Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My River Guide

On a recent family vacation, we were given the opportunity to go ‘white water rafting’. It sounded like great fun, so we signed up and got ready to go.

At the orientation session, it became frighteningly obvious that this wasn’t the same as floating down the Guadalupe River on an inner tube. We were given instructions on what to do if/when the raft overturned, how to avoid being caught under rocks if/when we fell into the river, how to catch the life rope if/when we fell out of the boat, how to respond when the raft started to overturn, etc. It was almost as scary as listening to all of the side effects of the prescription drugs advertised on TV. We were also told about the water gear and wet suits that would be available to help us survive the extremely cold water (on the assumption that we would end up IN the water).

When we arrived at the river, we were given life vests and helmets that had to be worn at all times! Our ‘guide’ then gave urgent instructions about how and when to paddle and how and when to shift from one side of the raft to the other to prevent it from capsizing.

We had signed up for a fun vacation activity, but it was turning into an anxiety-inducing, life-or-death adventure.

The first couple of miles of the river were not too scary and I could take in the beautiful scenery and get more comfortable with my decision to jeopardize my family’s well-being. Then I could hear the rumbling - growing louder and louder. Soon the canyon walls were closing in on us and there seemed to be more rocks than water up ahead of us.

As we made it through one set of rapids and then another and then another, my fears subsided and I began to really enjoy the trip. In fact, despite the dangers and our vulnerability, I began to feel very safe and secure. The main reason I began to relax on the trip was the obvious expertise of our guide. He was really good (even as compared to the guides on the other rafts with us).

Sometimes we would approach a set of rapids and begin drifting sideways towards the rocks. At the last second our guide would flick his oars this way or that and we’d straighten up and sail right through the rapids with ease and barely a splash. When the folks sitting in the front of the raft would get soaked in one set of rapids, he’d maneuver us around so that we’d go through the next set of rapids backwards and we’d get soaked in the back of the boat (to my daughter’s delight).

When it looked like we wouldn’t make it around a particular rock, he would call out for us to paddle “two strokes forward”, or maybe “one stroke backwards”. And whoosh, right through the gap and around the rocks.

His timing was impeccable; his strength, impressive; his skills, honed; his demeanor, calm and collected. He knew where the currents were and he knew what was around the next bend in the river. He was in control of the raft and knew where he wanted to go.

At the end of our rafting trip, it struck me how similar this experience was to navigating the waters of my daily life.

For example, I am often warned of all the dangers and risks that are out there. I take precautions and try everything possible to protect myself from what I perceive as threats to my safe and secure lifestyle. But when I decided to call Jesus my ‘Guide’, didn’t I realize that sometimes I would have to get out of the boat? Didn’t Peter show us that we can’t walk on water from the security of the boat?

Also, as with the raft, God has gifted me with a paddle (or paddles) to help get where He wants me to go and do what He wants me to do. I usually want to start paddling feverishly on my own to direct things where I think is best. But do I really even know what is best? I don’t see things from the same perspective that my Guide does – I don’t have His foresight, strength, or experience. I do much better when I wait for His commands of when and how to use my paddle.

And those ‘troubled waters’ – I want to avoid them completely. I do everything I can to navigate around them or minimize time spent there. I’ll try to position myself a certain way when I see trouble up ahead, which could be the worst possible move. But God uses those rough spots like my river guide – when He is in control of the boat, those ‘trouble waters’ are ‘tools’ to propel me on toward the goals He has in mind.

Our river guide measured success by getting everyone on board to the final destination. That is also what God has in mind. Sometimes our trip ends in one of those dark canyons, sometimes the canyon opens up into a sun-drenched meadow with snow-capped mountains in the background. But we can relax and enjoy the ride when we let Him be in control. And we can trust that we’ll get where He wants us to go. And the more we trust Him to be in control, the more our trust is confirmed.

He doesn’t promise we won’t get wet. He doesn’t promise a smooth ride. But He also doesn’t leave us in the boat all alone.

He knows the way. He is The Way. And He is good. All the time.

Our river guide sat right in front of me in our raft. On the back of his life vest, he had written his name and ‘Galatians 2:20’, which reads:

Christ's life showed me how [to be God’s man], and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (MSG)