Sermon Illustrations

You Have to Stop Trying to Save Yourself

Watchman Nee relates a story from one of his experiences as a Christian leader in China. A group of young Christian brothers were gathered together to take a swim in one of the many creeks that run throughout the countryside there. Since most were not good swimmers they were careful to remain close to the banks so as not to get in water over their head.

One of the brothers got out a little too far and begin to struggle in the deep water. Realizing his predicament he began to cry out to his neighbors, who by now were out of the water and drying off. "Help! Save me!" he yelled, all the while thrashing his arms and legs in a futile attempt to keep his head above water.

Brother Nee knew that only one man was experienced enough at swimming to provide some assistance, and he turned to him for help. But strangely enough, the would-be rescuer calmly watched the man's plight but made no move to save him. "Why don't you do something?" they all screamed in unison. But the man just stood there apparently unconcerned.

After a few moments the drowning man could stay afloat no more. His arms and legs grew tired and limp and he began to sink underwater. Now the slow-moving lifeguard dove into the creek, and with a few quick strokes reached the victim and pulled him to safety.

Once all was well, Brother Nee was beside himself. "How could you stand by and watch your brother drown, ignoring his cries for help and prolonging his suffering?"

But the man calmly explained. "If I were to jump in immediately and try to save a drowning man, he would clutch me in panic and pull me under with him. In order to be saved, he must come to the end of himself, and cease struggling, cease trying to save himself. Only then can he be helped."

The spiritual lesson here is hard to miss. Nee concluded, and we also conclude, that just as a drowning man cannot be saved until he stops struggling, so must all who would be saved by Christ. When we come to the end of ourselves, then God is able to rescue us.

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