Find me in the river…

I’m a worship pastor in central Florida, and our lead pastor, recently returned from his annual summer vacation (thought that was just for teachers, didn’t you?), opened the room up to stories about recent wins within our community.  To hear stories of young kids accepting Christ, ministries partnering together to pursue life change in our community, volunteers flying to South Africa to minister to the impoverished and needy… it’s inspiring, but also overwhelming.

I turn flush with embarrassment and jealousy on the inside.  What have I done lately that’s been a change-the-world kind of action?  How have I fulfilled anything other than my own little agendas and goals?  “Oh, there’s nothing wrong with having goals,” you say, but these little goals pale in comparison to the ones I had even just a year or two ago. It’s as if my walk with Christ over the past several months has been an exercise in passivity, seeing challenges but viewing them from afar, saying to myself, “God will take care of that, as long as I pray.”  If I even pray at all.

My lead pastor changes gears and opens Joshua 3:13-17.  The quick version: the Israelites are on their way to the land God promised them, and the priests are carrying the Ark of the Lord.  They reach the Jordan River, which was at its flood stage, and at God’s command, as soon as their feet touch the water, the waters stop flowing and bunched up far upriver, and the entire nation of Israel crosses the Jordan on dry land.

Okay, so they cross a river.  No big surprise there as far as biblical history goes.  Heckm, Moses led the Hebrews across the Red Sea when God held back those waters.  Something else had to be going on here, so I Google’d the Jordan River to see what I could find…

The River Jordan is derived from the Hebrew word yar-dane, meaning “descender.” The “Descender” is a very appropriate name for the river because it flows in a virtually perfect north-south line on a map from its source near Mount Hermon (about 10 miles north of Lake Huleh) to it’s terminus at the Dead Sea, the lowest point of any lake on earth.

The elevation of the river drops virtually 2,368 feet from its source to where the river flows into the great salt sea. The length of its meanders over the same two points measures approximately [nearly 197 miles], over twice its direct distance….

Source: The Jordan – River of the Rising Sun

Think about this for a moment.  The Jordan is the lowest river in the world relative to sea level.  It is also a fairly narrow river.  Not only are the Israelites coming out of the desert through one of the only clear openings between the mountains surrounding the desert to actually reach the river near its end where the water flows the strongest, according to the Hebrew calendar they’re also arriving there during the peak of the flood season.  This is the place where God has instructed the Israelites to cross.  A speeding, raging river, swollen with rushing currents flowing over its banks.  This was the final obstacle between them and the promised land.

God then tells the priests to put their feet in the water, for once they do, the water will immediately stop.  But not one moment before….  That water is moving fast.  Really fast.  God promises the water will stop, but the priests have to take the first step.  I wonder… how many seconds, or even minutes, passed between the time God issued the command to step into the water and the actual moment their toes felt the frigid currents rush around their feet?  This monumental moment in their journey, to be confronted with a seemingly impossible task… would their trust in God allow them to step forward?

But eventually in verse 15, they step in, and the waters bunch up further upriver, allowing them to cross on dry land.  I wonder which priest was the first to step in.  I wonder what was going through his mind, what finally prompted him to put all his cards on the table and take that first step.  The physical aspect of the challenge was fully covered by His divine control over all things, so the real challenge wasn’t the river… it was trusting God’s promise.

It’s the same reason Jesus Christ taught in parables.  The things of the Kingdom are so mysterious that God gives us a natural picture first, then the spiritual will be revealed to us as we begin to comprehend.  The Israelites didn’t reach a barrier of a rushing river, they reached a barrier comprised of their own fear and resistance to trust God with their all, no matter the circumstances.  The point wasn’t to cross the Jordan; it was to step into their calling in boldness, and faith, and trust in He who had led them safe thus far.

The barriers we face aren’t physical.  They’re spiritual.  How incredibly true is that for me, for each of us?  But physical barriers are what we encounter first, that’s what we know, that’s all we’re capable of wrapping our heads around.  If we take the time to ask, to listen and seek and knock, God wants to show us what those barriers are indicators of, to show us what the real issues are, what the real barriers are.

What’s my barrier?  My insurmountable block?  What is causing me to hold back, be indecisive?  My passiveness about my walk with God, my lack of enthusiasm at all times to reach out to the heart of God and embrace the promises He has for me.  My lack of passion, which would be a hard thing for anyone who knows me to believe.  Maybe it’s improperly directed passion, passion that’s not flowing in the right direction.  Either way, it’s not there, not the way it should be.  How can I begin to trust in Him in new ways, instead of responding how the enemy would have me respond, i.e. by not responding at all?

My pastor closed by having us write down a few questions to be pondering:

  • God, how are you calling me to trust in Your power?
  • What’s the next part of your promised land you’ve called me to enter, where I must depend on your power and not my own resources?
  • Where am I not content with what I have but wanting more of what You are offering?
  • Where do I need to bless others more?

I’ve been given a challenge.  The gauntlet has been cast down, and it’s time for me to step up.  No more passivity, no more doldrums, no more inaction.

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