Navigating the Deeper Life
It is a fact that when one sails in the tropics, daily rainwater, plentiful sea life, and abundant, edible fruit is at hand for the taking. The same cannot be said for temperate latitudes. In like manner, when the Holy Spirit leads us, our lives are not dry, or difficult, but tropical and fruitful, even if we find ourselves under great stress.
I would like to take this opportunity to make a few observations on the whole topic of navigation, or to put it another way, how to walk with Christ. As promised in the beginning, I will not be communicating anything new, or "deep." On the contrary, Paul teaches the "simplicity that is in Christ." 2 Cor 11:3. It is precisely this simplicity that I wish to touch on.
In the 15th century, navigation was considered a black art. Compasses were crude, and there was no such thing as an accurate chart. In fact, these early explorers were the very ones who drew up the first incomplete charts, which look so distorted to us now. These people were incredibly brave and adventurous, often to the point of being foolhardy. This is not the sort of attitude that we should have towards our Christian walks, because although we do not know everything we shall encounter along the way, we do know with certainty that in the end, we shall appear before Him in love, having no spot or wrinkle. We are saved by grace alone. It is a sure salvation, freely given to us by Jesus. We don’t deserve it, and there is nothing we can ever do to pay Him back. He gives us this gift only because He loves us.
Because of this, there is simply no cause at all for us to have the swagger and pride that often plagues men of great accomplishment, like the aforementioned explorers. We will never, at any time get the opportunity to think that our great courage, or fearless risk taking and self confidence resulted in one ounce of righteousness before God. The early navigators may have achieved glory, but it will never be so for us in the Christian life. Salvation is all of grace, and only Jesus will get the glory.
Therefore, my first observation is that we should always be careful to weigh any new teaching or practice in the scale of God’s grace. Upon hearing some teaching that produces a heaviness of heart, fear, or conversely a sort of pride that prompts us to compliment ourselves, we might ask, "Is this the Gospel according to Grace or is this Grace plus something else?" This is not to say that we should fall in to the trap of rejecting every message we hear if the title and main points do not include the word "grace" in every phrase. Rather, it means that we should be noble Bereans, searching the scriptures to see if these things are true. Remember, the main point on every page in the Bible is Jesus Christ, crucified, buried, risen, reigning, and returning again. He is the Grace of God.
In the days of the great explorers, one of the main methods a captain would use to keep his crew from mutiny was to use the daily sun sighting as a sort of mysterious ritual. A simple and reliable way of determining latitude on the globe is to take a sighting on the sun as it transits its high point in the sky, called Meridian Transit. The higher the latitude, the lower in the sky the sun will be, thus we can calculate our latitude rather simply by measuring how high the sun is at noon. Every offshore sailor today knows this as the Noon Sighting.
In the days of the great mariners, like Magellan, most voyaging crews were illiterate and only capable of rudimentary arithmetic at best. Navigating using the meridian transit is really not too difficult, but even today most people are in awe of a person who can hold a sextant up to the sky, mutter some numbers, perform some calculations and then accurately plot his or her position on a navigational chart. Consequently, on a 15th century voyaging ship, with a full complement of illiterate crew, the navigator was seen as almost a god, and everyone’s life was literally in his hand, because he alone possessed the sacred and mystical knowledge of navigation.
Every day, a few minutes before noon, the captain and first mate along with some other reliable crewmember would appear on deck, in precisely the same place, armed with several mysterious instruments and books full of esoteric information. This alone was enough to earn respect from the ignorant crew. Then, with a serious, sober look on his face, the captain would make a great show of the noon sighting, manipulating instruments and muttering important, scientific phrases. This looked terribly impressive, but in reality all that was taking place was a simple measurement of the angle formed between the sun and the horizon. Upon completing this, the captain would then disappear into a special room to make the calculations necessary to plot a position. The whole event was not unlike a secret magical ritual.
Consequently, the crew was always fearful that if they lost their captain, they would be lost at sea, because he alone was the keeper of the secret knowledge of navigation. This was enough to stave off many acts of mutiny, because no matter how bad life might have been under a particular captain, the prospect of jumping ship in the next port was far more attractive than being lost at sea for want of a navigator. Thus, the captain had a powerful, coercive tool to use in controlling his crew. This is almost exactly what many Deeper Life, authoritarian leaders do in order to control people under their spell.
