by Chad Seabright and Christy Austin
It was a couple of summers ago when a big group of us went tubing down the Saluda River. I still remember the details of that journey so clearly, because the events of that seemingly insignificant day, still scream in my ear, as a reminder of how I walk out this journey we call Saturation Bible Study.
When I awoke that July morning, the hot South Carolina sun served as my alarm clock when it began blaring through my bedroom window around 6 am. My best attempts to ignore it were defeated, as I was reminded of the day’s lengthy agenda which involved interns, youth groups, and tubing down the Saluda River. After my usual morning routine, I exited the house with my two summer interns to meet up with our local college group in hopes for some fun and relief from the summer mugginess, which already seemed to be weighing on our heads.
We all met up at Carolina Adventure to rent our tubes for the day and anxiously departed, dreaming of splashing around in the cool water. In order to place our tubes into the river, the entire group embarked on a short walk through the woods together, musingly dodging the hundreds of pine needles reaching out to prick us. The welcoming sight of the rippling water instantly set my mind at ease, and we each placed our tubes into the river. As I stepped into the river, the cold water danced around my feet, and we quickly jumped onto our tubes and began lazily floating down the river. As I looked around at everyone, I noticed the extraordinary measure each of us went to remain suspended on our rafts, carefully committed to avoiding the cold water. At some point, the others must have had the same revelation because I watched one tuber begin to splash another until eventually, splashing began to break out everywhere leading to a game of sorts. “Who could splash the most and completely drench the other?” The smack of the cold water felt like a sudden slap across the face. Let’s just say, the cold water was an instant wake-up call as we each began to find ourselves more and more immersed.
In many ways, this is a clear word picture depicting our life in the Word. We each carefully float on the surface of the Word of God. We splash around and play with each other. Every once in awhile, the Word will splash over us. In these moments, we feel a powerful ”wake up” as if being smacked in the face. Still somehow, God’s Word feels so refreshing like a vigorous water sprinkler placed in the middle of a lawn filled with dead, crunchy brown grass.
Furthermore, when we enter the presence of a person who has been saturating in the Word, or “soaking in the River,” God comes forth out of that water, dripping wet, and He gets close to us. The Living Water splashes on us, wakes us up, makes us alert, and gives us a hunger to go deeper into the River.
Interestingly, as we were drifting down the Saluda River, our eyes were diverted to some guys several yards ahead of us who were cheerfully soaring into the river. Like young school boys, they were swinging from a rope tied to the top of the tree, in a ”Tarzan-like” fashion. It may have been the warrior in me, but as we drifted closer, I found myself feeling quite intrigued with the intricate details of this adventurous process. To begin, each man would cautiously crawl to the end of the tree limb, grab onto the rope, and daringly jump out of the tree, intensely clutching onto rope. The rope would eventually catch on the tree limb, moving him out across the water, swinging him up into the air. Then the critical moment would come when they were forced to let go, plunging into the middle of the river. As they swam over to the shore, each man was not only now immersed in the river, but I observed how each had become saturated with the river, inadvertently consumed by the river. There was a piece of my adventurous heart that longed for that experience. I found myself dreaming of just what that “Tarzan-like moment” might feel like when one is suspended in mid air and the critical moment comes: “Can I let go of the familiarity and safety of this grip to enter the freedom and joy of allowing the river to engulf me?”
Meanwhile, back on the water, many others in our group have become enamored with this amusing process as well, and with just one brief glance, many of us wholeheartedly decide to join these young warriors. Without anyone speaking a word, my fellow group members all concur that we cannot let this moment pass without experiencing for ourselves the exuberant adventure of conquering the tree swing. We immediately swim over to the tree, racing to see who would arrive first.
