Home > Soap Box > Gasping for Air [***]

Gasping for Air [***]

I spent a lot of time in swimming pools while growing up, and there seemed to always be other kids my age to play with. During various periods in my life, I made acquaintances with boys who had an affinity for drowning games. It was “fun” to hold the other under water for as long as we could. It wasn’t a matter of simply putting weight on the other. No, we actively resisted allowing the other to come to the surface for air. Sometimes the one under the water would struggle hard enough to break free to the surface on his own. Other times, the one above the surface had to forfeit the fight lest the other fill his lungs with water and ultimately die. I don’t remember why we played these games or what we thought was fun about them, but I do recall several of the times that I was the one under the water battling for passage to the surface. Air is a precious thing that is so common that we completely take it for granted in our day-to-day lives. When it is withheld from us, though, our desire to get it back becomes our number one priority making all other desires inconsequential. I remember moments underwater when I wasn’t sure if I’d ever have air again. In fact, I have inhaled water countless times. In those moments, fear and panic overtook me in ways that I have never experienced in any other circumstances. Death was pounding on my door.

There is a classic story about a man named Jonah who lived many years ago. As the story goes, Jonah was given a message directly from God to go to a far away city to preach a message of wrath. The message was that if the people of the city did not cease their evil and self-destructive ways, God would have to destroy their city, buildings and all. Apparently, Jonah felt that the people of the far away city deserved the punishment that was coming to them! So, instead of doing as God commanded, Jonah literally ran away, to a harbor city in the opposite direction from where he was supposed to go. He ultimately found his way onto a ship with a bunch of strangers, people who did not believe in or even know of God, and that’s where God found him (not that Jonah was ever “hidden” from God). God caused a storm to grow to the point where the sailors on the ship all began calling out to their gods for help. One thing led to another, they identified Jonah as the source of the problem, and they, at his request, threw him into the sea! After Jonah had been in the water for some amount of time, God sent a big “fish” to swallow Jonah. While in the fish, Jonah prayed this prayer:

“In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
From the depths of the grave I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.

You hurled me into the deep,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.

I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’

The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.

To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O LORD my God.

When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.

Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
Salvation comes from the LORD.”

After that, God caused the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry ground, from whence he went on to complete his task.

At some point in our lives, we all face a drowning situation, where it’s not only do or die but where one or more forces is actively working against us! Being creatures of free will, we have a choice to make. Who are we going to depend on to save us? Can we count on our own power to fight our way through? Can we trust that the force(s) working against us will relent and let us up for air? Or is there someone else that we can count on for help?

In my pool situations, it was often a combination of all three. In Jonah’s case, God was the force working against him and so he really had only one choice: call on God or die. Hopefully, most of us are not actively struggling against God in the way that Jonah did, but we all do in little ways everyday. It’s often only in the extreme cases that we even consider the possibility that we need His help or worse, that we are going against his will for us and that he is the force working against us!

God is clearly not a genie, ready to grant our every wish. God also isn’t a monster, seeking every opportunity to sabotage and wreck us. Scripture does however say more than once that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5, Proverbs 3:34) The next time you or I find ourselves gasping for air, we should consider how we can humble ourselves before God so that He will have grace on us.

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