“Therefore, my beloved brethren,…stand firm in the Lord.” Philippians 4:1
“Trust in Him at all times,…pour out your hearts before Him.” Psalm 62:8
I recently returned from a trip to the beach. It’s my favorite place to go in the summer. I love the sand. I love the sun. I love the seafood. But I love, love, love the water. Specifically, I love the waves. More specifically, I love the sound of the waves! From their gentle lapping to their thunderous crashing, the sound of the waves keeps me spellbound…and bound to spell out the lessons that wash ashore as I sit before them. Make no mistake, waves have plenty to say! Sometimes it’s in the rhythm of their movement, sometimes it’s in the color of their crest; sometimes it’s in their push, sometimes it’s in their pull. But whatever the mode, the message is there, if you listen…with your ears, with your eyes, and with your feet!
This latest trip to the beach found me, again, sitting attentively in front of the waves. And while they did not disappoint in washing up a lesson, I must give credit to the Creator of both the lesson and the waves, rather than to the waves themselves. While they were used to produce the sound, God Himself provided the syntax; He is the Author, the waves merely provided an audible illustration.
Before I uncover the lesson that washed ashore, let me first lay out a contextual net. In doing so, I hope the meaning (and purpose) of the lesson might be more easily seen…and collected. The context is this: for years, one of my favorite analogies for the stages of Christian growth has been the three states of matter. Just as matter may be found as a solid, a liquid, or a gas, so too may Christians be identified as solids, liquids, or gases. The characteristics that distinguish forms of matter are also the characteristics that distinguish forms of believers. To see the connection, let’s refresh our memory with a description of the these states of matter.
- Solids – matter composed of tightly packed particles that maintain their shape regardless of their container; solids have a fixed volume and a visible presence
- Liquids – matter composed of slightly connected particles that take the shape of their container; liquids have a constant volume and a visible presence
- Gases – matter composed of loosely arranged, constantly moving, particles that expand to fill their container; gases have no defined shape or volume and (usually) do not have a visible presence
When these same characteristics are applied to Christians, there’s no mistaking the similarities.
- Solid Christians – believers whose principles are so tightly packed that they maintain their shape regardless of their container; solid Christians have an unchanging shape and are easily seen
- Liquid Christians – believers whose principles are loosely packed and whose shape is determined by their container; liquid Christians have a fluctuating shape and are clearly seen
- Gas-like Christians – believers whose principles are loosely arranged and, due to high levels of activity, expand to fill their container; Gas-like Christians have no defined shape and are usually unnoticeable
The resemblance is pretty startling, isn’t it? And it continues beyond the level of the initial description. Not only do Christians align with the properties of the three states of matter, but they are also subject to their laws. Just as freezing points, melting points, and boiling points cause matter to move from one state to another, so too can external temperatures cause Christians to move from one state to another. It’s an interesting connection we have with this world we live in. As God reveals its complexities to us, He also reveals its complexities in us.
It is from this place of contemplation that God washed up a new element of thought. As I sat before the waves and allowed them to wash over my feet, they churned up thoughts about the three states of a Christian. I’ve shared this analogy with students many times and each time the take-away was this: we should all strive to be “solid Christians”. Our beliefs should be tightly aligned so that we don’t need a container to determine our shape. Our shape should be so defined that it determines where we fit…and where we don’t fit. While liquids can be poured into any container (and then take on their shape), solids don’t fit in every container, and when they do fit, they still retain their own shape. And as to their visibility, solids are clearly seen, unlike their gas-like peers who often go undetected. Don’t we all know, and more than likely have been, liquid and gas-like believers? We know what it means to sink to our lowest level and rely on external supports to shape us rather than allowing our internal principles to define us. We know what it’s like to be in a container and wonder if there are any other believers present…because we cannot see them…and perhaps they cannot see us. Yes, when it comes to solid, liquid, and gas-like Christians, the solid state is definitely the one we should desire…but then there are those waves…those beautiful, melodic, liquidy waves. Where do they fit in to this analogy? Do they fit in to this analogy? That was my question as I sat at the beach and found myself wanting to be more like a wave than like a shell; more liquid and less rigid.
Whether this qualifies as a “deep thought” or a “shallow pondering”, I do not know. But this I do know…God allows us to find treasures in the deep end and in the shallow end of our minds, when we ask Him to stir the waters. So as I watched the waves, I thought about their characteristics. They are easily moved, they reflect light, they bring things to the shore, and they take things away from the shore…and their movement is not only seen and felt, it is heard. Oh, and they are relentless. As I gathered these qualities, I realized they all have one thing in common: movement. If you remove their movement, you also remove their flexibility, their reflectiveness, their ability to give and to take away, their sound, and their passionate pursuit for the shore. In fact, without movement, waves would cease to exist, for their very presence arises out of their capacity to move.
And so, with these thoughts, I found myself in a most precarious place. I found myself revisiting the Three States of a Believer. The characteristics of each state still applied and, just as “paper covers rock”, so too do “solids cover liquids”. But those waves were relentless…and they kept pushing and pulling…until they uncovered this thought: perhaps we should be both. Perhaps we are to be fluidly solid. And then I thought of a Biblical depiction of one who was just that. One who was solid enough for Jesus to rename yet one who was fluid enough for Jesus to reroute. Simon, whom Jesus gave the name Peter, meaning petros, or stone. Peter, whose inner beliefs kept him solid yet whose inner passions kept him relentless. Peter, whose outer movements kept him pounding upon the shore, sometimes with a gentle lapping (“Yes, Lord, You know that I love You!”; John 21:15), sometimes with a thunderous crash (“So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!”; Acts 2:36). Peter, who sometimes took on the shape of his container (“Woman, I do not know Him!”; Luke 22:57) and sometimes reshaped his container (“You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”; Acts 10:28).
Yes, Peter was fluidly solid, and in much the same way, I want to be like Peter. While he had moments in his life in which his fluidity left puddles, he never lost his shape or traded the messes for immobility. Peter, the rock, was also Peter, the wave; constantly moving, constantly pushing and pulling at the mindsets of those around him, constantly reflecting the Light that shone upon him, constantly speaking the truth (both gently and thunderously), and constantly, consistently, continually…relentlessly…pounding the shore of grace.
And so, as I now look upon the states of matter as depicted in the life of a believer, I see a new composition, a new configuration. No longer are there three states; now there are four. No longer will I seek to attain solidity apart from fluidity; no longer will I desire to be rigidly solid, but now, with the washing ashore of this newest state, I will yearn to become fluidly solid.
Ah, another lesson from the beach. Didn’t I tell you waves have much to say, if you listen with your ears, and with your eyes, and with your feet…and with your heart? I hope this message washed something up along the shore of your thoughts as well, and I hope it both solidifies you and liquefies you! Thanks for taking this walk with me!