In the previous life-is-more-like-a-river-than-a-box-of-chocolates post an attempt was made to show how God crafted a river from start to finish, knows all the aspects of that river, and placed obvious boundaries along the way to contain and govern it. With imagination we can see the boundaries as God’s revealed will or plan. For this to work we need to pretend we are living before the era of balloons, planes and drones. We cannot see life from the same exact perspective or see too far down the river’s course. Still, God gives us boundaries and guidelines for how to navigate the reservoirs and rapids, shallow pools and fierce boulders, and clear and cluttered water.
The second part of this river thing is the vehicle in which we venture down the river. At times it could be a simple float, a canoe, a raft, or a boat. Those vehicles represent the choices you make, the place where you are at, and the people with whom you share that portion of the river. The vehicle always falls within the parameters of the banks of the river (God’s revealed will). C’mon, think about it: how successful can one be paddling a raft over land?
Sometimes a person may desire and attempt to swim upstream in defiance. How obviously futile because ultimately the river will carry him to the place God has destined for him (Psa. 104:14; Matt. 5:45). Yes, God allows us to freely move within the bounds of the limits of God’s will. Even when a person is defiant God is still at work (Gen. 50:20; Ex. 14:17; Isa. 66:4; Rom. 2:4; 9:22; 2 Thess. 2:11). One might work hard to travel against the currents, yet God restrains him and limits his sinful efforts (Gen. 6:3; Job 1:12; 2:6; Psa. 76:10; Isa. 10:15; Acts 7:51).
Other times canoeing or rafting gets tiresome so it’s easier to ride a bigger vessel. What if you, as a believer in Christ, find yourself in a particular carrier that stinks, is rotting, and filled with and evil captain or crew? God still brings you along the river for your ultimate good according to his wonderful design (Gen. 50:20; Judges 9:24; 1 Kgs. 12:15; Psa. 76:10; Isa. 6:9f; Acts 3:13; etc.)! This is the great news for the believer in Jesus Christ – that God moves his own people along the river in such a way that even though the vehicle changes, and the fellow passengers change, and the nature of the river seems to change, God brings his own to the final destination all for their ultimate good (Rom. 8:28ff).
As we know, there are times on the river when things are peaceful and smooth. You and I can sit back and relax under while basking comfortably below the winking sun. We get soothed to sleep by the gentle undulation and the musical rhythm of a soft river band. Whether it was because we managed to steer our way into a wet alcove or that we just happened upon the calm, such a rest is good. This kind of serenity is only a sip of the perfected water to come when the river pours us onto God’s everlasting sea (Rev. 4:6, 21:18ff). Our river ride is only one portion of the long course. This easy cruise can easily lull us into the pleasures of a lazy comfort zone. The problem is, it does not always serve God’s purposes to change our hearts, reform our character, and transform us into the likeness of our Ship’s Captain (Rom. 8:28ff; Eph. 4:24f).
So, by God’s design the river of life twists and turns, is calm and then violent, carries us swiftly or drives us slowly, parks us in pools or sends us down unbearable rapids. God keeps us in wonderment. Though at times we might be anxious and alarmed God is neither worried nor surprised about it. Hey, it’s his river after all. Think about the time when Captain Jesus fell asleep in the hull of the boat and a wicked storm arose (okay, so he and the crew were on a lake, but roll with it). What did he do? He slept deeply until the panicked sailors woke him up. He trusted in God’s ultimate plan (it was not yet time for him to die) and therefore did not worry. Yeah, it was helpful that he was also God and had the power over the storm and the sea; but that wasn’t cheating. He had no fear because he trusted his Father-God’s water-whipped scheme. Whatever the circumstance of the river, and whatever the vehicle in which we find ourselves, God calls us to trust in him, that faithful creator and then do what he declares is right (1 Peter. 4:19).
Those tumultuous times are given to you and me for many reasons. First, that we might not be lazy or complacent. Second, that we would be challenged to grow. Think about it. If you are in a boat and coming to a swift-currented curve with category four rapids what could you do? Panic? Maybe. Like that wouldn’t bring about disastrous consequences? You could be thrown overboard; maybe even drown? You could be injured. In your panic you would not be in a position to help another, resulting in their injury or death. Regardless, it is not what God intends for us to think or do. He wants us not to fear and always have a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7; 1 Thess. 5:6ff). He wants us to learn how to row, when to row, and how to just go with the flow.