In contrast, with modern day navigational tools, anyone who knows now to put AA batteries in a plastic toy can get an incredibly accurate position fix in minutes, any time of day, anywhere on the globe, using the GPS system. Far from being a black art, navigation is now a lost art, due to technology. While there is still much to learn with regard to piloting a vessel, and planning safe passage routes, there no longer need be any question of where one is at any given time.
As wonderful as GPS is, the safest most reliable form of navigation is still by sight, where the destination is in plain view. Only a fool would put an LED display in front of his eyes upon entering a harbor, when, using his own eyes, he can see the breakwater a few yards to starboard. Seeing one’s destination is always the safest way to go. One problem presented by GPS is that position fixes are too accurate for many maps. In the same way that focusing on the minute details of church pattern causes us to lose sight of Jesus, which results in problems, nit-picking navigation with GPS can lead to disaster. For instance, there are several places on the Pacific coast of Mexico where the charts are so poor that if a sailor didn’t look where he was going and only relied on hitting a GPS waypoint, he would find himself hard aground and his waypoint two miles inland. So, even with pinpoint accuracy, no navigational method will ever be better than plain sight.
As a sailor, I can’t help but see many parallels with regard to our Christian walks. Just as in the days of the great explorers, when a navigator was needed, so Old Testament saints needed priests and judges to show them the way of the Lord. In much the same manner that GPS revolutionized navigation, pursuing a relationship with God underwent a revolution when Jesus died on the cross. That ushered in a new era, where men can be filled with the Holy Spirit, and can experience a personal relationship with God, one on one, no longer from a distance. We no longer need be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine… but can grow up into Him, Christ! Eph 4:15 The Bible tells us that this is something that the prophets "inquired and searched carefully for," but that we have it by grace, the moment we are saved!
Simply put, we are now able to navigate by sight. We see Jesus. If we are beholding Him, considering His beauty and studying His character, we can’t go wrong. This is the simplicity that Paul spoke of in 2 Cor 11. As the song goes, it’s all about Jesus.
Occasionally, there is fog, or bad weather and for a time we can’t see our destination clearly, perhaps due to sin or neglect on our part. In this case, we will surely benefit by fellowship with other voyagers, who might be able to lend us a spiritual GPS to help us get back on track. However, once the issue that clouded our enjoyment of unbroken fellowship with Christ is dealt with, we no longer need any outside means of navigating, because we see Him. We do not rely on a church, or a leader to find Jesus, we can know Him ourselves. Fellowship is for growth and worship, in order to glorify God. This can’t take place unless we first know Him personally.
This is quite a contrast when compared to the authoritarian leaders who often reign over Deeper Life churches. These people are fond of speaking about "God’s Covering," and the "Safety of counsel," by which they mean that we must obey them in everything, and get help with almost every decision in order to avoid going off course in our Christian lives. They make the mistake, by fostering dependence on leaders instead of the Holy Spirit, of bringing their flocks backwards into the bondage of needing a navigator, when in reality they are free and can see the destination as clearly as anyone else. In this sad circumstance, the poor members are led to believe that they must yield to mere men, even if they are wrong, in order to be right with God. The leadership in these groups essentially becomes an intermediary between God and man, not unlike the Roman Catholic priesthood.
If you, dear reader, come under a leader who frequently alludes to the fact the he has a special anointing, or heavenly vision, or some other attribute that elevates them to the same place as the ancient navigator, with you as the dependent crew, steer clear. Stay away from this sort of person.
Remember that John the Baptist really did have a special anointing. His message was not, "Listen carefully to me and I will help you understand the deep things of God." No, he was simple and direct, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!" The result of his message was not that he himself got more followers, but that people followed Jesus. This should be the goal of any Christian minister.
Unfortunately, this false emphasis on the need for strong leadership is all too common in Deeper Life oriented churches. Their main mistake is that they neglect sight navigation. Instead of seeing Jesus, they spend hours talking about what life should be like, how the church should be, etc. It is exactly the same as a sailor entering a harbor staring at a GPS, instead of using his eyes to see the water and the other boats. While this poor skipper may in fact be running straight up the entrance, he will fail to see the barge just ahead, because his vision was obscured by a computer screen. Disaster is sure to follow.
