The Heart of a Champion: Go Deep
It takes a lot to get me down in life—a whole lot! It happens only on the rarest of occasions. But on those rarest of occasions when it does happen, I’ll always turn to a marvelous piece written by Arthur Gordon, entitled “The Turn of the Tide”. You can find it in his book, A Touch of Wonder. Gordon’s words always turn me around, lift me up, and set my soul to soaring.
He tells of a bleak period in his own life when everything seemed stale and flat. His enthusiasm was down, his energy was waning, his spirit was in eclipse; his zest for life was all but gone. He was smart enough to realize that he was in trouble and that he needed some help, so he turned to a doctor friend who listened to him for a few minutes and said, “Arthur, let me ask you something. Where were you happiest as a child?” Without hesitation, Arthur Gordon replied: “At the beach, we had a cottage there. I loved it.” The doctor said, “Are you capable of following instructions for one day?” Arthur Gordon, ready to try anything, said,”I think so.” The doctor said, ” All right. I want you to drive to the beach alone tomorrow. Get there by 9:00. Take a lunch but nothing else. I don’t want you to read or write or listen to the radio or talk to anyone else. There are four prescriptions. I want to take one every three hours—at 9:00, at noon, and at 6:00.” Gordon asked, “Are you serious?” The doctor laughed and said, “Wait till you get my bill and you’ll see how serious I am.”
Now the next morning Arthur Gordon drove to the beach. At 9:00 he opened the first prescription. (By the way, if you’re smart, you’ll write the four prescriptions down for your own use. I’ve got them carved into my mind. You would do well to do the same.) The first prescription read: “Listen carefully.” At first, he wasn’t sure what to do. What was there to listen to? No radio on, no one around. But suddenly, he began to be aware of the steady roar of the sea and the screeching cry of a gull. He focused his ear more closely and began to hear the soft rasp of drifting sand and the gentle scraping of wind-blown sea oats rubbing against each other. As he focused on those sounds, he began to realize that he was thinking about things outside of himself, things bigger than his own personal concerns. The problems in his own life, which had seemed so big, suddenly seemed small in comparison to the immensity of the creation around him.
It was noon. Time for the second prescription. This one read: “Try reaching back.” Gordon thought to himself with some agitation, “Back to what? My problems are in the present, in the future, not the past.” Try reaching back. So Gordon let his mind run back to his past, to his childhood and happy times, good times; he had so much to be thankful for, so much in his life that was rich and valuable. And he found that as he reached back in his memory bank and touched happiness, there were released in him little flashes of power, tiny sources of strength.
By now it was 3:00. Time for the third prescription. He opened it. These words: “Re-examine your motives.” His anger flashed. “Wait a minute”, he thought to himself, “my motives are fine. I’m a pretty good man. I’ve done some good things. I never intentionally hurt anyone else. Why should I re-examine my motives?” It took a while to work through the anger, but then suddenly he realized that maybe his motives weren’t as clear and noble as he had thought. He was a writer, and maybe he had fallen into the habit of just writing for the money, just to get the job done, just to pay the bills. Maybe the sense of giving something, helping others, making a contribution had been lost in the frantic clutch at security. He realized that no matter what you do in life, if your motives are wrong, nothing can be right. When you feel that you are serving others, you do your job well. When you are concerned only with helping yourself, you do it less well. That’s a law as inexorable as the law of gravity.
The sun was starting to set—6:00. The final prescription. It read: “Write your worries in the sand.” As the tide was coming in, Arthur Gordon picked up a sliver of shell, knelt down, and wrote his worries in the sand. Then he watched the tide roll in and wash them away. In those moments, he began to realize that his life had lost its joy and zest because he had been trapped in the shallows and was missing the depths of life. He had been muddling about in the mundane and missing the magnificence of life. As he then left the beach with a renewed sense of purpose and a restored sense of direction, he said that that day there was a sense in which he had been re-born!
Reminds me of another beach scene where re-birth took place. You can read about it in Luke 5. Peter, James and John were fishing along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. They were tired, exhausted, discouraged, and disappointed. They had fished all night and had caught nothing. But when Jesus saw them and their predicament, He pointed them toward a solution. He said: “You’re too shallow. Go deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter responded: “Master, we’ve worked all night and have nothing to show for it. The fish aren’t biting. We’re ready to quit. But I guess if you insist, we’ll give it a try.” When they reached the deeper water, they let down their nets. Can you believe it? They caught so many fish that their nets began to break!
Peter was so astonished by the power of Jesus, that he felt unworthy to be in the presence of such greatness. So he rushed to the shore, fell at Jesus’ feet and cried: “Lord, I’m not good enough even to be in your company.” But Jesus said to him: “Simon Peter, come, follow me. I will give you a new start, a new mission, a new dream, a new direction, a new birth.” It says that Peter, James and John then left everything and followed Him. And, of course, you know the rest of the story.
