Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Joining the Great River

Understanding and picturing the will of God is always difficult. In the past I have used the analogy of God's will being glacial, taking millennia to solve a known problem. His timing is not our timing; a thousand years for us is but a day to Him (Ps 90:4).

But while this illustration may help you understand why His will is not always in line with our desired timing, it still leaves open the question of exactly how His will and ours intertwines.

What is God's will like, and how does it interact with ours?

God's will is like the mighty Mississippi river. Though unchanging themselves, they look different from varying points of view: sometimes a quiet gurgling creek, sometimes rushing by with dangerous power; sometimes clear and at other times murky; sometimes shockingly cold and sometimes relaxingly warm.

The Mississippi River, though--as you can see clearly here--is more than just a single waterway. Countless small tributary rivers empty their waters inside the Mississippi. They travel along ITS paths, joined together with water from the complete opposite side of the country, until eventually all come together in the Delta region and empty themselves out, making the ground around them fertile.

In the same way, we are called--just like those tributaries--to take our lives and empty them into God's great plan. Just as surely as a creek stops being a creek when it joins the Mississippi, so too are we to empty ourselves completely into Him and join His ride to the end. If you join this mighty river, you will end up as something totally new. The waters of your spirit are joined together with others from all over the world, from all times, and emptied into the Great River. And as you all travel together, you are changed--it cannot help but be so.

It will not be easy. It may in fact be quite painful. Many things that you love will be taken from your lives; many other things will be added. Many quiet creeks will be overwhelmed by the mighty and loud roar of their new river; many mighty tributaries will struggle with giving away their own power to join the Greater power.

But in the end, as you travel on this journey, you will become more and more like the Great River that has consumed you. You will be transformed and--in the end, in the Delta, when you are closest in similarity to Him--you will be poured out into the surrounding communities, creating fertile ground where none before existed.

You cannot join this river and then unjoin it; once you are emptied into it, your journey is inescapable: you are rushed along toward the Delta, and you cannot do anything about it. From that moment forward, you are part of the River, no longer your own creek. You are swept away and mixed together with the One who created it all, and everything you are slowly but surely is transformed into what He wishes of you.

But not all waters in America join the Mississippi, and likewise not all good people join the Creator. Some are content to stay as individual lakes or small rivers and cut their own paths through the world. So be it: but if you are unwilling to empty yourself into the One, then you have little room for argument when you do not end up in the Delta region in the end.

Such is God's plan of salvation. He does not ask us to believe a series of doctrines, per se. He does not ask us to do a list of things, per se. He asks us to empty ourselves into Him. Will that involve doctrine? Of course. Will it involve works and actions? Absolutely. But is it any doctrine or work that gets us transformed and carried to the Delta? No. It is nothing more--and nothing less--than the emptying of ourselves into Him.

This is what is so difficult for Americans to grasp, and causes all manner of problems. We want God to plot out our river of life. We pray for Him to tell us which college WE are to join; which woman WE are to marry; which decision WE are to make. But do you see how foolish this is? This kind of prayer is not surrendering to God, but rather asking the River to give advice to the creek.

We often, and wrongly, fret over the question, "What is God's will for my life?" Well the answer is easy--God's will for your life is that it should end. Empty it all into Him. Pursue Him. He will then carry you where you need to go. He will lead you to your wife. He will lead you to the fertile area where you can serve Him in good works. He will lead you to your college/job/whatever.

All you have to do is empty yourself. That is all. And yet...it is the one thing most of us do not wish to do. For once you empty yourself, you lose control. If you empty into God and He leads you to your job, you may find it isn't in the region you wished it would be. If you empty into God and He leads you to your wife, you may find she doesn't look or act like you imagines. If you empty into God and He leads you to a certain political position, you may find it wasn't what you yourself wanted it to be (I have found this to be painfully true, personally). If you empty into God and He leads you to a church, you may find it wasn't the denomination of church you expected. If you empty into God and He leads you to a passion in life, you may find it wasn't what the twenty-something version of you wanted to care about.

God promises you that He will take who you are and transform it, miraculously: He will mix you together with all the other believers in history, making you a part of the great universal church powered by His might. He will carry you along into a life of fertility and grace, until in the end you are as much like His perfect Son Jesus as could possibly be, and living together forever with Him.

But these great things cannot happen while you remain a creek. That's the rub of it. To get to that goal, you must be willing to empty yourself. To do so is not easy. Often, you might not even find the twists and turns of the lifestyle all that desirable. But oh, let me promise you: as you become more like Him and less like you, it is a thing of unimaginable and indescribable beauty.

1 comment:

  1. This has been a struggle for me, too. I realized that the westernized, me-centric view of walking with God was wrong, but I didn't know what was supposed to replace it. I was led increasingly to the conclusion that I just don't matter that much in the big scheme of things, and God has better things to do than worry about the particulars of my life.

    But now, I think the truth (as you've suggested here) is between the two extremes. God doesn't weave his story around us, and he doesn't ignore us, either; instead, by becoming Christians, we are invited to become part of God's story, players in God's work that ultimately points at him, not us. This seems to be consistent with experiences in my life that very clearly indicate that God has been directly involved in orchestrating things, but it's not ultimately about me.

    I think the church would be greatly benefited if they could get past the idea that God has a wonderful plan for your life, and instead teach that we can play a role in God's overarching plan for the world.