waterskiI had never tried to water-ski before, but it looked easy enough. So when my friends strapped the lifejacket on me, helped me get the skis on, and plunged me in the water behind the boat, I was ready to go.

“Don’t try to pull yourself up,” they told me. “Let the boat do the work!”

Don’t pull up, I said to myself again and again. Resist the urge.

So what happened when the boat revved up and moved forward? I tried to pull myself up. I didn’t mean to. It was instinct. When you’re being stretched forward and feel like your limbs are about to be pulled out of the sockets, you cling and pull and make every effort you can. It’s intuitive.

But water-skiing is counter-intuitive, at least when you first try it. And I flopped around in the water. (Or more accurately, in the excruciating few seconds it takes for a person in the boat to say “he’s down!” and the driver to actually decelerate, I was unceremoniously dragged across the surface of the water, still holding on because, you know, it’s intuitive.)

I never got up that day. I tried numerous times, and finally my friends and I gave up. It wasn’t until the next time I tried—about a decade later—that I finally learned to lean back and let the boat do the work. And it was so much better.

That’s a lot like the Christian life. We’re offered resurrection power, the life of Jesus himself inside of us, a supernatural source of strength and fruitfulness. But we can’t experience it if we follow our intuition and instincts. That doesn’t work. We can never pull ourselves into it.

No, the only way to experience the power of God within us is to lean back into him and let him do the work. That doesn’t mean we can sit on the couch and expect miracles—we still have to participate—but we can’t participate with any sense of depending on our own resources. If we do, that’s exactly what we get: our own resources. Which are never enough.

This is why Paul was able to write that God’s power was made perfect in his own weakness. When we depend on our capabilities—our ingenuity, our perseverance, our talents, etc.—we bear the fruit of human effort. That’s okay, but it’s not enough. There’s nothing wrong with ingenuity, perseverance, talent, and that sort of thing, but they are always limited. But when we bring those gifts into the equation and then rely on God and his strength—that’s a different story. We find a different kind of life flowing through us.

This is why we often experience the greatest fruitfulness in times we feel the least capable of accomplishing anything. We carry no pretense of self-reliance into our relationship with God. We know we have to depend on him. And he is free to work in us with our cooperation rather than our competition.

That’s a really counter-intuitive way to live, but it’s ultimately liberating and powerful. We can never pull ourselves up into the gospel—not really, though we may try—but we can lean back into God and let his Spirit carry us where he will.

When we do, we find a quality of life we never would have experienced on our own. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead really does work within us (Ephesians 1:19-20; 3:20). Rather than floundering in the deep, we are carried along the surface of life much more effortlessly. And it really is so much better.

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©2013-19 by chris tiegreen