On a recent cruise in the Gulf of Mexico, I noticed modern ocean liners still have flotation devices hanging on seaward-facing exterior walls.
That struck me as rather old-fashioned in this modern age. Round, rubber “lifesavers” hung from hooks near the rail, waiting to be tossed into the ocean should the cry, “Man overboard!” be heard.
Observing the size of the great whitecaps below and the distance from the deck to the water, I wondered just how practical those lifesavers were.
On the other hand, tossing a lifeline to some poor soul gone over the railing may be his last and only chance of being rescued.
It’s a horrible situation to imagine, but I want you to keep the idea in your head with regard to every lost individual God sends across your path. Picture him as a “man overboard.” His last and only chance of being rescued may depend upon your tossing him a lifeline.
Who are the drowning souls around you?
If you have a drunken neighbor, it is very seldom you can ever say a word to him. But when his wife is ill—sick and dying—the poor fellow happens to sober for a moment. He comes to you in sorrow. He is ready to go under. He knows your testimony. You’ve never hidden the fact you are a Christian. Now, he is anxious about his wife and himself. Now is the moment to throw out a lifeline. Speak God’s word into him. It may be your only opportunity.
Or, there is a great swearer in your family or perhaps at work. He can curse like a sailor and blasphemes God routinely. But he receives some terrible news. He has become a little abashed and is not so profane as usual. Something has broken his heart. That’s your “man overboard.” What you say at that moment may impress him in a way that once drew a sneer and a foul retort. But not now. Now, this one is open to conviction; so, do what you can. God has placed you on deck near the railing, but the poor soul is sinking fast. Throw out the lifeline!
Or, your friend, who refused to listen when you spoke of Jesus, comes to you and tells you in confidence that her husband has left her for a younger woman.
Or your buddy is involved in a terrible car accident that has taken his child’s life.
Or your cousin who so often mocked your faith suddenly loses his job and can’t seem to find another.
In each of these cases, God is bringing that person across your path. It is no accident these trials have come their way. It isn’t by chance they stand before you broken and dispirited.
You are at the rail of the ship with a lifesaver in your hand. That one who is drowning will grasp it if you throw it. His or her head is above water for only a brief moment.
God has given you a unique opportunity. But unless you speak when the opportunity comes, God’s efforts to place this hurting one in front of you are wasted.
So, here is my advice: When the opportunity comes, throw out the lifeline!
Open your mouth. Speak whatever encouragement God gives you at the moment. Put your arm around that person, and demonstrate Christ’s love for him or her. And the Holy Spirit will do the rest.
My friend, the lifesaver is useless if you fail to toss it to the one who is drowning.
Rich Mussler is writer and a Bible teacher at First Baptist Church in Lewisville. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.