I LOVE SURFING. It’s true. If you follow my Facebook page or Instagram posts, this is old news to you. There is an addicting and intoxicating sensation involved in riding a board on a wave in the ocean. Feels a lot like flying and it is a very freeing experience where there is so much focus involved that all the other things of life bead off you like drops of water until all that is left is you and the ocean and if you are fortunate, that addicting feeling of riding that wave which surfers refer to as “stoke.” Some days you are catching waves and paddling back out behind where they break and catching them again and simply doing this constantly, but most days you have to wait a bit on your board for the sets of waves to come and you choose the best looking surfable wave that will provide you with the most enjoyable ride in that set, paddle into it, take off, and off you go. Surfing can be frustrating at times though because on days where the surf is good, the current is also often pretty strong. You don’t see the current but it acts like an invisible wind under the water because that water has to get back to the open somehow and it often feels like a fast moving river under what can appear like no movement on top of the water. This is part of what makes surfing one of the most difficult sports to learn because unlike snowboarding, everything is moving around you.
So, some days, you see where the waves are breaking and after reading the water paddle to what may appear to be the perfect spot, then, as you stare off into the horizon and see the sets coming, you get excited as they get closer only to find that you are no longer in the perfect spot to catch any of those waves in the set and you miss them all because you are out of position. What happened? It’s called drift. You felt like you were stationary in the water on your board, laying or sitting on your board, not moving, but in reality you are sitting on top of a moving river of side current which because you weren’t anchored to the sand/rock bottom has moved both you and the board away from that perfect spot. There have been so many times where I have paddled to the proper spot to catch waves, but then had to wait for the sets of waves to come, and then once they’ve come I’ve found I have moved up the beach and out of position to ride any waves.
The point is you can’t just sit there in the water, but you have to constantly work to ride the waves. You have to constantly be paddling just to stay in place or else you will drift. I was sitting on my board in the water last week and thinking how similar this is to how we live as Christians. We like to do all the work necessary to become Christians, to become a part of a church, to get to know about all the Christian disciplines and great Christian authors, and we expend a lot of work to become a Christian and as a new Christian, but often in our lives we become complacent and we just sit there in the pew expecting the miracle of life transforming sanctification to just happen when in reality we aren’t expending any effort whatsoever to make it happen. This is why we can feel like we are on top of our spiritual life game at one moment (the perfect spot) and then find suddenly that we’ve drifted away from our relationship with God and that joy and excitement that was once such a part of our lives and faith has become distant (we’ve drifted up the beach). Part of the problem is that we feel that we can be “on top of our spiritual life game” at all, that we get it, that we are enjoying the fruits of sinless, righteous perfection obtained in Jesus Christ at the cross, that we are “good” in our Christian life. It’s when we feel that everything is good though, that we are actually drifting in our faith, in our relationship with God, whether due to spiritual pride about ourselves or a lack of effort used to maintain that relationship with God in the first place.
You see, for the Christian, it can be confusing and feel wrong to put so much emphasis on work in the Christian life after so much Reformation thought has been expended, not to mention much of what the Apostle Paul has said, to boast in the grace of God in Jesus rather than works, God’s righteousness versus our effort (i.e. filthy rags). We read as Christians, and I am guilty of this too, passages like Ephesians 2:9-10 which read:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast…”
This has been one of the most meaningful and transformative passages of Scripture in my life. However, I have often been tempted to neglect what comes just one verse after in Ephesians 2:10 where Paul writes:
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Now, this does not mean that we are saved by grace but now that we have been saved by the Gospel of Jesus, we live by works and trust in that. NO! It means we are saved by grace and sustained by grace, however, we are saved for good works. We are not saved to sit and wait for Jesus to return, we are saved to love, specifically, to love God through Christ and to share that love with the world. So, we can read our Bibles, we can pray, we can go to a worship service with our church, we can go to community group, we can participate in helping to serve those meals for the poor in our cities and that work in the shelter, but we need to remember a couple things:
1) The good works that we do in serving God and others will not save us. Christ has already done that in His life, death, and resurrection. Only God’s grace in Jesus received through faith is saving from the punishment and condemnation of sin.
2) Although the good works we do to serve God and others will not save us from our sins and weren’t intended to, we need them because we were saved not by but for good works, and if we trust in God through Jesus Christ, then we believe by faith that our joy is tethered to God being glorified in our lives. So, the good works we do are to be done for the glory of God and we are to find joy in doing good works not because we are saving ourselves or bolstering our spiritual/social egos, but rather we are living in light of our created purpose by God in Jesus Christ and we are finding our fulfillment not in the things we do nor in our circumstances but in God alone through Christ alone. Like a marriage relationship, when you are in love with someone and you have to do a chore or task for that person, when it is done out of love it is a joy and pleasure because you are serving the other person and that service is an expression of that love rather than merely doing something for its own sake. So it is with our good works as we love God and others.
Our lives as Christians require effort and we don’t need to fear works when we trust in the grace of the cross of Christ, for we have been saved for good works. Therefore, we need to be careful as Christians that we don’t allow our fear of trusting in our works as opposed to the finished work of Christ to negate our responsibility as Christians to fight for holiness and godliness in our lives, lest we drift. Matt Chandler spoke some years ago at a conference and shared a quote in his sermon Grace-Driven Effort by D.A. Carson that has stuck with me over the years which reads…
“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”
D.A. Carson, For the Love of God
When you find yourself wondering what happened to that joy that you once had as Christian, when you feel that you feel distant and removed from God in a way you didn’t used to be, perhaps it is because you have drifted in your spiritual life and taken the great endeavor of work required to live as Christian in a world that is hostile to God for granted and forgotten how unnatural it is for us as human beings to live the Christian life. It is not easy because we are all naturally sinful. It is hard because it means paddling against the current of our culture and the world. However, if you want to find that sweet spot of joy like you once had, perhaps it means you need to reevaluate your life and your priorities and that maybe you have taken the work required to maintain a relationship with God in Jesus for granted and you have since become lukewarm in your faith.
When you want to make going to the gym a habit and staple to your life, you have to maintain it. It is difficult at first, but after a couple weeks it becomes easier and a habit. What would it look like if you focused just for 2-3 weeks on re-engaging with your relationship with God in Jesus, spending time in prayer intentionally and spending prolonged, un-hurried time doing a devotional in the Bible? It may seem forced and difficult to maintain at first, but after a couple weeks you may find that it becomes easier and that you have made it a habit, and you may just rediscover that sweet spot of joy that you’ve been longing for in your faith.