It is much the same with many Deeper Life proponents. What they say may be correct, just like a GPS reading. However, because they are focused on what they are saying, or what some other man is saying, they lose sight of Christ, and endanger themselves.
To sum up, Deeper Life is tedious, complex and tenuous, while Christ’s life is simple, free, and joyful. Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls." It all hinges on having personal fellowship with Jesus, and learning from Him. This is something every Christian can do, no matter what intellectual limitations they may have. It is easy, restful and sweet. The only thing required is that we confess our sins to Him. He even sends the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin. We can’t go wrong unless we are purposely rebellious. In the case where a state of rebellion becomes habitual, many would argue that we were never saved to begin with.
If the reader is currently involved in a church-centered group and has made it this far in this book then they must surely have some idea why life has become so difficult. It is with this sort of person in mind that I write this book. My advice to a believer currently trapped in a Deeper Life authoritarian group is to be sensitive to God’s leading from areas other than the Bible.
Do I mean to imply some sort of extra-biblical revelation, or new age concept? Certainly not! However, one of the problems I had is that I already knew what most of the Bible said and what it all meant. As I mentioned before, I know the Bible better than many pastors and it was because of this that God had to use other means to reach me. When I read the Word, I was frequently unable to see past the Deeper Life indoctrination in which I was immersed. Consequently, I was sincerely blind to huge flaws in my theology and ideas about God’s character.
The Lord reached me most clearly when I began to sail again in my mid-thirties. I had grown up sailing, and re-acquired the passion for it right at the time when I repented of being an authoritarian husband and father. By spending time on the water, all of these navigation metaphors began to speak to me. It really helped me begin to see things more clearly. Through the pastime of sailing, God was able to circumvent my intellectual grasp of the Bible, which had left me paralyzed.
Another way that God was able to break through to me was by sending plenty of "normal" Christians my way. If you feel that you are withering away in your church, please think about getting out and meeting other believers, especially ones from some of the growing evangelical churches in your area. I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised to discover that many of these people are not the simpletons you may have been led to believe they were.
One friend who was involved in another church-centered group, similar in many ways to mine, told one me one of the best stories about God’s deliverance I have ever heard. She related how, while in communal church housing, she would often be at the kitchen sink, doing dishes, or cooking. A hundred yards or so away, a doe and her fawn would visit almost every day. The fawn was trapped, however, because it was not yet able to leap over the fence that enclosed it in a small horse paddock. Then, one day when this dear woman was feeling especially sad and desperate, she watched the fawn leap over the fence and run free. She rejoiced for the fawn and thought it looked so happy to finally be free. God was speaking to her saying, "You can do it! Just walk out the door and don’t come back, you’re free. I’ll be with you." This was difficult, because she and her husband were hopelessly trapped in this particular church and they were both miserable. Because she couldn’t hear God’s voice through the Bible, and she certainly couldn’t talk to anyone, God sent a doe to give birth in a horse paddock to speak to her. She left that very day and miraculously, her husband followed her a few days later. In a matter of weeks, the church dissolved and the captives went free. Most of them are thriving spiritually now, whereas before they were simply suffering and discouraged. All this because of a fawn. God is truly above all.
Finally, I would recommend the following books:
- We Would See Jesus, by Roy and Revel Hession
- The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen
- Churches That Abuse, by Ronald Enroth
- Any good, solid commentary on the book of Galatians, such as Be Free, by Warren Weirsbe.*
If you are a leader of a church-centered group, and you are worried that the things said in this book are a threat to you, or perhaps a "stumbling block" to God’s people then I challenge you to tackle them head on. Why not be open before God and ask Him to search you and find any wickedness that you might not be aware of? Of course, you must then have the courage to repent. My experience is that many leaders in groups similar to the ones described in this book really do have a sincere desire to serve Jesus Christ. However, many times they are victimized by their faulty theology almost as much as those they lead. If this applies to you, dear reader, please take heart in knowing that you will do a great service to your flock by repenting. God has grace for anyone who comes to Him in time of need. Please recognize that you need Him, and don’t be afraid to say, "I’m sorry, I have been wrong."
If this occurs even once, then I have done my job. Even so, I pray that many who read this book will take heart, repent if necessary, and again enjoy wonderful, joyful fellowship with Christ. May He restore to you the joy of His salvation. God is good, and His mercy endures forever.
See also the article on this website, The Galatian Crisis »»