In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Don’t Push the River by Barry Stevens was a very “hip” book. The full-photo cover almost caused me to read no further. That cover shows an elderly, gray-haired, heavy-set woman with outstretched arms wearing a full-length, long-sleeved, shapeless, itchy-linen shift dress. Her enraptured face made me think she’d spent way too much time sitting around a fire smoking dope. Once I got past that imagery, I actually read the book and learned something.
Hmm… As I re-read my description of that poor woman, I could have been describing myself – minus the clothing selection. Isn’t it amazing how our perspectives change over 50 years?!?!
Anyway, back to the book: The thing I learned was that the title of the book captured its essence: you can’t change the direction of the universe any more than you can push a river. There is a greater power at play.
We had an interesting discussion at last week’s ChristCare meeting (we have lots of those!). To paraphrase the issue: if God already has a plan for us, why do we need to do anything? If our efforts don’t affect the outcome, why bother? I’m guessing that many of you have thought about that notion a time or two, also. So, of course, I turned to the Bible to address this quandary.
After reading quite a few verses where we’re given instructions for leading our lives in a Godly way, it became clear that as followers of Christ, we need to act, not just kick back and expect the world to happen to us. Let me give just a few examples.
After Christ’s departure, Peter was considered the disciple’s leader. In 1Peter 4:10, Peter instructed, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various form.” So, we have to serve using those specific gifts given to each individual.
Hebrews 13:20-21 says, “Now may the God of peace, … that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ….” Sounds good, but how do we discover what are those specific gifts and what is God’s will for our life?
Chris Russell, Pastor of Veritas Church, wrote that what worked for him to discern God’s will for his life is when he began listening more when he prayed. He’d write down questions he had about the direction God had for his life, then began praying and asking God those questions. Then, Chris “shut up and listened.” He found answers “flooding my heart with ideas and information,” and he wrote them down, letting God speak directly to those questions.
Pastor Craig had us try an exercise in listening a few months ago, where all we had to do was pray and then be silent—even inside our heads. It was so very hard for me! I kept trying to insert my own specific prayers and praises into the silence, instead of just listening. And, Pastor only had us do it for one minute! Whew! I know that it will take more discipline on my part to listen more for what God’s will is speaking into my life!
When I’m wrestling with decisions, I try to listen to how I’m feeling physically. If my innards are topsy-turvy, but my head is focused on one path, chances are pretty good that it’s NOT the correct way to go. At those times, I think I’m trying to force my will onto the direction that God had planned for me.
There is hope for us if we listen and follow God’s will. The prophet Jeremiah wrote to those exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon that the Lord has said, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
As a Christian, perhaps Don’t Push the River is more about following God’s will; more akin to facing downstream and letting Him guide you through life. Our efforts do affect our outcome, and hopefully we are listening for His will in our life to fulfill them. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Maybe one of these days, I’ll get this life all figured out. Probably not; however, I’ll hopefully be flowing in the correct direction.
Your friend in Christ,