I've rafted several times on the Ocoee River without ever falling out of the raft. I pride myself in being able to stay in the raft and cruise the river safely through the rapids. However, a little over a year ago, I took a trip down the white water course on the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, GA and I fell out of the raft... (I forgot to knock on wood)
Here's a little backstory: We had just survived the biggest Class V rapid on the river, "Cutbait". However, we had one more to go as we ferried back up the river to put in at the top of "Heaven's Gate", a class IV or V rapid (an appropriate name for what I would experience). As we paddled towards the rapid our raft hit a rock which caught me off guard and bounced me and one more out of the raft to fend for ourselves. The other was able to swim back to shore due to being in the back of the raft.
It was a pretty frightening moment in my life as I floated down the river towards the rapid that laid waiting to swallow me up. It was a moment that I wish to never repeat, but looking back on it and in a different light there can be some spiritual applications to what happened with my adventure into the unknown on the high seas.
- Get Uncomfortable. In the raft, I knew I was safe. I knew that nothing could harm me if I just stayed in the raft. I was comfortable there because I knew what was known. Staying inside the raft = Staying safe. While this is the best option for rafting, it's not the best option for our Christian lives. Getting out of the boat and getting uncomfortable will help us to grow in our faith. In Matthew 14:22-33, we read of an account where Peter trusts his faith and gets out of the boat (literally!). Jesus actually said only one word to Peter: "Come!" Before then, Peter had nothing to stand on but water, and had he stepped out of the boat, he would have immediately sunk. But once Jesus spoke, Peter could stand on the Word of God. By faith, he stepped out of the boat and began walking toward Jesus on the water. He was literally walking by faith. When did Peter begin to sink? It was when he doubted. And why did he doubt? Because he began looking at the high waves around him, becoming fearful. Our faith leads us to do tremendous things if we can keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, but when we don't we will stay in the boat and we won't trust in God that He has something amazing in store for us. I think of people when they go to new places to do mission work - Doesn't that make them uncomfortable? Yes, but they trust in God that He will keep them safe. I was uncomfortable as I headed towards the first big rapid (without a boat) but I trusted that God would keep me safe through it all.
- Take The Plunge. When I fell out of the raft, my guide told me to swim back to the shore (which I tried to do), once I realized I wasn't going to make it, I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to just have to take the plunge and face the rapids. I go into the river position (nose and toes up) and I just went. In our lives, don't we do the same? We decide, I can't keep swimming away from the inevitable. I can't keep living this life and I'm just going to have to take the plunge. I may not know what life has in store for me but I have to make a decision now to follow Christ and be a child of God. Peter took the plunge by stepping out of the boat and stepping on to his faith to follow Jesus. He knew Jesus would protect Him. For some of us, it's time to step out of the boat and decide to follow Christ. "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." - Galatians 3:7 Will we experience being uncomfortable when we decide to follow Christ? Yes, but that's because you are changing and forming a new life centered around Christ. You know what has to be done... so just do it! (As Nike would say..) I had no choice but to take the plunge into the unknown of what was about to happen next.
- There will be unknowns. When you are out of the raft, there are a lot of unknowns. Will I survive? Will I be rescued? How long will I be underwater? Will I ever see above water again? And the list goes on and on. These questions ran through my head as I tried to think of the safety talk we had been given prior to the start of the trip (and at the Ocoee). I, honestly, didn't know if I was going to ever come up out of the water and I sure didn't realize I could hold my breath for as long as I did. I remember Jesus saying in John 16:33, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." And those words echo in my ear today. It says to me, you are going to face some uncomfortable times, some trials, some things that you were not expecting, but Jesus says, "That's okay. I have faced them to and you can have peace because I overcame those things and the world." As I sat floating underneath the water for what felt like forever, I had no idea what was going on. The only known was that I was underwater, my sandal was being ripped off my foot, I lost my sunglasses, and that I needed to hold on to my swim trunks. What we know about the Christian life is that there will be unknowns, there will be trials and tribulations. We know that if we follow Christ, receive salvation and forgiveness of our sins, then we will live with God for eternity. We can prepare ourselves by knowing there will be unknowns.
- God will make a way. "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." I Corinthians 10:13 During the safety talk we were told that the whitewater course had been built in a way that if you found yourself in a rapid that it would flush you out, this man made course had provided a way of escape. Even knowing this I did not have trust that it was working, because my idea of flushing is a quick 2-3 seconds and it washes you right out... That didn't happen... In our walk with God, we can know that He provides a way of escape for us in temptation. Again, we may have different ideas of what that may look like but God, in His time, helps us out. God is faithful. Though Satan;s a deceiver, God is true. Men may be false, and the world may be false; but God is faithful, and our strength and security are in him. He keeps His covenant, and will never disappoint the hope and trust of his children. He is wise as well as faithful, and will proportion our burden to our strength. He will not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able. He knows what we can bear. He will take care of us so we are not overcome, if we rely upon him, and resolve to approve ourselves faithful to him. We need not perplex ourselves with the difficulties in our way when God will take care that they shall not be too great for us to encounter, especially. He will make a way to escape, either the trial itself, or at least the mischief of it. There is no valley so dark but he can find a way through it, no affliction so grievous but he can prevent, or remove, or enable us to support it, and in the end overrule it to our advantage. "God will make a way where there seems to be no way. He works in ways we cannot see. He will make a way for me. He will be my guide, hold me closely to His side. With love and strength for each new day, He will make a way. God will make a way." Do you trust Him that He will? or will you give up easily, like I did in the rapid, and fear there is no way of escape?
- Teamwork is key! Little did I know that eventually our whole raft would be dumped into the river. When two people fell out, it shifted the weight distribution, people forgot to paddle as they watched my adventure, and there was not enough momentum to get the raft up and over the rapid causing it to flip and dump everyone into the river. In I Corinthians 12, particularly verses 12-27, Paul paints a picture (a funny one at times) of what the body of Christ should look like. He sums it up by saying that we are many parts with different functions and abilities, but we function as the ONE body of Christ. "You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it" - I Corinthians 12:27 How will the body survive if we do not work together as a team, as a unit? The New Testament is filled with pleas and calls for unity of the body of Christ, because it is important that we work and function together as a team! On the river it is essential you work together as one. You paddle together, you communicate the paddle strokes, etc. If one person is out of sync with the others or if one side is paddling harder than the other it will turn your raft the wrong way causing potential danger and dumpage! In the Christian life it takes all of us working together to accomplish great things through God. When someone is danger, it takes someone to reach out and pull them to safety. When someone experiences something good, then we rejoice with them and we weep with those who are hurting (Romans 12:15). I am Team God! Who's team are you on?
I did finally come up out of the water. I finally escaped the treacherous waters that I had taken a plunge into and came out safely on the other side. It wasn't without fighting, some doubt, and lots of prayers but in the end the waters did flush me out and helped me to escape. God does the same in our lives, if we just trust Him and keep our eyes fixed on Him and the end goal of Heaven.
It's funny, when you seek God you can truly find Him in everything. I chose to find him in whitewater rafting. Where have you seen God lately?
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Andrew Thompson is the Youth and Family Minister at Rose Hill Church of Christ. He is married to the beautiful, Joy Thompson (who is way out of his league!). They enjoy sharing life together, ministering to teens and families, football in Tuscaloosa (Roll Tide!), and musical theatre. Andrew is a proud supporter of sarcasm and dry sense of humors. Thank you for reading!