Many years ago, I had the privilege of going on a mission trip to Guatemala. It was my first time in a third-world nation and an eye-opening experience. I had the opportunity to preach the gospel and serve the poor in various ways, including building some houses for families that had almost nothing. However, what I remember most about that trip was not what God did through me but what God did in me, which is often how these things go.
We had a free day where no work was planned, so we enjoyed the day on a beautiful lake next to a volcano. I know; sounds awesome, right? We anchored down for a while near one of the hot springs to swim. While everyone was having a fun time playing in the lake, a couple of guys climbed up to the roof of the boat above the cockpit to jump into the water. I thought, “that looks awesome!” So I decided to climb up onto the roof of this double-decker boat and jump off with them.
When I got to the top and looked over the edge, I realized I had made a mistake. I was so excited to look cool in front of everyone that I had completely forgotten about the fact that I was terrified of heights. Now here I was on the roof of this very tall boat. I don’t know how high it was from the water, but it might as well have been on top of the Empire State Building. Everything inside me wanted to climb back down and pretend I never had such an ambitious idea, but now everyone was staring at me and cheering me on.
I had flashbacks of being a skinny little kid climbing up a Mount Everest-sized ladder to the diving board at the public pool and stepping out unto this flimsy board that wanted to launch me into outer space. No way was that thing OCHA approved, so I turned back, pushing through the line of humanity all hanging on the ladder patiently waiting their turn. They couldn’t go because this scared little kid chickened out, and now they had to wait for him to climb back down while he tried not to cry.
Now here I was, that scared little kid all over again. However, this time was different. For whatever reason, at that moment, I decided against my nature. I didn’t want to be that scared kid anymore. So I gritted my teeth and decided to face my fear. I could feel my heart beating in my chest, and my muscles were ridged. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, counted to three, and ran off the edge of that boat. I opened my eyes just as I was hitting the water. The next thing I knew, I was swallowed up by the cool blue water. All I could hear were airy echoes of bubbles and voices that sounded like they were calling out from a dream. Finally, the depths gave me up like waking from a deep sleep, and I breathed fresh air again. The only thing I could do was scream, “That was awesome!” I couldn’t believe how good it felt.
I went into that water a scared kid, but I came out with renewed confidence. It changed me. Not because the water had some special power but because I defied myself. I rebelled against my nature.
Jesus said this in Luke 9:23–24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
It’s an interesting paradox. If we try to save our lives, we will end up losing it, but if we lose our lives for his sake, we will find it.
We live in a culture that focuses on the individual living their best life now. The never-ending pursuit of happiness. However, the Christian has a very different view on life. We understand that it’s not all about our current happiness. Our life is not our own, and we have hope of a greater reward yet to come. We are not living for ourselves. We live for our King, who purchased our lives with his blood.
So we deny our fears, comforts, and desires because we realize that these things are products of our old sinful nature. So we deny our nature and, by faith, jump into the waters of God’s nature. We drown in the nature of his love and mercy. It’s scary and hard, but we emerge more alive than ever before. We realize that we weren’t made to surrender to the sinful tyrant of fear but to thrive in the ocean of the one who took us from the dust.
If you claim to follow Christ, let me remind you of what God’s word says in 2 Corinthians 5:15, “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
If you find yourself unhappy and uncomfortable, it’s probably because you are chasing after happiness and comfort. Deny yourself those things that are familiar and safe. Following Christ is like jumping off the boat. It’s dangerous for your flesh, but it brings new life to your soul.
Trevor Rickard is an Associate Pastor at New Life Christian Fellowship.