, Moses leads the Israelites in song, praising God for leading His people, redeeming His people, and guiding them into the land so they can dwell with God.
And there it is.
God draws out the Israelites. He confronts evil, redeems His people, And leads them out to do what? To dwell with them – otherwise known as intimacy with them. Wow!
You know… there’s a New Testament story that’s even more dramatic and close to the same idea. It’s called The Gospel. And it was costly! The purpose? To confront evil, redeem His people, and lead them to dwell with God.
While we weren’t part of the Exodus, we are part of being drawn out through the Gospel of Jesus to dwell with God. Intimacy with God. That still blows me away – that God would want that from me, an undeserving sinner. But that’s why we still sing praise songs to God today!
Here’s the thing – God desires we go deep, probably more than we want or realize it. Why? He knows we need it. He knows we’ll pursue other things if we don’t…by default. Something will take God’s place in that pursuit. Just look across your own life. You can see times when you allowed the pursuit of something else to take the place of the pursuit of God. The thing is, you are never standing still spiritually. You are either growing closer to God or growing apart. But you are never standing still.
You’ve never arrived.
So, what do we do about it?
Paul’s writing in the New Testament is intriguing! He writes so much about faith alone. We aren’t justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. Another way to state it is we can’t earn grace. It’s by placing our trust and confidence in Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t mean we sit around and wait for God to come and transform us. We have to respond to that grace. We do this through…drum roll…spiritual disciplines.
Just like I had to create the right environment for disciplining myself to learn butterfly, we also must do similar when going deep with God. Spiritual disciplines create the right environment for God’s grace to transform.
Think about it like this: A farmer can’t grow grain. A farmer can create the right conditions for growth by cultivating the ground, planting seeds, fertilizing, and watering. Then the natural takes place.
Spiritual disciplines are God’s method of getting us where He can work within us, transforming us! They prepare the environment!
You can’t do this alone. And no YouTube video can make it happen. Even blog posts (yes, even this one) can’t make that happen. Only you working with the Holy Spirit, creating the right environment through spiritual disciplines, can do that. The Holy Spirit is your Coach. He’s my Coach. He’s the one that tells me what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. He corrects, guides, instructs and leads.
But none of that can be done if I’m not doing my part. I’ll never learn to swim fly if I don’t practice swimming. And I’ll never grow deeper if I don’t practice spiritual disciplines. They create the environment for growth.
The thing is, the disciplines aren’t a Sunday morning thing. They’re an everyday ordinary thing. Sure big growth moments come. And those mountain top experiences are great. But most of our learning is done in the ordinary, daily creating the right environment for us to experience God’s grace…daily. It’s…
- Meditating on Scripture…daily
And many more!
It was ridiculous for me to expect YouTube or blog posts on swimming or even my coach alone to transform me into a fly swimmer without my disciplined action. I have a responsible part. It’s equally ridiculous to expect God to transform me without my disciplined action. I’m responsible for creating the environment daily for God’s grace to grow my character and grow deeper.
So…over the next several posts, I want to look at some spiritual disciplines like meditating, praying, or submitting. Not all will be a winner for you. But like my coach tells me where I’m weak in my swim stroke, so does the Holy Spirit tell us where we’re weak, and it’s those areas that we often need to spend more time honing and practicing. For me, solitude is easy. I’ll do that every day. But fasting? Ugh! That’s one that I have to work on.
No matter which ones we are weak or strong in, they all contribute to creating the right environment for intimacy with God, a deeper relationship. He is drawing us to Him.
Our job is to respond obediently through the disciplines.
And maybe just beat my daughter in butterfly! My coach is helping me get there. It’s not pretty, smooth, or fast…yet! But I’m swimming butterfly. And it happened because of regular disciplined practice.
My hope this week is you find that disciplined practice spiritually speaking creates the environment for God’s grace to do His best work in you and through you!
You are loved!