After the conversation with my wife about “the list,” I kept thinking about how I don’t want to wait for circumstances to change in order to live the way I was meant to live. I just have to want it more than I want anything else. I usually allow myself to be preoccupied or pulled in multiple directions because I think I have to devote little chunks of my mind to worrying about how I will solve some problem or finish some project, as if success with them will make me happy and free.

The truth is, a life of freedom and joy is available right now. My main job is to remain connected to God. When my primary focus is being present with him, everything else has a way of falling into place. When my primary focus becomes anything else, my inner vitality suffers, and I become a lesser version of myself.

On vacation one summer, my wife — a veteran water-skier — was teaching our family to water ski. I had only water-skied once or twice before, so it took several trips to feel any confidence at all. I decided I wanted to try using only one ski, but the boat could not generate enough power for me to get up out of the water.

Back in the boat, I noticed a button labeled “power-tilt.” I know nothing about boats or engines, but it seemed like a promising button, so we gave it a shot. I heard a whirring sound, which I later learned was the propeller being driven much deeper under the water.

I got back behind the boat, balanced precariously on one ski, and yelled to Nancy, “Hit it!”

The bow of the boat lifted out of the water at a 45-degree angle and moved as if it had been shot out of a cannon. Adequate power to get my body up out of the water was not a problem. Survival was. I gestured wildly for the boat to slow down. However, we had not prearranged signals, and my kids interpreted my waving as a desire to go faster, so they revved the boat full throttle. I was not just up, but was bouncing through the air between landings like a rock skipping across a smooth lake. It did not occur to me to let go of the rope. I eventually came down on my face.

For six months I could not smile with the right side of my mouth.

But I did find out I could ski. I just needed power.

Trying to become the person you were made to be through your own effort is like trying to ski behind a rowboat. We need a “power-tilt” for the soul. Where do we look?

Jesus made staggering promises about his ability to transform human lives:

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

The King James Bible states it this way: “Out of his belly will flow rivers of living water.” The belly is the deepest place inside you — the place where you get anxious or afraid, where you feel hollow or empty when you are disappointed. The Greek word is koilia, and we speak of getting colitis when rivers of stress run in our belly. Scientists say we have a reptile brain — a “brain in the gut” — that is, neurons in the digestive system that produce feelings of well-being or threat deeper than we can put into words. It is in that very deepest place that Jesus says he will produce vitality.

This life is not something we produce; it exists independently of us. It is the Spirit of God. If we turn to any book in the New Testament, we see a picture of amazing life offered by Jesus through the Spirit.

John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).

We have just completed a Bible study based on John Ortberg’s book, The Me I Want to Be. It consists of 7 lessons with ready-to-use questions suitable for groups. It can be purchased on Amazon and is also available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service.