I want to start by saying something that I would like every one to notice carefully. It is this. If this chapter means nothing to you, if it seems to be trying to answer questions you never asked, drop it at once. […] There are certain things in Christianity that can be understood from the outside, before you have become a Christian. But there are a great many things that cannot be understood until after you have gone a certain distance along the Christian road. […] They are directions for dealing with particular crossroads and obstacles on the journey and they do not make sense until a man has reached those places. […] There will come a day, perhaps years later, when you suddenly see what it meant. –C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Today, I want to talk about a box and a boat and a journey toward the greatest romance of our lives. I want to talk about beaches and oceans and a place known as the deep waters.
When a person first becomes a Christian, their wish is to understand God. To do this, they begin constructing a box. This box is a doctrinal and theological framework built to explain their spiritual experience. As the box takes shape, it provides structure for the rest of the believer’s life as well: behavior, morality, thinking and relationships. It offers stability, comfort, and a reference point from which to view the world and God’s relationship to it.
Some people spend a lot of time building and reinforcing their boxes. Experiences with God or people that occur outside of the box are either written off as devilish distractions or twisted in such a way as to appear to fit within the box. For some people, God is the box, and to say otherwise is their version of blasphemy.
But God, by His very nature, is bigger than our boxes–and He will always test them. In fact, I believe, for those who will allow Him, God wants to break boxes. Because, at the end of the day, Christianity is not about maintaining a neat theological box. Christianity is about knowing and communing with God. The box is necessary for this at the outset, but at some point, it becomes obsolete.
That’s because, in our pursuit of Him, God wants us to trade in our boxes for a boat.
In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis equates theology to a map and our experience of God to walking on the beach. Nothing compares to the breathtaking beauty of the beach, of course, but if we want to navigate the ocean, a map is required. I agree.
But as someone who is attempting to cross the ocean, I can say this: the further out you go in the boat, the sparser the map gets. After a while, you go into the bookstores and realize that all the mainstream Christian authors have nothing to say about where you are. When it comes to rejoicing in the Lord, the Sunday choir might as well be singing to the wall. It’s not that you aren’t joyful, it’s just that it’s…complicated. Trusting God isn’t bringing you that grand revelation for your future that you prayed for six months ago. People wonder why you don’t want to come to their great new Beth Moore study on Monday night. Instead, you go home and read Paul Tillich and pray you don’t get labeled a heretic.
And that’s when you realize God is pulling you out into the deep waters.
When the box begins to crumble.
When faith isn’t about seeing anymore. Or having all the right answers.
When worship is like standing in His physical, glorious presence.
When you’re not afraid to dance or struggle with Him.
When you know beyond a doubt that He is yours and you are His. Forever. No matter what.
Everyday is not a Friday in the deep waters. Sometimes it is dark. Sometimes it is turbulent. But it is also a place of profound love and supernatural joy. It is a place where one can experience God outside of the box, feel His embrace, learn something that they don’t teach you in Sunday school. When you feel your box being pulled, stretched, shaken, it’s a sign that God is calling you. Surrender the box and climb into the boat. You may begin the journey with tears. You may begin with doubt. You may begin with cursing. It doesn’t matter. Just row. He’s got you.