What do an old hymn and a popular Australian beach have in common? They both give us word pictures of God’s power to rescue!
My grandmother was a church organist and she knew every hymn in the book. When I was a young child, I heard her singing “Throw out the life line, throw out the life line, someone is drifting away…” I was not sure I understood what that had to do with God or church, but I liked to hear her sing it. Years later I came to understand that it was a word picture of people floundering in life without God, drifting into dangerous waters.
Recently, I was introduced to an Australian TV show about the lifeguards of Bondi Beach. Bondi is a world renowned beach on the Australian coast. As I watch each episode, I am struck by how their many rescues create a word picture of man’s need for and response to God.
At Bondi, the rips (strong channels of water flowing seaward from near the shore) change and move constantly. These rips are the reason that Bondi’s lifeguards are so busy rescuing an average of 2500 people per year. The safe swim zone is marked by red and yellow flags. Yet swimmers regularly choose to swim outside the marked boundaries. Inevitably, they get caught in a rip and the lifeguards must go out to rescue them. The rescues are quick and dramatic.
There seem to be three types of people who get caught in these rip currents. They all ignore the signs, but they do it for different reasons. There are the tourists who are unfamiliar with the beach and unaware the significance of the warning flags. So they wander outside the boundary and suddenly find themselves unable to get back to shore. Many of them do not know how to swim at all, but did not expect to end up in deep water. They are ignorant, unprepared, and oblivious to the danger until it is too late and within minutes they are fighting for their lives.
Then there are the swimmers who know the meaning of the flags but are indifferent. They are convinced that they can keep themselves safe. Moving outside the boundaries into the dangerous waters brings a certain thrill. They even purposefully ignore the warnings from the lifeguards on shore. The loudspeaker calls them to come into safety, but they continue enjoying the excitement of swimming in the forbidden zone. Unfortunately, they have no defense against the rip either, and shocked by its power, they are drawn out towards the sea. Once again the lifeguards must act quickly and get to them within seconds in order to keep them from drowning.
The last group is the most frustrating for the lifeguards. These are the people who ventured into the rip, are rescued, and then almost immediately go right back into the dangerous waters. On one episode, two young men had to be rescued three times before the police were finally brought in to escort them off the beach. Most of those rescued from drowning are stunned by their near death experience. They are immensely grateful to the one who saved them, and they are determined to not make the same mistake again. But this last group of rebel swimmers show little gratitude for the sacrifice made to save them. In their selfishness, they decide to push the limits in order to enjoy a momentary pleasure that will always end in disaster. The rescues and reprimands have no effect on their behavior. It is only the ultimate consequence of police involvement that stops them. No doubt they leave the beach angry that their fun was ruined and clueless that their lives had been saved.
Wow! What a word picture for us. Just like the red and yellow flags on Bondi Beach, God has established boundaries. He reveals them to us in His Word. This life is full of rips, those hidden currents ready to pull us away from safety. They change and move sometimes with our seasons of life. However, if we stay within God’s boundaries, we will need rescuing far less often.
- “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful where you go.” (Joshua 1:7)
So what have I learned from Bondi Rescue and that old hymn? I learned we need to get familiar with the ‘flags’ by spending time in His Word. We need to be careful about knowing our own limits as well as knowing the boundaries. We need to guard our minds against the temptation to think we can keep ourselves safe in areas God has forbidden. We must remind ourselves that He can see the hidden rip currents in our lives. God has also given us parents, teachers, pastors, and friends who often call out warnings to us. Their own experiences and knowledge of God’s Word has taught them about rip currents – we should listen to them. And finally, we should be ready to ‘throw out the life line’ to those who are drifting away in their own rips. Know that a few, like the rebel swimmers on Bondi, will see our effort as intrusive and irritating. Some will not understand the sacrifice Jesus made for them. We still must be faithful to do our part in the rescue. We must call out warnings over and over and offer the lifeline of the gospel.
“This is the life line, oh, grasp it today!
See, you are recklessly drifting away;
Voices in warning, shout over the wave,
O grasp the strong life line, for Jesus can save.”