A Swimming Lesson from Ezekiel
How can the whole world be effectively evangelised? The Lord must have visualised it as being possible because he commanded us to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). Nations! I am sure that God has big plans for reaching mankind. I go back again and again to the Word, trying to understand this thought and ask the Lord to open my eyes.
I once came to a familiar Scripture passage, no doubt preached on often. But the Spirit of the Lord was upon me, and a fresh truth in this passage exploded in my soul. It is in the book written by Ezekiel, one of the Old Testament prophets.
And when the man went out to the east with the line in his hand, he measured one thousand cubits, and he brought me through the waters; the water came up to my ankles. Again, he measured one thousand and brought me through the waters; the water came up to my knees. Again, he measured one thousand and brought me through; the water came up to my waist. Again, he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he brought me and returned me to the bank of the river. When I returned, there, along with the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other.
In the first part of this passage, Ezekiel was taken from dry land into the waters of this glorious river. Many agree this is a picture of the life-giving flood of the Holy Spirit. What an experience! From the dryness and deadness of cold religion into the swirling reality of the Holy Spirit. What an excitement to come to know this side of Salvation! This thrill is unique and inexplicable.
The Lord showed me lessons embedded in this remarkable vision that are essential for us if we do not wish to become spiritually stagnant.
Ankle Deep Is God´s Minimum
Four times, the angel carefully measured out one thousand cubits, leading Ezekiel by degrees. The first stage brought him into the waters that were “ankle deep.”
Direct contact with the power of the Holy Spirit is absolutely wonderful, but do not forget that “ankle deep” is God’s minimum! It is a tragedy that so many Christians seem to park in this position. It is sound advice never to follow a parked vehicle because you will go nowhere. Likewise, we ought not follow a parked pastor or a parked church member. What I mean is, do not settle down to God’s minimum. It is easy to compare your experience with people who are not even ankle deep. But if that is your perspective, you should reverse it. Rather than comparing your position with what is more shallow, compare your position with the greater depths still ahead of you!
I was once invited to speak in a prayer meeting to people who did not believe in the Baptism into the Holy Spirit. I did my best, but it was very difficult. The people just sat there, speechless, glaring back at me with big eyes. A little prayer was said, and it was all over. As I left that gathering, I thought, “It must be very difficult to swim in three inches of water.” This, unfortunately, is the condition of many Christians. They paddle and work, yet make no progress, simply because they are grounded on the bottom. It is no wonder that things are so difficult for them.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote: “Some Christians sail their boat in such low spiritual waters that the keel scrapes on the gravel all the way to Heaven, instead of being carried on a floodtide.”
There are many frustrated workers. They are devoted, almost working their fingers to the bone. Yet, so little happens. Why? Because they are only rowing at the brink. They are “do-it-yourself” people. They do the best they know how, and then “water it with prayer.” They have not followed the Lord’s instructions in Luke 5:4 to “launch out into the deep.” Today Jesus still stands on the shore and encourages us to launch out into the deep, to leave our shallow waters. But who will dare?
What is the way of Pentecost? Jesus promised that we would do greater works because He would send the Holy Spirit (John 14:12-17). That means He would do the work. The Lord does not hand us a toothpaste tube from which we might squeeze a little drop of power once or twice a day, just enough for our spiritual survival. The normal Christian life is this: “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water” (Psalm 1:3).
I say this with a shout: The success of the Christian is in the fullness of the Holy Spirit! By the grace of God, I have been shown the secret: Move into the deeper water of the Holy Spirit. Once in that flood stream, you will change immediately.
The Lord Brings Us Along Gently
As I visualised this scene with Ezekiel, I wondered why the man with the measuring rod took Ezekiel only one thousand cubits at a time, in four stages. When the Lord speaks, I am the kind of man who likes to jump. So why not take the plunge at four thousand cubits all at once? The Holy Spirit taught me this spiritual swimming lesson. The Father is very understanding of each of his children. He does not “throw us in the deep end.” Spiritual growth and maturity take time. His work is lovingly individual. The angel was instructed to first “measure” and then move. In the same way, our blessed Lord measures our individual ability – and then leads us. If Ezekiel had been led four thousand cubits in one go, he might have drowned. Yet, by going into the deep water in four stages, he made progress. The Lord brings us along gently. He wants us to go, but not to rush in rashly. We should have neither cold feet nor hotheads.
Learning Spiritually to Swim
One day God said to me: “Do you know what it means to swim?” Well, I thought I knew because I am a good swimmer. But did I? The Holy Spirit caused me to see something that I had not appreciated before. He said: “When you are swimming you are in another element, and a new law operates. You have to let go and rest fully upon the waters of the river. Those waters carry you.”
I see that now. I am swimming in the Holy Spirit. His waters carry me. The Spirit lifts me. Swimming takes the weight off my feet. It gives my back a holiday and my joints go on vacation. He does the work. What, then, is the real handicap? The real handicap is to rely upon yourself, depending on your own energy and ability, causing you to trudge along the riverbank – the very waters that could bear you in their bosom.
Many are working for God when God wants to work for them. He does not want us to work so hard that we drop dead for Him. I saw a gravestone once with a man’s name and epitaph: “His Life Only Consisted of Work.” I mused, “That is an epitaph for a horse, not a man.”
God did not intend us to be beasts of burden, or to labour like robots. He could create packhorses in abundance if that is what He wanted. When the Lord thought of you and me, He had something in mind other than slaves. Our Father wanted sons and daughters with whom He could fellowship and feast at the table, sharing all He has with them. “All that I have is yours” (Luke 15:31).
