Part 2 of the series, “How Shall I Then Live?”
To become a US Navy SEAL, one must undergo such rigorous training and screening that the majority never complete the process. If one can survive to the end without quitting or being carried off, that person is a Navy SEAL. There’s one part of the process called “drown-proofing,” in which the instructors bind the hands behind the back, tie the feet together, and dump the person into a 9-foot-deep pool. The mission is to survive until the end of the exercise.
Most cadets who attempt drown-proofing fail. Upon being tossed into the water, many panic and scream to be lifted back out. Others struggle until they slip underwater, lose consciousness, and are rescued. Some must be resuscitated.
Yet some trainees make it. They do so because they understand an important yet counter-intuitive lesson: the more one struggles to keep one’s head above water, the more likely one is to sink. With the arms and legs bound, it’s impossible to stay at the surface for long. Attempts to keep afloat will only lead to sinking faster. The trick is to stop struggling, let go of the will to fight this out, and relax. One must simply sink to the bottom of the pool. Once at the bottom, a firm push off the pool floor regains the surface. There one quickly grabs a quick breath of air and starts the whole process over again.
Surviving drown-proofing requires no superhuman strength or endurance, or even knowing how to swim (although swimming is critical for other parts of the training). Instead, it requires the ability to not swim. Instead of resisting the physics that will soon kill, the survivor must surrender to them and use them to save his or her own life. The more one panics or struggles, the more likely one is to deplete the body’s oxygen, fall unconscious and perhaps drown. The survival instinct is turned against the one who would survive. The more intense the desire to breathe, the less one will be able to breathe. The more intense the will to live, the greater the chance of dying.
In the last post on this topic, I identified a consuming love for our God as the greatest priority in life, and as the means to illuminate the path to true discipleship. This illustration of “drown-proofing” illustrates the second most important priority by which a true new covenant disciple must live every day: to be crucified to oneself in thinking and living (see Luke 9:23-24 and Galatians 2:20). Jesus stated in no uncertain terms that if any person would follow Him – be a disciple – that person must deny themselves and take up the cross of death to all that is of the self. See prior posts on this topic.
Jesus did not instruct us to strive to be crucified, for to strive is to rely on the self, the flesh, the ego. We cannot crucify ourselves; we can only submit to the process, presenting ourselves to our God for His crucifying work. Like stopping the struggle and yielding to the drown-proofing challenge, one must crucify the self by letting go, ceasing the striving against self. The crucified life is letting God kill the self, yielded in quiet trust and submission. No wiggling and squirming. No negotiating or seeking to retain some control. Relinquishing the self every day, sinking in humble submission, pushing off the bottom and into the oxygen of the Holy Spirit’s life inside.
There is a third important priority for effective new covenant living that will illuminate life as true disciples of Jesus. That is to live one’s life out of a united heart (Psalm 86:10). There is no division in the life a true disciple; life is unified in terms of focus, purpose, practice, and chronology. There is one focus in life to the exclusion of all others – it is God. There is one purpose in life to the exclusion of all others – love and worship for Him from one’s entire being. There is one practice in life that overrules and controls all other practices – to be crucified in thinking and living. There is only one chronological framework now –eternal life, which has already started and is lived daily here on earth.
The life of the disciple is truly only possible when it is lived not by the person but by the Holy Spirit who lives in the disciple. To abide any priority that exceeds these priorities – loving God above all loves, denying self and dying to the self in all areas of living, and living an undivided life united by the Holy Spirit within – is to live an un-discipled life. In light of the salvation we have in Christ and the Holy Spirit alive within, this un-discipled life would be functionally godless living.
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” – Jesus Christ, as quoted in Matthew 10:37-39