Learning comes in many ways, but when a subject is especially challenging, there is no better method than immersing ourselves in it.
In my early years, I recall trying to learn to water ski. Time and again, I would put all of my effort and energy into keeping those rebellious boards under me, but over and over I would end up sputtering in the lake. It was not until I had the chance to spend multiple days in a row on the water–quite literally immersed in it–that I finally got outside the boat’s bubbly wake.
I am not here speaking of some formalized therapy devised by some psychologist. Instead, I am referring to the concept of pouring ourselves fully into something for which we are deeply interested in mastering. Learning often comes through organized teaching situations, like in a college, or training course, or church. Many gain some degree of proficiency by spending considerable time investing themselves in that discipline. Time has a way of creating a degree of immersion.
However, mastery is typically reserved for those who are willing to go beyond the norm, to steer clear of distractions and amusements for a season, to fill their minds, their time, their thoughts, their evenings, their diet and pretty much all of themselves into their pursuit of that subject. To mature, or to grasp the complex, or to change ingrained habits for something better, most find that immersion is the best therapy.
In a Christian context, I would suggest that is one of the significant reasons for the Church. Living with others chosen not by us but by God, and to treat them more like family than our own biological connection, is to immerse ourselves in an entirely new identity. Doing church, serving with fellow Christians, eating with them, singing with them, sharing struggles and celebrating weddings, are all part of learning how to immerse ourselves in the very real body of Christ.
Sunday churcher’s may learn, but they are not immersed in that Body. Readers of the Bible, who actually spend more time soaking in novels, newspapers, or their favorite magazines, may learn, but they will never gain the intense level of maturity available only to those who immerse themselves in Scripture. Those who claim Christ and try to be generous to others may rightly give credit where due, but true disciples are said by Jesus to be those who “hold to my teachings”–that means that their hands are already full of grasping the words of Christ and living them, with little if any room left for other pursuits.
If you want to mature as a Christian, you must immerse yourself in the Lord’s words, life, and commands.
It must become your three-meal-a-day-plus-snack diet. Of course, that will cost you to do so. Immersion means to be fully soaked. If you do the polar plunge, it only counts if you go all the way under. If you choose to get baptized, the word means to be immersed. To be baptized is to willingly bury ourselves, and our ways, in his death as we submerge under the water.
But many find it easier to just get sprinkled with Christ. It is much less inconvenient. You can still wear your same outfit, and you don’t have to fix your hair again. I am speaking less about the practice of baptism itself, as I am about immersion therapy, but the image should be instructive. To commit yourself to Jesus is to come to that place of so desiring that his life fill you inside and out, that you willingly put your own personal preferences, desires, habits, and lifestyles to death.
To be immersed in Christ is to take on everything about him. It requires that we surrender everything to his Lordship and rule. It means we must ingest his words. As the Spirit says, those who claim Jesus, must walk as he walked. Christian immersion requires that we take up our reflection of his cross every day and follow his pattern without mixing in our own. Immersion is about personal investment. It takes all that we are, all our hopes and dreams, all our desires, our daily activities, relationships, choices, and habits and immerse all of it–all of us–in Him.
I spend every Sunday sharing the hope of grace with prisoners, and one of the things I have noticed over the years is that once a lifestyle or habit has been established, it rarely changes for the better over time. It is often viewed as the bane of prisons that the incarcerated often become repeat offenders. The system of punishment or “re-education” has not fixed them or altered their behaviors. Such systems are necessary, and they are not responsible for the choices of the lawless, but changing what has already become ingrained does not generally occur without immersion in a new way of life.
Instruction about Jesus will rarely transform. Going to church will seldom alter the course of a person’s life choices. Going on mission trips can be impactful, but typically are insufficient to generate new life. Attending bible studies or small groups are helpful, but can’t bring about what can only ever be found through fully abiding in Christ.
“No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
To remain in him is to no longer remain in ourselves or in the world’s ways. It means we can no longer mix our own godless entertainments into a life that is trying to remain immersed in him. It means we are to “have nothing to do with godless talk”–which is anything absent of honoring God, anything that reflects human interests rather than God’s. It means we can’t cheer for what the world celebrates, we can’t indulge in what the culture fancies, we can’t participate with our eyes, ears, or bodies in what society promotes. To be immersed is to have our entire attention captivated and occupied with nothing left on dry land but discarded shoes.
As a teen, I taught swimming lessons at the local pool. It didn’t matter whether they were infants or elderly or swim-team kids, day-one meant everyone got fully into the water, and as a minimum at least put their nose, mouth, eyes, and face into the water. I can still picture the little girl in pony-tail, floating in my arms with complete and eager trust, taking a big breath and quickly splashing her face into the water, with her hair flinging up in an arc over her head as she flashed her gleeful smile that she had successfully done it. The most risky part of being immersed in water is to confront the fear of drowning and so I always began with immersion therapy. To learn to swim, and even to enjoy the water, meant that we had to conquer the fear.
I never advocated toe-dipping. Personally, I was a run down the dock and jump into the freezing water all in one shot kind of guy. Controlled full immersion is the only method that has the power to shatter the grip of fear, sin, hurtful habits, greed, lust, selfishness, and whatever else holds us down. Trying to change our lives and choices, while still hanging onto our old habits, may keep our options open, but it is a cheap investment that can only ever give worthless returns. Immersion is all or nothing.
That is what has been modeled for us. Jesus, the one perfectly immersed in the full glory and nature of God, immersed himself in humanity. He immersed himself in the Spirit. He immersed himself in “saying not only what my Father wants said, but also how”. He immersed himself in my sin and allowed it to fully bring the wrath of God upon him. Now resurrected from the dead, he stands immersed in the glory of the Father, offering the immersion of eternal life to all who dedicate their faith and life in him.
It is the immersion therapy of dwelling fully in Jesus, for Jesus, because of what Jesus did for us on the Cross, that heals, transforms, and fixes the impossible. Immersion is not about our effort; it is our willingness to jump full on into Christ and let his life live through us.
Enough questions about the temperature or the depth or whether someone will catch you. Are you ready to take the plunge? Then jump!