I took swimming lessons for several summers in a row when I was a kid. I went to the neighborhood pool before it opened each morning for a week or two and took a class with other kids. Holding onto the side learning to flutter kick our feet. Standing in a circle and practicing putting our heads under water. Lots of mornings at the pool.
But one lesson sticks out in my mind.
The instructor had 4 or 5 of us little kids standing in the shallow end of the pool. Feet on the bottom, hands on the side if we wanted. She explained that if we laid back in the water with our body flat and our head slightly in the water, we would float. She demonstrated. It worked perfectly!
Then she came around to each of us and helped us try it for ourselves. I don’t remember how the other kids fared but my attempts are vivid in my memory.
The teacher stood beside me and put her arm under my upper back, instructing me to lean back and let my feet come off the bottom of the pool. She then put her other arm under my lower back and supported me. To float, she explained, I just need to stay flat, let my head drop back into the water a little and relax. Seemed simple enough. She would slowly remove her arms so that I was floating.
Only I didn’t.
I sank. Bottom first.
Head first is never recommended.
I flailed my arms and kicked my legs wildly until I had my feet firmly planted on the bottom of the pool again.
No problem, my teacher assured me. All I needed to do was try again and follow the simple instructions: body flat and relaxed, head back.
But there was a problem. I didn’t want to put my head back. I wanted to be ready if I sank. I didn’t want to relax. I wanted to keep my body tense and slightly bent so I could get my feet to the bottom of the pool quickly.
I didn’t trust that the water would hold me up.
I think I may have expressed this crisis of faith to my teacher because I remember a simple explanation of the principle of buoyancy that made sense even to my young brain.
But the facts were irrelevant. I didn’t trust the water.
I’m happy to report, however, that after many attempts, much flailing, and endless patience on the part of the swimming instructor I did successfully learn to float. But, to be honest, even today when I want to float I have to consciously remind myself of those instructions I received as a little kid: keep your body flat, put your head slightly back into the water, and relax.
Last night while I laid in bed unable to sleep because I was worried about something, it occurred to me that I wasn’t trusting God to take care of the situation. So I prayed that he would help me trust him. He instantly brought to mind a vivid recollection of that morning in our neighborhood pool as I struggled to learn to float.
That’s when it hit me. I was having the same problem now that I did back then. Trust. Back then I didn’t trust that the inherent nature of water and the principles of buoyancy could and would, under certain simple conditions, keep me afloat. This time, however, it was God I didn’t trust. My worry showed that I didn’t believe that he could and would take care of me in the difficult situation I faced. Just as I wanted to stay in control in the pool by being ready to “rescue” myself and get my feet on the bottom quickly, now I wanted to stay in control and think of “solutions,” ways I could handle things on my own.
As if I could.
The inherent nature of water and the principles of buoyancy make floating possible, certain, under the right conditions. Scuba divers go to a lot of effort to stop floating, even wearing a belt of weights.
That’s just how water and buoyancy are. It’s their nature.
Being willing and able to keep his promises is God’s nature. It’s just how he is.
Do I trust the inherent nature of our promise keeping God and the principles he has explained in the Bible? Am I willing to take my hand off the side of the pool, lift my feet off the bottom and not try to control the situation? Or do I keep hedging my bets by having a plan B, just in case God doesn’t come through or doesn’t come through the way I want?
Those are the questions Jesus faced during the time he spent in the wilderness after his baptism. We are told in Mark 1:13 that Jesus spent 40 days there being tempted by Satan. Matthew and Luke give us a few more details, like the fact that Jesus didn’t eat for 40 days. And he was hungry.
That has to qualify for the understatement of the year.
The other accounts also tell us what the temptations were. You can read about them in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. If you look closely, each of the temptations was a way for Jesus to take an easy shortcut to something that the Father planned to give him eventually. The temptation for Jesus was to take control of the situation, to be in charge instead of letting the Father be in charge.
Interestingly, the Greek word translated “tempted” in Mark 1:13 can also be translated “tested.” Being tested is a good thing. Testing shows people what we’re capable of. Often, it shows us what we’re capable of.
James 1:3 says that when our faith in God is tested our endurance grows. Some translations say “perseverance” or “steadfastness.” The idea is that our capacity to stand up under difficulties is increased. Our trust in God becomes stronger as a result of being tested.
If you look back at Mark 1:12, you’ll see how Jesus ended up in the wilderness in the first place. The Spirit of God drove him there. It was God who put Jesus in the wilderness where Satan would tempt him.
God’s purpose was to test him.
This wasn’t the first time God had sent someone into the wilderness. Another example is in Deuteronomy 8:2, where Moses reminds God’s people that God had them spend 40 years in the wilderness to humble them and to test them in order to know what was in their hearts, whether or not they would keep his commands.
That’s the test Jesus faced in the wilderness as well. Would he obey God or would he take control of the situation and try to take an easier path?
Hebrews 5:8 says that Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered. He wasn’t disobedient before, but each challenge he faced, from the temptations in the wilderness all the way to his death on the cross, were new opportunities to trust God, to obey God.
Each temptation or test was a decision about whether to let go of the side of the pool.
If you read the accounts in Matthew and Luke of the temptations, you’ll see that Jesus resisted each of them because he knew what his Father said in Scripture and he staked his life and his future on it. He trusted in the Father’s inherent nature and the principles the Father had laid down.
Jesus relaxed and let the water support him.
I’m not so good at that. I am able to float in a pool but I have more trouble relaxing and trusting that God will hold me up through the situations of life. I think I’m improving a little but each time a new challenge hits I struggle to remind myself of God’s promises and what he is like.
I have to remind myself to trust him.
And I still sink a lot.
When it comes to trusting God, the reality is I’ll never do it perfectly in this life. But there is good news. What I can’t do, Jesus has already done.
Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was tempted in every way that I am, but he always trusted the Father totally, obeyed him completely. The temptations in the wilderness were just part of it.
Because Jesus has been tempted in the ways we are he can empathize. He sympathizes with us because he knows what it’s like, how hard it is.
Hebrews 7:25 says that because of that he intercedes with the Father for us when we ask to be forgiven for failing to trust God.
And God listens.
According to Hebrews 7:25 Jesus is able to rescue anyone who comes to God through him.
Because he can say to the Father, “I know she disobeyed you, didn’t trust you, didn’t believe what you said in the Bible. But I did. I obeyed you perfectly. I trusted you completely. I love you wholeheartedly. Give her credit for what I did. I already took credit for what she did when I switched places with her on the cross.”
A swimming lesson. That’s what God gave me in answer to my prayer as I laid in bed last night.
Because of what God is inherently like, what makes him him, and the principles he has explained in the Bible, I can lean back and relax.
God will hold me up.
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