Even in such times we must be reminded to look back and remember what we know about the character of God and the nature of his plan for us. We should be encouraged to recall that God is not only looking down from above, but is present with us in our circumstances. We should force ourselves to look intently at those moments and see God’s gracious hand in them. Anyone who has experienced river rafting knows it’s a mistake not to follow the guide’s orders and example. Our Guide teaches us what to do, how to do it, and when to do so. We know all too well when we don’t follow the leader.
God constantly urges us to grow and change. Turbulent events can motivate us to think, to apply what we have been taught, to exercise wisdom To become more proficient as river boaters or floaters we must change. If we come across some bad rapids and are caught off guard the first time, but learn from the experience how to navigate and ride the rapids well, then the next time we are better prepared. We then come to learn how to plan for those contingencies and how to encounter them again. For some of us that means going through the experience several times in order to navigate well (the story of my life). Such occasions can teach us to think less about ourselves and think how we can protect or save others. Those events along the river can cause us to develop fit bodies, firm minds and faith-filled hearts. Those situations can instruct how to fully trust God. If we learn about the Lord and learn from him while in our boat riding the river’s course we might even come to enjoy the next rapids ahead?
As with any great and long river, there are always places we cannot see. Sometimes we cannot even imagine it. Certainly God has the bird’s eye view. All we can do is peer as far ahead as possible. Yes, there are those contingencies we don’t want to encounter, like a waterfall or a whirlpool. Nevertheless God created those things too. If we are prepared and learn to appreciate the adventure then waterfalls and whirlpools can be thrilling.
Whether through calm or calamity God does not leave us alone to navigate. He gives us just exactly what we need, not only for our relationship with him, but for everything imaginable in life (2 Pet. 3:3-11). He gives us Jesus Christ. In Christ we belong to God. Further, we have everything that belongs to Christ (Eph. 1:6, 18; Jn. 17:22; Rom. 8:30; Col. 3:4). Though we cannot comprehend it we will be able to claim it all at the end of the ride down by the river’s side (1 Pet. 1:4; Eph. 1:14; Col. 3:24; Heb. 9:15)!
He provides us with his navigational guide – the Bible. While not an explicitly detailed how-to book we love to read – or not (believe it or not there really are some people love those detailed, how-to directions), it gives us the tools to become skilled at navigating the water. The Lord not only supplies us with his direction (learning to read the banks of the river), he also gives us the ability to do so by his Spirit (1 Cor. 1-2). The Holy Spirit becomes our pilot. God sends him to come alongside and inside to help (Jn. 14:16; 15:26; Acts 9:31; 2 Cor. 1:3; 7:4). What does he do to help us in the river?
1. He teaches us (Jn. 16:12-15; Lk, 12:12; 1 Cor. 2:10-16; 1 Jn. 2:27; Jn. 14:26; Rom. 8:16; 1 Thess. 4:9; Eph. 4:21). All we need to do with the capacity to hear him is listen! Often the problem is, we are too absorbed with the waves and currents of life that we allow them to drown the Spirit’s voice out. Sometimes we hear him but refuse to be taught, or to do what he tells us (1 Thess. 5:19; Eph. 4:30). Of course, that almost always leads us where we really ought not to be (and probably don’t want to go)
2. The Spirit guides us. After all, being God he knows the best course to take down the river (Rom. 8:14-16; Jn. 16:13; Psa. 25:9; 31:3; 32:8; 23). He does so through God’s Word.
3. He convicts us – shows us where we are wrong in our course. If we try to run upstream or run aground of the bank he lets our consciences know (2 Tim. 3:16,17; Jn. 16:8-11). This gives us an opportunity to turn about (repent) and get back on track (exercise trust).
4. He assures us. He assures us that God loves and cares for us because we are his (Rom. 8:16; 1 Jn. 3:19; 5:11-13). He gives us the peace of Christ that is sometimes incomprehensible (Jn 14:27; 16:33; Rom. 1:7; 15:13; Gal. 1:3; 5:22). This assurance is possible because the Holy Spirit places us into Christ who is our peace and joy.
Okay, so what’s the point? Hopefully, it’s clearer than mud. The point of the previous post is that God is in control of life, even when we feel life is out of control. The point of this post is that God gives us the tools and vehicles to navigate through life. Therefore, we can rest without worry as we go rolling down the river. At the same time, we need to become more adept at using the crafts we find ourselves in, while becoming more and more fit in body, soul, heart and mind. Why? Catch this: this river ride is prepping us for the big cruise on eternity’s ocean.
Signing off as Seaman Apprentice,