It is time to change the negative image of the Christian life. Do you feel that becoming a Christian has simply bowed you down? That you never feel good enough? You feel like there is not enough prayer, or work, or love, or the Bible in your life? Do duties overwhelm you? Then Ezekiel’s message is for you: Be borne along by the Spirit in the glorious river of God! There are waters in which to float! In Him, you are more than a conqueror.
We are like Joseph, who was taken out of a prison cell to rule. That is the principle of God’s transactions throughout the whole of Scripture.
We are not to endure, but to enjoy our Christian life. I do not want to arrive in Heaven only to discover that I had managed on five percent of what God wanted me to have. There is no virtue in that. I am interested in the other 95 percent!
We need to understand the mind and calling of God. He led Ezekiel from minimum to maximum, so He will lead us – if we allow Him to do so.
A River of Life
There are no nautical terms in the Bible. Revelation 21:1 states that “there was no more sea,” but Revelation 22:1 declares: “He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” There lies the difference between a sea and a river. In Scripture, the sea stands for the masses of mankind and for the wicked, “whose waters cast up mire, and dirt” (Isaiah 57:20). It is also the depository for the detritus of humanity. The same old water comes back day after day, the tide bringing the garbage we thought we had hidden away.
But a river is different. It contains constant freshness because it is always flowing. It never has the same water. God has something new every morning.
A River of Power
In his vision, Ezekiel moved into the deeper waters of God’s river. “Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed” (Ezekiel 47:5). The river was not meant for walking, but for swimming. All who discover this secret will have their lives and ministries transformed.
A few years ago, a completely frustrated minister of the Gospel came to visit me. He had just visited a psychiatrist and said he could no longer carry the load of his church of 50 members. It was just too much. “Are you baptised into the Holy Spirit?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “my denomination does not believe in it.” I took the time to explain to him this wonderful truth and prayed with him afterwards. In the evening, he left. But he did not really drive home, he swam home! God had done it.
What can God’s maximum actually be? I certainly do not claim to have arrived at God’s maximum, but I am definitely in transition! I am like the Apostle Paul, going from “faith to faith” and “from glory to glory” (Romans 1:17; 2 Corinthians 3:18). That is the Holy Spirit progression.
The Surprise That Followed
After Ezekiel swam, he was returned to the riverbank. In New Testament terms, this is no anticlimax. Because once we have been in the river, the river is in us, and “rivers of living water” will flow out of our hearts (John 7:38). This experience so transformed the prophet, that when he climbed the riverbank, he looked in astonishment. “There, along with the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other” (Ezekiel 47:7).
What was so special about that? Why did he look in wonder? It was special, and he looked because he now saw something that was not there when he entered the river – trees! This is the great truth of the chapter: while God changed Ezekiel in His river, He also changed the entire landscape around Ezekiel. Conditions change with anointed people and anointed churches.
I suppose that if Ezekiel had physically been in Israel and tried to plant trees in that place, he would have failed dismally – even if he watered them with his tears. But Ezekiel learned that, what people could not do in a hundred years, God could do in a few seconds. This is our faith for today! “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).
People who flow in and with the Holy Spirit have reason to be astonished every day, because the Lord does wonders everyday. Praise the Lord! Nothing decreases in God! Everything is getting more wonderful by the day.
Another notable detail is this: Those same trees already bore ripe fruit. While Ezekiel was discovering the depth of the river of the Holy Spirit, God had planted and grown trees in no time. He is the Creator of time and can shrink it whenever He wishes. “Their fruit will be for food,” we read in verse 12. It was as if the fruit was beckoning him: “Ezekiel, come over here. No more cooking! God has spread the table for you. No more takeaways! A balanced diet awaits you!”
How wonderful! Suddenly, the man of God is in partnership with the Holy Spirit. There is no more scheming until we are steaming, no more blundering around in the dark. This is the wonder of a life and ministry in the Holy Spirit. This is how our world will be won for the Lord. Holy Spirit evangelism will win our generation for God! It all begins when we are obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and follow Him out into the depths, where there are waters in which to swim.
In Our Element
The Christian who is not in the river of the Holy Spirit is out of his element. He is like the proverbial fish out of water. We are not called to be desert dwellers, like the people of Israel were for 40 years – even though the Lord had promised them a land of rivers. Christ has promised rivers to believers, not as a rare exception, but as part of their natural environment. We are not to be bank-sitters, admirers of the passing waters. We are rather called to be river men!
Many times people have told me that, under their circumstances, they could not live a victorious Christian life. One young man in Africa explained that his grandparents and his parents were all witch doctors, and it was therefore impossible for him to live with Jesus in that place. But not one of us could be victorious anywhere in this sinful world if it were not for the Holy Spirit. Wherever we go, He is there. We move in Him and live in Him (Acts 17:28). He is our environment. We are baptised into Christ. We are swimming in the river of God, not in a little pool likely to dry up one day.
We may just as well ask the question, “Can a man live on the moon?” The answer is both “No” and “Yes.” He cannot live on the moon if he goes there as he is. But if he arrives on the moon wearing a proper spacesuit, he can indeed live there. The spacesuit contains the same air as that found on the earth. Wearing these space suits, the astronauts can walk, ride, and jump upon the surface of the moon.
You cannot expect to live a successful Christian life if you are not in the Spirit, for that is how God arranged for you to live. Wherever we are, we can be – and should be – in the Spirit. That is the important fact. No matter how appalling the place, even if it is foul with the breath of hell, we are enveloped in God and can breathe the air of Heaven. “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).
When we are in the Spirit we are unconquerable, invulnerable, going from victory to victory, our life hid with Christ in God. The man moving in the Spirit; the church moving in the Spirit; workers, evangelists, pastors and teachers moving in the Spirit – that is the only formula I know for success. In the Spirit of God, we can win the world for Jesus.