It was a beautiful, mild Spring morning when Mr. Henry took off in the brightly colored hot air balloon with his new assistant, Cardone Stevens. It was just a routine training session, so the two ascended with little fanfare. In fact, the only other individuals around were an older man and his wife walking their dogs. Mr. Henry had performed these training sessions hundreds of times in the past with very few incidents, so he had no reason to be concerned about this one either. Cardone, on the other hand, was both fascinated and terrified from the moment he severed the anchoring ropes. He had only rode as a casual participant in two flights with another seasoned balloonist prior to this one.
The ascent went smoothly and much more quickly than he had expected, but Mr. Henry wanted to go to a much higher altitude. This pleased Cardone, since his prior flights were always kept somewhat low, due to his inexperience.
“Cardone, please cut some of the ballast,” ordered Mr. Henry. Cardone took the knife given to him for this purpose, reached over the side, and systematically cut off a few of the small bags of sand. He had never really seen these bags up close before, and their size and appearance intrigued him. He just couldn’t bear to drop the bags, so he decided to just to quietly stow them on the floor beside his feet. After a few moments, Cardone wondered why the balloon was not climbing higher. As it began to drift and sink a little, Mr. Henry ordered Cardone to cut more of the ballast. Again, in obedience to Mr. Henry’s orders, he proceeded to cut some more of the little bags of sand from the side of the gondola. He let one drop, but just wasn’t able to let the others go. “They might hurt something below,” he thought, so he again placed the bags on the floor a short distance from himself.
Thirty minutes went by. The balloon had only ascended a few dozen feet. By now, Mr. Henry’s patience had grown thin.
“Mr. Stevens!” he barked, “Did you cut the ballast like I asked?”
Cardone replied sheepishly, “Uh, well, sort of.”
“Sort of!” Mr. Henry shouted incredulously. “How did you “sort of” cut them?”
“Well,” Cardone began, “I just couldn’t let them go. I kind of grew fond of them, so I carefully placed them by my feet. Besides, I didn’t want anyone below to be injured.” He felt justified with this last response.
“I think I’ve heard it all now,” Mr. Henry grumbled. “Just how did you expect to go higher if you didn’t get rid of the ballast?”
Cardone knew that it was necessary to get rid of the ballast. He read all about these things in his textbooks. He just could not bring himself to do it in real life. He wanted to go higher, but how could he if he did not get rid of the ballast? Past experience had led Mr. Henry to believe that Cardone really did want to go higher, but also that he was afraid to do anything to make it happen. After fifteen more minutes of wrangling with Cardone, he reached over and cut almost all of the remaining ballast. With some cries of agony, Cardone reluctantly took up cutting where Mr. Henry let off. Now, with the ballast actually dropped from the gondola, the balloon began to ascend rapidly.
“Wow!” Cardone responded in amazement. “We are rising higher than I’ve ever been before.”
“Hrmph!” Mr. Henry replied gruffly in disgust. “Want to go even higher?”
“Oh, that would be great!” Cardone replied eagerly.
“Then get rid of those sandbags you put on the floor!” Mr. Henry hollered.
“Must I?” Cardone responded with anguish. “They are dear to me. I just can’t let them go!”
“Here we go again,” Mr. Henry muttered.
While this narrative might sound a little silly, the truth of the matter is that we as children of God do this with Him all the time. We have these bags of “ballast” in our own life called “the flesh.” It is the part of us that desires the sinful pleasures of this physical life that we have not yet completely removed since we surrendered our heart to the Lord. The more ballast we have in our life, the lower or more shallow our walk and relationship will be with the Lord. As long as we cling to the flesh, our intimacy with Him suffers. Therefore, God does not want any of this flesh to remain in our lives.
“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). When Jesus said this, He did not intend for us to literally haul a wooden beam around all day and follow Him. The essence of this verse is that we are to daily die to our self or flesh. We need to give sinful and unproductive desires of the flesh over to Him. Just like the balloon, we need to cut off and discard all that weighs us down spiritually. Naturally, we won’t always know what we need to surrender. This is why God sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. As we seek God in prayer and really want to commune with Him more, His Spirit will reveal to us the works of the flesh that we need to cut off.
Notice that Jesus said, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily” (emphasis mine). No one-time house-cleaning or ingesting some magic pill can make us totally clean and perfect.
This process is continual. God expects us to make the choice to let go of a part of our flesh, the same way He expected us to make the choice to surrender our life over to Him. He did not make a planet of robots with no choice or free will. If He was to do everything and we do nothing, then we would become like spoiled children—taking His work for us for granted, with no real gratitude or love for Him in return.
God desires for us to fellowship with Him and be a part of His family so much that He went to efforts beyond our comprehension to make a way for us to be with Him. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). In return, He wants us to give up these hurdles or impediments of the flesh in our life that spiritually hinder our walk with Him. “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify [subdue, kill, or permanently eliminate] the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:12,13).
The longer we hold onto these works of the flesh, the more that we separate ourselves from God—until our relationship with Him is dead. At the same time, if we continue to keep the flesh, we demonstrate to God that we have little interest in Him.
Therefore, like a balloon, let’s cut the ballast of our flesh, and let Him bring us higher in our relationship with Him.
Let’s desire more intimacy with our Lord and less with our old self. Remember, if we don’t cut this ballast, we will only cause ourselves to sink lower and lower, until we are no longer in the air at all, but back on the ground of this sinful world.