The sea always seemed alive to me as a child. For one thing it breathed, or it sounded like it in the night as wave after wave crashed onshore. If you stood in the shallows where the waves came up to your ankles, as it receded again, you could feel the sand under you shifting, the water pulling it out from beneath your toes, the balls of your feet, even your heels, like a critter trying to escape. And then there was the sand. When I got home I could never figure out how it got in all those places, despite tight elastic. Surely it must have crawled there.
There was yet another thing I could never figure out as a child, not being too adept at physics and water mechanics, and that was how you could do absolutely nothing to propel yourself in the ocean water and still wind up far away from where you started.
I do not recall ever having to worry about jellyfish, red tide, or sharks. So my favorite thing to do was grab an air mattress and lie on it, well past the breakers, floating up and down, up and down on the swells, nearly falling asleep in the heat and gentle rocking. But after one particularly scary moment, I learned not to lie there too long before checking my bearings. My mother's beach towel had been right there, straight in front of my floating hammock, and now, suddenly, it was way back there, a good fifty feet up the beach. The surf was smooth, the winds calm, and I had not used my arms and legs to push myself in any direction at all, yet there I was, far, far away from my safety zone. It usually took a good amount of effort to get back where I started.
And of course that leads us to the usual old warning about drifting. Drifting happens when you don't realize it. When your life is in an upheaval, when you undergo trials and temptations, usually you will be on the lookout. But when things seem calm and routine, your spirituality can get away from you before you realize it. A good warning still, but one that may have grown too banal and underwhelming.
So, I wondered, trying to make this warning mean something again, why do we drift? And that's when I found this: Therefore I will scatter them like drifting straw to the desert wind. (Jer 13:24) With just a little research I found out that was referring to the chaff the grain thresher is trying to rid himself of when he tosses the grain up into the breeze. Really? Yes; we drift like chaff on the breeze when we become useless to God.
So then I looked at that Jeremiah passage again. He may have been talking to Judah, the people of the southern kingdom who had finally become wicked enough for God to destroy, but can I become just as useless? With some trepidation, I checked the context.
They had become haughty (v15ff). They were great, not because God had blessed them, but because of their own hard work, they were sure. Or else it was because of these exciting new gods they worshipped instead.
They had not taken responsibility for the ones God placed in their care (v 20). Their wealth was not something to share with the needy, but something to wallow in, fulfilling their own desires with no thought for anyone else. They would even hurt the helpless in order to increase that wealth.
They no longer recognized their own failings (v 22). God's prophets were run off, imprisoned and killed for daring to tell them the truth.
They had become accustomed to evil (v 23). Used to it. Inured to the filth all around them. In another place Jeremiah says they had forgotten how to blush.
They had removed God from their lives (v 25).
Sexual sin ran rampant among them (v 27).
If you cannot see our culture in this description, you are in danger of drifting too, because the first symptom may be to no longer recognize the difference between good and evil. And when we become complacent, satisfied in our own spirituality regardless of the fact that we no longer cringe at foul language, blush at filthy jokes, nor live completely different lives from our neighbors, we might as well join them.
But, we are similarly in danger when we think that because we don't behave like them that God owes us for our faithfulness and holy living. We are lying on exactly the same raft, drifting away from the shore, or, in the metaphor of Jeremiah, just as useless to God as the chaff drifting away in the wind.
Drifting—maybe it's more dangerous than we ever thought before.
The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish. (Ps 1:4-6)