by Stephen W. Smith
The world we are living in is one that is physical; driven by thoughts and ideas; divisive politics and powerful personalities. This is a world that is empirically validated: What we “see” is what there is; What we “touch” and what or who touches us is what matters. What we have judged to be true is what we believe is actually true. Some of us believe doctrine more than we believe in God. We may go to church and speak of church more than we speak of encounters or experiences with Jesus. In our time hurried and fast culture, we want facts and we want them now-- short, succinct and bullet point if possible.
There is little room for the spiritual world in our age of busy, urgent and survival. What matters is our flat screens our iPhones and our being able to make a living. Many of us do not know how to live other than work and the unsure rhythm of survival of sorts.
We are moving at lighting speed and coming up empty inside. We want to be fulfilled but have no idea where to find fulfillment. We’re confused; disappointed and anxious. We fret. We live busy and we live over-committed…totally forgetting that there is a whole “other” way to live and be. Our emptiness demands to be filled so we drink to numb the pain. We check the boxes to make us “think” we’re doing “it” right but inside we feel and remain empty. Empty. Empty. Empty.
There is little to no attention to an inner life—a life that is marked by the spiritual and the essential ingredients to a life that is well lived. The spiritual life does not thrive in a linear, left brain approach. The spiritual life is a life of marvel, mystery and meaningful encounters with God. This is the system that Jesus, himself entered. Folks being religious but folks feeling dead inside. It’s no way to live.
Our inner world—our souls feel fragmented navigating the whitewater of our speedy life. We rarely have the time or take the time to integrate “how we are doing with what we are doing.” There is a void; an inner ache that we long to be fixed or filled or something. We’re not sure anymore of what to do.
Many of us live empty lives—filling our life with the basic things we have come to believe matter. But all of our pushing, striving, getting and doing is leaving us empty.
Our dilemma reminds me of the peril of the early followers of Jesus when they fished and fished all night long but their nets were empty. They tried to do what they knew. They did what they had been trained to do. But in all of their efforts and in the midst of all of their trying, their nets were empty, stayed empty and offered only what empty offers any of us: nothing.
It was only when Jesus gave them clear direction that their situation changed. Jesus told them to “put out into the deep” (Luke 5:1-7). It is in the deep that we find what we are most looking for. It is in the deep that we find our answers. It is in the deep that we are most fulfilled. It is in the deep that we find God and find our true selves.
The deeper we go—the deeper we move in our faith and move away from the shallows --is the place where our nets will be filled. The deeper we move and the deeper we talk, we find what really fulfills us as human beings—as living souls.
We can attend church; go to meetings; help a few people from time to time but until we discover the refreshing fruit of the deep water, our souls will be empty and our lives will be vacant. An inner void will be how we live when we wanted to live any other way than empty.
Richard Foster, author and spiritual guide for many has reminded us, “The world does not need busy people. The world needs deep people.” I agree wholeheartedly. When deep people lead churches, organizations and countries, we see massive and healthy change. When we are led by people who dwell in the shallows, we see shallow thinking and shallow results. We lose our sense of what growth or maturity actually looks like.
Deep is about encounter with God. Deep is about accepting the mystery of our faith more than mere doctrine. Like the early fishermen, we all know where the deep is… it just may be that we prefer the shallow rather than experiment in the deep.
Deep involves slowing your life to be present “in” your life. You and I are living the one and only life we will ever live on the planet. What would it look like for you to embrace “slow” more than fast? To be more present in your every day life is to have moved to the deep.
Deep involves quiet. The Scriptures are clear. Stillness is the portal that we must pass through to encounter God. Stillness must be learned because in our western and Christian education, few of us have ever had any teaching or coaching on how to be still and quiet. Why do you think this is the case in our churches and in education today? The Psalmist said it best, “Be still and know God” (Psalm 46:10). Why then are we not taught, coached and led to more stillness—if through stillness we find God. The cry of the heart of leaders I work with us this: “Can you help me quiet the inner demons who rage against me; who are constantly critical of me and who thwart my joy?” When we ask this question, we are ready to learn how to be quiet.
Deep involves encounter. In the deep, there may be larger fish that are more powerful than the summer brim that stay close to the surface in the shallow. We feel the threat of the deeper things—the intense feelings of the deeper realities—when we start being quiet. Perhaps, so many of us give up right here because we are actually fearful to face what is inside of us—the deeper place within us all. So, we keep ourselves busy. We keep the music on. The podcast playing—whether we actually listen deeply or not.
Deep requires practice. Every spiritual practice of moving to the deep is actually a practice that, over time and through time, we can find deep fulfillment and peace.
Deep requires sharing. No scuba diver ever goes alone to the deep. A companion always goes. What is encountered in the depth is shared. It’s shared above the water line and it creates great conversation and deepening experience.
Here are some questions to spur you on in your thinking and dialogue about the “deep.”
1. How do you define “deep” faith?
2. How does a person move to the deep?
3. How do you describe “empty” in your own personal life situation right now? What is missing or lacking? Describe your own empty nets.
4. Describe a person you believe experiences the deep. What adjectives would you use to describe this person’s lifestyle and faith?