In an amazing opportunity provided a couple weeks ago by God, I was among a small group of people who got to have dinner with Francis Chan when he was in town to give a conference talk. (I thought this blog was in need of some star power, so hang on while I bend over to pick up that name I just dropped.) It was funny how the group of us who were going to dine with him got worked up, practicing the things we were NOT going to say, and also getting out of our system to starry-eyed, groupie routine. I’m pretty sure this is the same process Francis’ (yes, I can call him that) wife and kids go through every night before he returns home.
All the preparation was unnecessary, because as I’m sure you’d expect, Francis Chan is a pretty cool, casual guy to hang out with. In no way does he seem to give off an attitude of self-importance. In fact, as we wanted to talk about his next project, church life, etc., he kept trying to drive the conversation toward the basketball playoffs. Just ordinary guys stuff. Too bad we didn’t have tickets.
The reason I bring up Francis Chan (other than the gratuitous name dropping), is because of something that I heard him say over a year ago at a different conference. It was just after he made the decision to leave his church in California. In fact, he spoke to the room of us the day after he and his wife stood before the church to make the announcement.
During his talk to us, he described a moment he had while scuba diving in the Bahamas. Not being an experienced diver, Francis was at the mercy of the guide. Before diving, the guide told him that when they reached a certain depth (I don’t recall how many feet) they would be at the point where if they went deeper, they would not have time to return to the surface if there was an equipment failure. Underwater, as they approached that depth, Francis recalls being overcome with anxiety. At first he frantically pointed up to let the guide know that he did not want to go further.
Then he related these thoughts as the guide returned to him and motioned if he was sure he was done – as he was calming himself and praying, he was overcome by this thought from God, what is different if you go further down? Every breath you take is already dependent upon me. What is the difference if the breaths come from a tank or from the air. It doesn’t change your dependence.
I have to admit that those words were significant to me and I used them a few months later when getting ready to take a trip aboard a plane. See, I’m not afraid of flying. I rather enjoy it. But, I have enough knowledge of tensile strength of metals to realize that I have something to be afraid of. (That’s why ignorance is bliss, because a little knowledge of something doesn’t allow you to know why you shouldn’t be afraid, just the awareness that you should.)
Anyway, as we were accelerating down the runway, and I was going through my usual visualizations of being in a steel tube, five miles in the air and the wings snapping off, I remembered Francis’ words. And believe me, they were soothing. What’s the difference? My life is literally in the hands of God regardless as to position. He could snuff me out while standing on solid ground just as easily as He could sustain me in a cylinder traveling 600 miles per hour 5 miles in the sky.
Funny thing is that I put that knowledge away when we landed. It is so easy to remember dependence when you are in an airplane, deep below the surface of the ocean, having surgery, or in some other overtly dangerous situation. But what about in the ordinary, mundane day to day existence?
In combating an addiction we try to gut it out on our own. When trying to resolve marital conflict, we try to apply principles. Raising our kids is done out of our effort. We spend money as we see fit. We breath in and breath out. Our heart beats. Somewhere, in the everyday, the idea of dependence gets lost.
Breathing gets taken for granted. Food in the fridge is always just there. I know that I’m going to get paid every other Friday. My kids are going to always love me. My wife will forgive me and everything will be OK.
What happens when it’s not OK? The same God that holds you in His hands five miles in the sky has you in His hands when your marriage is a wreck and you don’t know what else to do. That same God who will sustain you a hundred feet underwater will sustain you in your battle again alcohol, pornography, or codependence. He is there in the ordinary things as much as in the spectacular. (To God, it is all ordinary, He made it with His WORDS!)
Where this gets utterly ironic is in our relationship with Him. Seems like we are plenty willing to accept that we need Him to begin the salvation process, but it is up to us to continue it. Sanctification (I know some big words too) is up to us. Salvation is the airplane taking off, where I see clearly my need. Sanctification is the marriage that I try to get right on my own.
(I abhor the saying “pray like everything depends on God, and work like everything depends on you.” To me that is just a spiritualized way of justifying our self effort. We should pray and work like everything depends upon God, and our motivation is God’s increased glory.)
All of life is dependence. In our relationship with our heavenly maker, our part is openness. Making room for His spirit daily. Moment by moment. Being aware of our dependence, acknowledging our need for God, and letting Him do the rest.