This is a post I wrote originally for http://thecollegiatechristian.org, primarily for college students, but I think it applies to us all.
Welcome to summer, college kids. The torturous stress of exam week has passed, dorm rooms and apartments have been cleared out, books cashed in and temps are rising. The freedom (apart from lame part-time jobs) is exhilarating. Even those of us who have or had less traditional college experiences feel the excitement and hope of summer break. Cookouts, bonfires, road trips, the beach and more––stuff that make summers memorable and renew our excitement for life. Amen.
But, it’s also an incredibly dangerous time for spiritual regression.
One of the ironic realities of being human, is that our sinful hearts can easily take totally good things and rot them into devious, self-indulgent piles of poo. Things that God intends for us to enjoy or renew us can, without care and attention, be the door to temptation. Like rest (I’m bored, wonder what’s on the internet) and, well, the beach.
Ah, the beach! A staple of any good summer regimen, especially for us West Michiganders. I live 45 minutes from the delectable shores of Lake Michigan. I grew up looking forward to at least a handful of South Haven trips with my family every summer, and in high school and college it was a routine event to grab some friends and spend a day in the sand and sun. Even now, my wife and I take our girls to the beach and hangout with family and friends whenever we’re feeling enthusiastic enough to load our minivan with three hundred pounds of beach toys, blankets, and sunscreen. After the agonizing transport endeavor from the car to the waterfront, it’s a great time of relaxation, reading, dozing, sunburning and/or adventure (“What sign said we can’t jump off the peer?”). Pure innocent recreation. Kind of.
Warning! I’m about to possibly ruin the beach experience for those of us with at least a mild interest in holiness by saying things that 99% of us already know but try not to talk about:
- The beach is also where guys wear mirrored sun glasses so they can gawk at women more easily.
- It’s where women wear as little clothing as possible so guys in shades will gawk at them.
- It’s where under agers sneak alcohol in coolers.
- It’s where dudes pretend to care about what that one girl said in the hopes that he’ll get a lap sit at the bonfire later.
- It’s where we knowingly tease cancer so we’ll get that “hot tan” that makes us look desirable.
- It’s where volleyball, frisbee, footballs, and those annoying velcro tennis things all become objects useful for showing off various bodily features or “accidentally” running into those three hot guys on the blanket over there.
- Even nerds (I’m half nerd so I can say this) try to get in on the action, sans tannable skin or endearing athleticism, by working that personality, often leading to off-base humor or gossip.
Basically, the beach is about sex.
How do I know all this? Because I’ve lived it. I admit it. I’ve experienced first hand the sensuality, sexual immorality, impurity and covetousness (“my abs could look like that if I was a meat head, too”) that Paul mentions in Ephesians 4 and 5…often at the beach. All of these things are fruits of the darkened mind of a person who cares more about living for himself and satisfying his own desires, than living for God. Paul says we are to leave those things behind, not embrace them. We are to imitate God (Ephesians 5:1), walking in love (not lust) just as Jesus did. And thank God that in Christ, I’m a new person with all the power needed to straighten out my waywardness–because Christ made it available to me. That same power is available to you.
What will you need to do to make this summer one of growth in Christlikeness, in humility and kindness and self-control? What does it look like to have a righteous day at the beach, where you strengthen godly relationships rather than bounce the beach ball of sin around? Is the beach (or the bar, or your friend’s apartment, or that epic road trip) really the best thing for you? Maybe you’ll need to say no. Maybe you’ll need to do some serious soul searching regarding what you really want out of life. Maybe you have a conversation with the buds about what won’t be happening, in advance.
But more than what you shouldn’t do, a great summer depends on the things you should do. You have extra time on your hands, so get back in the Word. Take the relaxation time to polish up that prayer life. Write those apology letters to teachers you hated in high school. Do a Bible study with friends (on the beach??) or volunteer somewhere. Setting positive spiritual goals is much better than sitting around mourning the fact that Jesus said you can’t wear your new speedo to the beach (and yes, speedos are sinful…on multiple levels).
But above all else, guard your heart. The Bible says it’s the wellspring of life. What’s in it is what comes out. And only you and God know if your reason for heading to the beach is because of a lusty heart or a loving one that wants to soak up the rays of God’s beautiful creation. Only you and God know if that bathing suit is really about having safe and reasonable swimming attire or showing off what your momma gave you. Only you and God know if it’s all about the hook up or an honest friendship. So be honest, and when you detect unrighteous motivations, be quick to confess it and repent. He’s faithful to forgive.
So, have fun this summer, but be careful. My prayer for all of us is that we would walk in the light of God’s glorious Son, Jesus Christ, rather than swim in the murky and turbulent waters of our vile hearts. At the beach and beyond.