Enthusiastically, the young adventurers greeted us, gladly instructing us on how to climb the tree. So there I am, staring at a massive oak tree which grandly branches out over the water. I close my eyes feeling much like a young knight being betrothed for his first battle. I bravely take that first step onto the bottom rung. As I open my eyes and step, I am snapped back into reality. Ultimately, that first rung is just a piece of two by four nailed to the tree which felt, at best, quite wobbly. I immediately felt fear, not sure if I could keep climbing. My next step comes. I am beginning to have second thoughts. “What was I thinking? Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe I should turn back. I really don’t want to get injured. It would be so much safer to just go back and float along the river in my secure tube.” No! I am instantly reminded of a saying “Courage is not the lack of fear. True courage is facing your fear and taking that next step anyway.” I step onto the next rung desperately grabbing the rungs ahead of me. Climbing and stretching, I victoriously reach the top rung, only to realize I have one more major hurdle, a massive tree trunk. I clutch onto the tree, desperately “holding on for my life.” Bear hugging the tree, I cautiously swing my body around. Finally, I feel my body plop, safely landing on the tree limb. Simultaneously, I hear a huge sigh exit my lips as I begin to look around, proudly admiring my accomplishment. “I made it. I am on the tree limb.” I slowly inch my entire body out moving further away from the sturdiness of the massive trunk. Mistakenly, I look down and again, fear instantly seizes me. It definitely did not look that high from the water below. Glancing back, I begin weighing my options. There are obstacles behind me and obstacles before me. Which ones do I want to encounter? The familiarity of the hurdles I just conquered, or the gripping fear of the unknown? A myriad of feelings overwhelm me. I glance back at the tree trunk which is directly in my path back and not necessarily something I wish to battle again. I peer down at the rushing water below me thinking “There is no way back. I must go forward.” I reach out and grab on to the handle of the swing feeling the abrasive rope enveloped around my hand, still not sure if I want to jump. I faintly hear the cheering of those below, who have bravely “gone before.” Finally I decide, “It’s time to just do it.” I boldly take hold of the handle and jump out of the tree. The rope grabs and begins to swing me across the water. I suddenly begin to feel an unexpected plunge and think “I am not sure this was part of the plan.” Next, my body crashes into the river and I am experiencing a certain saturation of water. Fighting for oxygen, I come up. What happened? I realize that when I jumped out of the tree, the rope grabbed, but I did not hold on and plunged awkwardly into the river. Nevertheless, the river was certainly refreshing, and my short ride was exhilarating. I have decided that I will one day tree swing again because it is indeed, exciting. Next time, I will hold on a little bit tighter.
In many ways, my experience on the water that day is similar to our studying of the Word. We see the preacher that has swung many times on the tree. Surely, we desire to saturate in the Word just like the preacher. So we get the courage up to begin to study and read His Word. We begin to climb the tree and as we get to the top, we realize there are many obstacles in our way. We have a million things that we need to get done that day, and for us to take time to just read seems so overwhelming and often unrealistic. We then purpose in our hearts that we are going to do it. We are going to read and engage His Word. So we step out onto the limb. We read the passage. We decide that we want to go deeper into His Word, so we begin to engage the text. We grab onto the handle of the rope and we jump. Then all of a sudden the living Word interacts with the written Word and the rope grabs, swings us across the water, and Jesus launches us high into the air. After soaring and crashing into the river, God saturates us with His sweet presence. That is what it means to saturate in His Word. It does not matter if when you swing, you go high into the air or if you awkwardly crash into the river. I recall my first moments of purposely saturating in the Word. I remember moments of awkwardness, which felt far from graceful. However, it was a ride that I wanted to experience over and over again.
My hope is that you will desire to experience saturation in the Word, and you will clearly see how saturation has changed my life. God indeed comes. He bends the circumstances of my life and allows me to plunge deep into His presence simply through engaging His Word.
In summary, my message to you is an enthusiastic plea:”Go for it!” Climb the tree. Step out onto the limb. Let go of the familiar. Jump. And let Jesus launch you high into the air as you inadvertently plunge into His presence, beholding the beauty of saturating in His refreshing truth.
*Taken from Chad Seabright & Christy Austin’s forthcoming book: “Life in the Word.”