For one youth event in Bath, we took the 11-14 group down to the Bath Boathouse to hire out punts. Needless to say, lots of the young people got very wet, and there was a lot of laughter. But there is one thing I remember well. You’ll probably be aware that you have to be careful getting into and out of a boat. The problem is, as you step in (or out) one leg is pushing the boat from the dock. The consequences are disastrous (or hilarious, if you’re watching) – the gap between the boat and the dock grows, your balance goes, and into the water you fall.
The thing is, the ‘drift’ doesn’t suddenly happen. The movement begins gradually and often isn’t noticed until it’s too late. The only remedy is to ensure that the boat is well secured.
I’ve been reading through Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers recently. The people of God have seen God work to rescue them from slavery, have seen God provide Manna for them every day, seen His presence on Mt Sinai, heard His voice, and have the reality of God’s presence with them constantly visible in the pillar of cloud and fire. Yet, in the difficulty of the wilderness, they drift. It’s imperceptible at first, but then comes a dramatic fall – whether the idolatry of the calf idol (Exodus 32), the contention against God’s leaders (e.g. Numbers 12, 14), the weariness with the provision (e.g. Numbers 11, 21), or the worry over the battles to come (e.g. Numbers 13).
The question arises – how could they forget all they’d seen and experienced of God so soon? How could they fail so dramatically? And the answer is simply this: it wasn’t dramatic; it was a drift that ended with a dramatic fall. They grew accustomed to God’s grace and mercy, failed to see the One who it all came from, and just drifted from that intimate love and passion for God. They hardly noticed it, but it resulted in big failure.
And it’s not limited to these early books of the Bible – we see it in Gideon (Judges 8), in David (2 Samuel 11), in Godly Kings who fail (e.g. 2 Chronicles 16, 20:35, 24:17-18, …), and in the days of the early church (2 Timothy 4:10). We are told of the church in Laodecia who grew lukewarm (Revelation 3:16-17), only one of many churches warned about falling away. We are given so many Biblical examples and each is there to warn us of a real danger.
We have been through a difficult time. We have been separated from the regular meeting with God’s people, and regular ministry. For some it has been a time of greater intimacy and opportunity to spend time with God, a time of growth in adversity. For others it may have been a time of spiritual drifting. The key thing is to be aware of the danger. We are warned “so, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.” (1 Cor 10:12).
How should we respond? Well, we are clearly taught that the gathering of God’s people in church (whether physically or otherwise) is vital to our growth into maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4). So, we need to acknowledge our need of one another, cultivating our relationship as part of His Body in the local church by many means (phone calls, WhatsApp groups, Small Groups and much more). And in these opportunities to chat we need to be honest about where we are in our walk with Christ.
But, before all this, our security is ultimately based upon Jesus. He is our solid rock, our firm foundation, our fortress, our stronghold. It’s in ‘throwing off sin’ and ‘fixing our eyes upon Jesus’ (Hebrews 12:1-2) where we find our security and where our love for the Lord is re-kindled. It’s responding to the potential for drift by using every opportunity to know Him better and grow in love with Him more.
The funny thing about the youth event was that it wasn’t just one of the young people whose boat drifted – some did the same thing just after laughing at others who fell in! Not very wise. And we too need to see the potential for drift, and respond with wisdom rather than ignore the warnings God so lovingly has given.