Last summer, as I was preparing for a teaching at my church, I was in a time of prayer and worship and I saw the image of a mighty river. It was the type of river people love to raft — wide and fast, with stretches of both rapids and calm. This triggered the memory of when I whitewater rafted in West Virginia a few years ago. While recollecting, God started sharing some stuff with me and now I’m sharing with you. (For you Real Life’rs, I apologize for the redundancy, though maybe the refresher will be good for you.)
I’ll paint broad and then fill in some details, but here’s the gist: we’re about to enter rapids. And before we get to the rapids, we have to be back in the raft and paddling so that we approach the rapids from the right angle and speed and are able to make it through the wild stretch we’re about to experience.
Because we’re so worldly, it’s alluring to shift into a “let me relax and recover from the crazy ride I just went through in 2008 and 2009” mode. The economic and political turmoil that we endured the past two years has been unlike anything most Americans have lived through. And it’s made many weary. With gladness, many have embraced this season of apparent reprieve from the stress and uncertainty that was the past two years.
But I’m here to plead that you resist the allure. There is one who may want you to kick back, relax and enjoy a return to normalcy, but he is not God. Rapids are ahead and I believe they’re a lot more wild than the ones we just passed through.
When whitewater rafting, you pass in and out of rapids. It’s not solid rapids for five hours — at least not on the two rivers I’ve rafted. You launch in relative calm and then pass into some mild rapids. You go through another calm stretch and then encounter some faster rapids and then calm followed by more rapids. Back and forth. Some calm stretches are longer and more slow than others while some rapids are crazier and more dangerous than others.
Sometimes the calms are so long and the river so deep that you can dive off the raft and swim around or relaxingly float. Other calm points are shallow and just might require that people get out and push. Similarly, some rapids are relatively minor and you can just enjoy the ride, while others require that you strategically and ferociously paddle your way through them, lest you get off course and be dashed against a boulder.
I believe we’re approaching such a set a rapids — one that will require ferocious and strategic paddling and must not be entered casually. We’ve endured a rough run followed by some reprieve and calm. But the rapids ahead are even wilder and will require a whole new level of focus.
As God was showing me the image of the mighty river and unpacking the impression with me, I sensed Him say to me: “You do well to paddle.” It took me a bit to get what He was saying, but once I did, I saw the wisdom of the strange phrase.
Based on my minimal rafting experience, it seems you can enter most lower-class rapids from whichever angle the river carries you to. For the most part, if you just go with the flow, you’ll arrive at the other end of the rapids in one piece. But not so with the higher-class rapids. When we approached class IV and V rapids, our guide was very specific about our speed and heading. He wanted us pointing a certain direction and carrying extra momentum when dropping into the rapids. And he had additional instructions he’d call out on the way through the rapids to position us properly for every dip and bend. He’d have one side paddle hard forward and the other side hard backward. He’d have us both go forward sometimes and both paddle backward sometimes. And all the while he’d be doing his own steering at the very back.
To a certain extent, we were still at the mercy of the river. Once we were in those rapids, we could paddle backward all we wanted, but we were still going down those rapids. And we could paddle ahead all we wanted and we still wouldn’t add much speed to our descent. That was almost entirely provided by the river itself. Our direction, too, was mostly determined by the flow of the river over and around rocks. But we could often determin which side of a particular rock we would pass by. And that could make a huge difference. So, we played an important role in traversing those rapids safe. Had we rebelled against our guide and not followed instructions, a few of us might have gotten cast overboard mid-rapids. Or we might have flipped the whole raft. Any number of harmful things could have happened.
So all that to say, as we near these rapids, “You do well to paddle.” (Or one could say “You’d be wise to paddle.”) Now’s not the time to be swimming around in the relatively calm waters of 21st Century America. By now you should have re-boarded your raft. Additionally, it’s not the time to be sitting in there idle. You should be actively seeking out and heeding your guide’s wise instruction about how you’re to enter the rapids. Your guide is both the Holy Spirit Himself and the anointed men and women of God He’s placed in your life.
There is a strategic alignment going on right now that will ensure proper entry into these coming rapids. But it takes effort. It takes paddling. The safe way through these rapids is not “going with the flow.” At strategic times, we will be required to paddle against the current, even if to just hold our position as we orient for the next stage of the rapids. Other times we’ll have to paddle with the current, gaining additional speed, so that when the river breaks left or right we continue on and through. Course adjustments are crucial.
We haven’t been this way before, but He has. He knows the way and knows it well — where to enter, where to exit, and every boulder along the way. Keep your ears keen to the Guide’s instruction, for He has the words of eternal life (John 6:68).