I first heard this phrase during the early days of our cruising adventures. We were securely anchored in a small harbour in anticipation of bad weather. During the night, the radio crackled into life and we heard the distress call of some inexperienced boaters who’d been caught out and were taking a real beating. They wanted to find a safe harbour but, in fact, you should never approach an unknown harbour in storm conditions because land does far more damage to boats than the sea ever does!
It turned out that there were two other boats in similar circumstances but who, with more experienced crew, were hove to (under reduced sail set so as to decrease momentum to a minimum) and were riding out the storm and waiting for daylight. They approached the stricken vessel as close as they dared and, given that there was no immediate life-threatening danger, they simply stayed nearby and provided advice and constant encouragement throughout the long night hours. In the morning the small armada, with one damaged vessel and her two rescuers, limped into port.
The radio waves were alive with congratulations and offers of support and, not surprisingly, the grateful and effusive thanks of the rescued boaters.
“We just can’t thank you enough and don’t know how we can ever pay you back for all your help!”
And then, there it was, the amazing reply that set the tone for the rest of our cruising adventures.
‘Don’t pay back, pay forward! One day, somewhere down the line, someone will need your help and you’ll be in a position to support them. Do that and we’ll consider our selves repaid whether or not we ever find out!’
It’s a great way to live and, while I’m sure there are lots of other examples, it was certainly prevalent in the cruising community. Indeed, this was very much our experience on numerous occasions.
As we ponder the Easter story, it occurs to me that the principle of paying forward reached its unparalleled pinnacle at Calvary. ‘But God shows His love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8 ESV) For me, this remains one of the most startling and extraordinary verses in the Bible.
We don’t deserve it…
In fact, we’re guilty and condemned already…
We have nothing to offer…
It was ALL from God who paid forward in the most extraordinary way…
Not just for a single event but for all eternity.
We never were and never will be in any position to pay forward anything to God because ‘There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3:23)
Neither can we pay anything back to God because ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.’ (Psalm 24:1)
However, we can accord Him what is rightfully His:
• A life of love… ‘We love because He first loved us.’< (1 John 4:19)
• A life of adoration… ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being.’ (Revelation 4:11)
• A life of praise and sacrifice… ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1)
And while we can’t pay forward to God, we can live out this principle in our everyday lives in our dealings with others. ‘As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.’ (Luke 6:31)
Not just those we love and who love us but also to strangers and even to those who hate us. ‘But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:44-45)
Is it possible to live like this? Well, I certainly can’t, or at least not in my own strength, but it is required of us and with God’s help – yes we can!
‘I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.’ (Philippians 4:13)