13 June, 2008

The drowning man

I have this friend who had a very difficult upbringing. He struggled with many of the issues attached to growing up in a marginalised community. He got involved in a gang early and was homeless and out of school by thirteen. But after a few scares and support from good and Christlike people, he pulled himself into a better life. He finished school, went onto succeed in university and gave his free time to helping other teens at massive risk of destroying their life. He is a legend in my book, and while he still stumbles from time to time, he is living proof that it is possible to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness.

I was talking to him one day about a man who was in jail who I was trying to support. I visited him regularly and was encouraged by his decisive plans and willingness to accept responsibility for his mistakes and his life in general. I held out great hope and felt, that with the right support, the man would rise above his current strongholds and receive the freedom he so desired. My friend was not so hopeful. His intention was good, he was trying to protect my hope from being crushed. I guess he could discern the next chapter in the story. He said something like this (I am paraphrasing, but the sentiment is accurate);
Imagine someone drowning. When they are drowning, all they can see is you and their salvation is in you. They reach out to you. They genuinely need and want you and all the help you have to offer. All they want is to be where you are. But when they get to safety, the desperation is gone. They forget the fear and the desire and are left only with what they see before them. And what they see is all the distractions that got them into the water in the first place. They don't hear you, they don't look for you, they don't want you. They are gone.

This analogy makes me very sad as I have seen it so many times before. He was right about the man in jail, and he is right about so many that I work with. In an immature moment of frustration and annoyance I said to my friend, 'so what do we do? How do we change anything at all?' He said something like, 'Well, they need more than you, but you just can't move away from the side of the pool. It all starts with you'.

I had forgotten all about this conversation which actually took place about 10 months ago. I found it written up in my journal when I was reflecting over the year. It was a treasure to find. There are a number of things that stand out to me that make it so special.
Firstly, the tradesman knows his stuff. We all like to laugh at the simple mindedness of the disciples. Why did Jesus choose a bunch of fisherman? Because they know the principals of fishing. And without breaking into a Sunday School song, I think we know why that was essential. Now I am a fairly qualified person for the type of ministry I do, but I was blown away by the accuracy of my friends predictions and simplicity of his solutions. Let's remember to include everyone in the Kingdom building process as God is waiting to use us all.
Secondly, his description of the drowning man reminded me so much of Booth's vision for The Salvation Army. We need to be closest to those drowning. They need to see us if they are going to desire the things God desires for them. We can't run off gallivanting while so many sink, drown and are lost for all eternity. We must stay by the pool.
Thirdly, it is not enough to pull them from immediate danger. If they see only the help we give them, the majority will end up right back in the water and the same predicament as last time (and possibly the time before that). They need to meet God and not me by the waters edge and in turn be completely transformed. They need to desire more than the gits that cause them to stumble. They need to receive the fullness of salvation, and not just the comforts of feeling safe.

So thank you to my friend. And as we fish for desperate drowning souls today, may God use us as a beacon to the lost, and may we remember to throw them an eternal helping hand.

Have a great week everyone,

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