Summer Calling: Serving as Spiritual (or Actual) Lifeguards

“Pool closed.” That’s the sign greeting many urban families across the United States this summer. Why? There’s a nationwide shortage of lifeguards. The lifeguard shortage has been going on for the last few years, but this summer, it is reaching a crisis level.

From Minneapolis to Chicago to Philadelphia and New York, hundreds of community pools are closed because thousands of lifeguard positions remain vacant. Few are answering the summer call to serve. According to Axios, in Philly alone, the city only had enough life guards to open 18 of the city’s 65 outdoor pools this summer and in Chicago, as of May 13,  the city had hired exactly ZERO seasonal lifeguards to supplement its year round staff. 

Lifeguard vacancies mean you can’t open pools— which means there is one less place for urban kids and families to recreate, mingle and safely gather for summer fun. Which also means many people will not learn to swim and drowning deaths will almost certainly rise. 

What opportunity might exist here for Christians to serve? What positive proximity might actual life guarding provide for Christians in America? If you are a qualified lifeguard, this is a great opportunity to serve your community. 

Beyond serving as actual life guards in one of those hundreds of vacancies, here is another consideration for all of us (certified or not): Who is guarding your life right now and how is God calling you to serve as a spiritual lifeguard this summer? 

God instructs us in Proverbs 4:23 to guard our hearts: 

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.” 

What does it look like to guard your heart, today? How might you cooperate with the Holy Spirit, dwelling in you, to guard your mind and heart as you go about your day— in what you read, watch, say and do? 

And what does it look like to be on our guard? 1 Corinthians 16:13 (NIV) says, “Be on your guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.” As a Christian, each of us is called to serve as spiritual lifeguards. Each of us is called to stand ready to rescue and serve as agents of grace in the lives of others.

Extending the metaphor beyond ourselves to the service of others, what does it look like to serve others as a spiritual lifeguard?  

Lifeguards are prepared 

You may know nothing about lifeguarding beyond the TV series BayWatch, but even if that’s all you know then you know guards arrive at the beach early in the morning to train before swimmers arrive. Life guards survey the water, check conditions, put out warning flags and signs, swim, practice rescues, paddle the surf, run in the sand and train their bodies, their focus and their team.  

In the Spirit of the One who came to seek and save, let us be able and ready for the calling. Life guards stand ready to rescue others because they train themselves. As a spiritual lifeguard, you are called to train—to train in godliness.  

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:13-16

Spiritual lifeguards train in God’s Word, train their spiritual lungs in prayer and song, and train our minds for action against every threat. And like a team of lifeguards on the beach, we need one another and we need to train together with one another as One Body.  

Lifeguards avoid distraction

Lifeguards are constantly surveying the water, the water’s edge and what’s beneath the surface. They scan the horizon for approaching storms or potential threats to swimmers. Serving as a lifeguard requires focused attention and in a world of distraction, this ability is increasingly rare. As a spiritual lifeguard, throughout your day, you are called to be focused and alert, recognizing that the Enemy is prowling around every moment looking for ways to pull people under and carry them off in the rip current of sin to destruction and death. 

To serve as a spiritual lifeguard, you have to guard against distraction. Focus is essential in the calling. 

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

So, what are the spiritual rip currents of the days in which we live? What are the rogue waves brewing even now on the horizon? What threats swim just beneath the surface? And what are the things that tend to distract you and pull you away from the mission? You need to be on your guard against distraction and you need to be on the lookout for people who are in distress or danger. 

Lifeguards willingly put themselves at risk to save others

At any moment, any hour, any minute, lifeguards must be ready to go and rescue those who need to be saved. When we’re drowning, help has to come from the outside. We cannot save ourselves. But when you rescue someone as a lifeguard, what you hand to them is not yourself, but a flotation device you have brought along for just such a time as this.  If you try to give a drowning man yourself to hold onto, their panic instinct is very likely to drown you both. So, lifeguards are on the ready and fully equipped for the good work only God knows they will face on a given day. Lifeguards never leave the beach alone. They take rescue equipment with them.  

As trained and prepared spiritual lifeguards, our rescue equipment is the Gospel. We give the Gospel—we hold out the living hope of Jesus Christ to save and we invite the drowning person to, “Grab on!”  Jesus is the only One who can ultimately save anyone. And Jesus has invited and sent us to join Him on a rescue mission. As spiritual lifeguards, we know that every single person needs to be rescued from their sin, including us. 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17

There’s a serious lifeguard shortage in the world today. There’s a shortage in your town, your city, your community. People are being pulled under by the rip currents of our current age and they are drowning in full view of the Church. 

As Christians, we know the One who walks on the water and has the power to save. His Spirit dwells within us. He sends us as agents of His love to the water’s edge. The only question is, will we go? Are those who know Jesus ready and willing and able to answer the call? 

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash