River of God

Rowing or Sailing in the River of God?

Written by Cheryl Erasmus

There are so many incidents and stories in the Bible that take place on rivers and in water and at sea.  From the rivers of Babylon, to the sea that caught Jonah as he was tossed overboard and delivering him into the fish’s mouth, to Jesus walking on the water with Peter.  There were fishing stories—caught in their hundreds, or of a fish who had swallowed a coin to be used for temple tax payment or the restoration of Peter around a fish braai on the beach but also of shipwrecks, washing away of leprosy, to the ditches miraculously filled with water at a crucial battle.  But then there is the River of God…referred to both in Ezekiel and Revelations.

Rev 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…

When we think of this river, is the picture one of tranquility and peace—much like this picture? But  the river of life in this world does not really look like this tranquil picturesque stream—sometimes we find ourselves in raging waters, tossed about as we struggle with life and its issues.

So what do we reach for - the rowing boat or the yacht?

Isaiah 33:21 There the Lord will be the Mighty One.  It will be like a place of broad rivers and streams.  No galley with oars will ride them, no mighty ship will sail them.

As I considered this verse, I wondered why no galleys or rowing boats may be found on the river of God?  First of all a galley was driven by the muscle power of slaves with many oars.  Can you see the pictures of the blood, sweat and tears shed by these slaves, driven by the whips and angry cursing of the slave drivers.  Even rowing boats are driven by own muscle power as you put your back into rowing.  The thing about rowing boats is that the boat can be rowed against the current either upstream or to the river bank but all dependent on own hard work.  In a rowing boat we can determine our own destination, accomplish our own purposes, go it alone… but oh the cost in the end!

But now it makes sense that the Holy Spirit warned that no self-effort will get us to God’s purposes.  As Jesus disciples we are called to be His followers—His learner-followers!  To me it sounds like the sailing boat is the boat of choice on this river of life.  When our sails are spread, the rigging tightened and mast secure, we will be directed by wind of the Spirit of God.  We will flow with His current and His reach His planned purpose and destination for our lives.  There is preparation needed, to hearing and responding to the Spirit of God but when we surrender our hearts and lives to Jesus, we will accomplish great things for the glory of His Kingdom.

Consider again the parable of the prodigal son when he followed his own head and desires—straight to the pigsty and total loss! (Luke 15:11-31).  Both brothers lived with their Father but neither of them had the relationship of love with their father that he longed for—the younger son demanded his inheritance as if he would have preferred his father dead and out of his life.  He did life his way, following his every whim and fancy and although for a time it was fun, the time of reckoning arrived with all its bleakness and pay back.  The world, the flesh and devil has its time of reckoning.

The older brother lived with his father, outwardly conforming to what appeared upstanding but with a heart that was as far from his father as was his younger brother.  To anyone looking in from the outside, the mask was in place—he was doing and saying the right things but oh his heart… and he apparently never repented.  He chose not to enter into his father’s love.
In this parable that Jesus told, it took devastation and loss before the younger brother came to his senses and decided to return and repent of his own wicked and self-centered ways.  We know how his father received him back unconditionally and he is re-instated fully to the position of sonship.  He receives the best robe of right-standing with his Dad again, his feet are sandaled so that he can now go where he is sent, he is given His father’s authority as he now wears that ring.

1 Sam 16:7              Samuel goes to anoint the next king of Israel but look at God’s instruction to him.
1 Chr. 28:9              David gives Solomon the advice on how to reign
Ps 40:6-8                 Sacrifices and offerings are not God’s desire
Jer. 24:4-7               Baskets of figs
Ps 86:11                  Undivided heart

Going our own way depending on our own strength and ability, letting our deceitful hearts direct our paths, clearly leads to swamps and salt waste lands (Jer. 17:5 –6).

Jesus came to die the death we deserved, take the punishment we have earned so that our hearts can be restored into the living relationship with Him.  That decision of the will requires a surrender and submission of heart to the His Spirit.  Then we can follow His lead, and will be directed by His current as we sail on the river of life.  Jesus calls each one of us to follow His lead, to live life His way.  This calls for a humble heart that submits and obeys His call.  Jesus leads us by example and we can follow and serve Him but with all our hearts doing things His way.  His way is love and obedience, humility and submission, giving and serving, functioning in His body until we meet Him.  Phil 2:5-11 describes Jesus’ heart and choices to us.  He set the example first and now calls us to follow.

Yes the path at times is difficult and even painful but oh how He sustains us with His power and authority on the one hand and His everlasting presence on the other hand.  We are called to live and serve between these two mighty pillars.

We can choose:
Rowing in my own strength,
or Sailing on His strength and direction.

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