Lining a Canoe Upstream

Writing about the river’s flow in our last post reminded me of the idea of “lining a canoe”.  The basic principle is this:  when seeking to take your canoe upstream against the current, you tie a rope near the front of the canoe and, walking upstream along the shore, you provide the power by pulling the rope and the river’s current keeps the boat from running into the bank.  When I googled “lining a canoe” to learn more, I found this explanation on The Alaska Hunting Forum:

“I can tell you from personal experience that lining any boat upstream any appreciable distance comes down to one thing – HARD WORK.  There’s just no easy way around it.  The truth is that you will be in, on, and around that river for a considerable amount of time.”  The author goes on to explain the details of the process and ends with these encouraging words, “If you decide to do this during the spring or summer, be sure to pack a big lunch and bring the bug spray!  You’re gonna be there awhile.”

I used to think that living the Christian life was like “lining a canoe” upriver.  I was always going against the current.  I was always going upstream.  And it was always hard work.  I justified this feeling with the idea that we were counter-cultural, always swimming upstream against the world’s current.  Always going against the flow.  In a sense that is true.  We are going against the world’s current.

What I was unaware of was that there is another river flowing; the river of God’s rest for the new covenant believer.  In this river, we are very much going with the flow – the rushing current of God’s infinite grace, love, acceptance, forgiveness, mercy, and indwelling.  This river never slows down or runs dry and God’s desire is that you find your rest in it.

This is the rest Jesus Himself offered his followers in the gospel of Matthew.  “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My load is light” (Mt 11:28-30).  Jesus’ offer of rest is not just for the world-weary in need of salvation, but for walk-weary believers as well, striving to “keep up” the Christian life.

You see, in this journey called the Christian life, Christ is inviting us to join Him in the yoke.  He is yoked with us.  Have you ever wondered how Jesus could give such a serious call to discipleship in the gospels; counting the cost, the hardship, and the promise of suffering, and then turn around and say, “My yoke is easy and My load is light”?  How do we reconcile what seem like opposites?  The key is to recognize that it is Jesus in the yoke living the Christian life through us.  He is doing the heavy lifting.  Is there nothing for us to do or contribute?  Our role is to join Him in the yoke, in the work, and to release the rushing rivers He has already put inside us.

Can I encourage you?  If you are striving to “line the canoe” upstream in your Christian walk, take a minute to study the situation.  Am I experiencing the “never thirst” that Jesus promised?  Do I see the work of the Holy Spirit – that flowing river within me – in my daily experience?  Have I believed all that became new under the provisions of the new covenant at my salvation?  Thank your heavenly Father that there is a believer’s rest and a river’s flow for the children  of God.

Never Thirsty

Similar to the offer of rest for His children, Jesus gives us another incredible promise in the same vein.  “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst’ ” (Jn 6:35).  The word “never” is a powerful word.  I try not to use it very often.  The word “never” doesn’t allow for loopholes.  Yet, in this passage, Jesus makes the incredible promise that “he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”  What narrow corner has Jesus backed Himself into with this kind of promise; a promise with no loopholes?

What Jesus has promised is that in your spirit, in the real you, He will so fill you up that you will never be unsatisfied; you will never thirst.  Jesus is your complete sufficiency.  The challenge, of course, lies in how we allow this to permeate our daily lives.

Jesus expanded on the promise in John chapter 7.  “Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.” ‘  By this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (Jn 7:37-39).

Notice the prerequisite for experiencing the river’s flow in John 7 is the same as the prerequisite for never thirst in John 6; believe in Jesus Christ.  That is it.  To experience the promise of never thirsting is only contingent on being a believer; embracing the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  There is no continuing or further requirement.  No level of spirituality.  No keeping a New Testament version of the law.  No second baptism.  Only believe.

How does Jesus keep the never thirst promise?  By filling us with His Holy Spirit (Jn 7:39).  And this filling is not stagnant.  It is to play itself out every day as we experience the supernatural Christian life.  The Greek word for “rivers” in this passage is often translated floods or torrents.  The Spirit is a rushing river of the all-sufficient power of the risen Christ.  Our role is not to strive to find the river, our role is to open the floodgates and allow the river – already rushing within us by the promise of Jesus – to flow out into our daily experience.

This, in essence, is the supernatural Christian life.  When we face life – family challenges, financial setbacks, health issues, ministry disappointments, job woes – by tapping into the river within, we are listening to the Holy Spirit in each of these situations.  How is God leading us to respond to these issues?  What would allowing the Spirit’s power to work in these areas of our life look like?  The short answer is this:  God has given us the power such that the challenges of life do not have to lead us to despair, discouragement, or sin.  The power to overcome is within us; not by some will-power or virtue on our part, but by the power of the risen Christ.  You have the rushing river within.  Let it’s power flow into every nook and cranny of your life.  He is waiting to be unleashed!

Entering the Believer’s Rest

Last time we posed the question “How do we enter the believer’s rest?”  How do we go from wilderness Christian to God’s promised land experience in the here-and-now?  The author of the book of Hebrews gives us some insight.

Starting first with the Old Testament example of those who refused God’s promised rest.  “Today if you hear My voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw my works for forty years.  Therefore I was angry with this generation and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they did not know My ways;’ and I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest’ ” (Heb 3:7-11).

With this picture of the children of Israel missing God’s rest firmly in view, the author now brings us into the story in the next verse.  “Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God” (Heb 3:12).  This is not falling away from salvation, but falling away from the promised rest of God due to an unbelieving heart.

The author continues in this chapter with a more specific point about what kept the children of Israel out of the promised land.  “For who provoked Him when they had heard?  Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses?  And with whom was He angry for forty years?  Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?  And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient?  And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief” (Heb 3:16-19).

What was the sin (vs 17) that kept the children of Israel out of the promised land?  It was the sin of unbelief (vs 19).  What keeps us from experiencing the believer’s rest?  It is the sin of unbelief (vs 12).  They are one and the same.  The key to experiencing the promised land rest of God in the here-and-now for New Testament believers is faith.  It is not some super acts of spirituality.  It is an act of faith.

“Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience” (Heb 4:11).  Do not follow Israel’s example.  Their “disobedience” was their unbelief and their lack of faith cost them the promised land experience.  Don’t let unbelief, a lack of faith, keep you from experiencing the precious rest of God this very day.

Again, unbelief here does not refer to salvation.  Your salvation is secure.  Unbelief refers to not believing the new covenant promises of God.  Not believing that your old sin nature died at the cross with Christ.  Not believing you have a new heart with God’s law written upon it.  Unbelief is not believing the Holy Spirit lives inside you and is influencing and forming your spiritual walk.  If unbelief in these promises describes your experience, repent, turn around, leave your wilderness living and enter His rest.  It is available to you right now.  Won’t you enter in?  Let’s believe all that He says to us!