But here’s the point. What Jesus said to them, He says to us. He says, “You’ve been muddling too long in the mundane and missing the magnificence of life. You’ve been wallowing too long in the shallows of life. Put out into the deep and find new life.” Now on that single strand of truth from the lips of Jesus, let me string three pearls of wisdom…
We need to get out of the shallows of life and go deep with our gratitude.
When Simon Peter saw the incredible catch of fish Christ had blessed them with, he was filled with gratitude. The key phrase there is “Christ had blessed them with.” We have so much to be thankful for and yet the truth is that we do tend to forget God’s goodness to us. We do take for granted His blessings. We do become unmindful of His generosity.
The noted journalist, John Gile, has a perfectly wonderful book called, Keeping First Things First. It is a treasure chest filled with gems of wisdom for our living. At one point, he writes these words: “My four-year-old daughter has a magic body. I told her so. And it’s true. A few days ago she fell off a swing in a friend’s yard and cut her hand. It didn’t require major medical attention, just a quick washing, a small bandage, routine tear drying and a few reassuring hugs. But today, we noticed something remarkable: the cut was gone, vanished without a trace. Somehow, like magic, her body had repaired the injured hand, making it like new again. I know some cynics will come along and try to tell us it’s not magic. They’ll give a Latin term for it and proceed to give a boring description of the process, but that doesn’t take away the magic. It just explains how God makes “magic” things happen. Our trouble is that we don’t look for and expect to see God’s magic. Imagine if someone made a car that repaired its own dented fenders and scratched paint. The whole world would be excited about it. It would make headlines. Yet God gives us this magic body and we just take it for granted—as we do with so many of His gifts.”
Dear friends, if you want a new lease on life, a new start, a new beginning, a new zestfulness, a new birth of the spirit, one place to find it is out of the depths of gratitude. Jesus says to us now: “Don’t stay in the shallows of life. Go out into the deeper waters of thankfulness.”
And also we need to go deep with our repentance.
First, Simon Peter felt gratitude, but then he felt penitent. He was so awed and astonished by the power of Jesus that he felt unworthy to be in His presence. Like Moses at the burning bush, he wanted to take off his shoes, because he felt he was standing on holy ground. Like Isaiah in the temple, he felt like an unclean man with unclean lips living in the midst of an unclean people. In anguish he cried: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
In the Bible, penitence is always a painful process, but it is always a deeply moving experience. People cry and tear their clothes and fall on their knees and change their ways. They face the truth about themselves, they repent, and they start living life in a new direction. But today we find it so hard to face the truth about our own shortcomings. We want to blame everything and everybody else for what goes wrong in life instead of looking in the mirror. That reminds me of the golfer who was playing with three of his buddies. He stepped up to the first tee, addressed the ball, took a mighty swing, and missed the ball completely. He gathered himself together again, poised his club, took another healthy cut at the ball and missed again. The third time he swung—whoosh!—never hit the ball. He turned to his buddies and said: “Man, this is a tough course!” That’s the way we are, just playing around in the shallows of penitence and refusing to acknowledge the truth about ourselves.
And we also are reluctant to change our ways. The writer, A.J. Langguth told a story of a brazen young woman who felt that she was demon-possessed. She believed that she had seven demons within her. She encountered Jesus and he said: “I can help you. I can cast out those seven demons. Would you like that?” To which the young woman replied: “Would you mind casting out just six?” We understand that, don’t we? We don’t want to change completely. We don’t want to let go and release ourselves fully to Christ. We want to be Christian, but only up to a point.
Of course, the Hebrew word for repent in the Old Testament is “hashivenu”. It means “about face…turn around…change your direction.” If we want a new start, a new beginning, a new direction, a new zest for living, then we need to get out of the shallows of penitence and go deep with our repentance.
And then we need to go deep with our commitment.
Peter, James, and John left everything—not a few things—everything—and followed Jesus. Their commitment to Him was so deep that they turned the world upside down—or better put—”right side up.” Shallow commitment is not worth much, but deep commitment is one of the most powerful forces in the world.
That truth is beautifully portrayed by a young soldier who was brought into a field hospital with an arm that had been badly wounded in battle. The surgeon had to amputate the arm at the elbow. When the young man came out of the anesthesia, the surgeon said: “Son, I am sorry, but we had to take your arm.” The young soldier, through lips drawn in pain said: “Sir, you did not take it. I gave it.” That’s commitment. That’s self-giving devotion to Jesus Christ. That’s what it means to go deep in our commitment to the Lord. And that kind of deep commitment is reflected in one of my favorite songs. We are going to sing it in just a minute. It’s a simple, lovely little song. Now awkward, archaic lyrics. No complex, convoluted doctrine. Just a soft, gentle pledge of devotion. Yet it is no harmless little ditty either. While it may be unadorned in its style, it is unqualified in its call to decision. We may sing it softly, but we cannot sing it lightly.
“I surrender all; I surrender all.
All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.”