Cabin 17: Row, Row Your Boat

fish

I just updated this chapter, greatly expanding it. Enjoy!

By the time the morning clouds were burned away by the midday sun, I was good and hungry for lunch. Jesus suggested we head to the lake to catch our meal.

“Jesus, I’m no fisherman, but my brother is a pro and he’s told me the fish bite best in the morning and evening, but high noon isn’t the time for fishing.”

“Well, can your brother walk on water and raise the dead?” Jesus replied with a wink. “With God anything is possible (Matt. 19:26). How about you do your job, and I’ll do mine?”

Jesus handed me an oar and we sat down in a little row boat and pushed off from shore. The calm waters sparkled as the sun reflected off the surface. An eagle flew overhead, dragon flies hovered over some cattails, while ducks chased after their lunch in the lily pads near the shore.

“Jeremy, there’s a thousand Kingdom lessons to be learned in a 12 foot row boat. But you need to leave your limited earth-bound mindset behind if you are to understand and embrace the exciting, surprising nature of life in the Kingdom of God.”

“I’m ready to learn,” I said.

“Great, so first lesson: Why do you think I gave you just one oar? Don’t you need two to row efficiently?” Jesus asked.

“Umm.” I thought. “Because you have the second oar?”

“Bingo!” Jesus said. “You’re catching on quick. You see, the world tells you to keep both oars and go it alone with all your strength — and you soon find both arms tired and ready to give up. In the Kingdom, you learn healthy interdependence. Together we can do so much more, and when one arm gets tired you can switch and rest the other.”

“Is that the same idea as being yoked together with you, like two oxen treading a field?” I asked.

“Precisely! It makes sense now, out here in a boat.” Jesus challenged. “But do you live by this principle back home in your everyday life? Do you give me the other paddle when you arrive at work each day? Do you give me the other paddle when you drive into the garage at the end of the day, emotionally tanked but desperately wanting to be give your children your full attention? Do you hand me the other paddle before you have that tough conversation with that difficult person?”

Jesus paused and let me reflect. He was right. I have been totally exhausted from attempting to row my own boat each day on my own strength, clinging tightly to both oars and sometimes leaving Jesus out of my boat altogether.

“Jeremy, you don’t have to do it alone. In fact, you can’t. The Father created human beings with amazing capacities, but he also built into his prized image-bearers limitations, a healthy need for interdependence and a breaking point when they ignore it.”

I nodded as I continued to row with my right arm growing tired by the second.

“Are you ready to switch arms?” Jesus asked. “Heck yes!” I said.

“Alright, next lesson.” Jesus continued. “There’s a time for rowing and a time for resting.  A time for generating your own momentum and a time for enjoying the divine current flowing throughout creation. The Father made it very clear: you are to labor for six days and rest of the seventh. Right?”

“Yes, I see where you’re going. The sabbath principle, right?” I offered.

“Yes, but its more than a principle or commandment — its a law of nature, a deeply embedded code in the very software of the human operating system. Very few are respecting this divinely instituted pattern. You see, the sabbath is not simply about not working, its about honoring and enjoying the nature’s wise order, God’s sustaining power, and man’s finiteness and dependence.”

“Okay…what do you mean?” I inquired. “I’ll show you in a minute. Keep rowing a bit further.”

I rowed and rowed. As I paid attention to our rowing, I noticed that when my stroke was in sync with Jesus’ stroke, we moved smoothly and efficiently. There was a kind of rhythm and harmony to our movement. When my stroke got either ahead of or behind Jesus’ stroke, the ride was more choppy, jerky and slow-going. Certainly, this was another lesson to reflect on.

“That’s right, Jeremy,” Jesus said, reading my thoughts. “The Apostle Paul said, ‘Keep in step with the Spirit’ but he could just as easily have said ‘Row in sync with the Spirit’ (Gal. 5:25).”

Hmmm. I pondered. How often do I just go ahead with decisions and life’s routine without reference to God’s timing?

Just then Jesus suddenly stood up and got out of the boat. Standing on top of the water he lifted his oar to the sky, and in a Charlton Heston like move, he plunged it down into the water with an authority that would impress even Moses.

The water began to swirl around me.

With Jesus out of the boat, all the weight had shifted to the back where I was seated. The bow of the boat now stuck high out of the water, like a golden retriever’s nose swimming after a tennis ball.

“Row, Jeremy!” Jesus commanded. “Row as fast as you can!”

I began to row with all my might, with my single paddle on my strong side of the boat. Without Jesus on the other side to keep us going forward and straight, I began to row in circles. The waters continued to swirl faster, beginning to foam with an angry intensity. My stroke was only adding to the growing whirlpool I now found myself circling. The eye of the funnel was to my right side as I swirled clockwise.

“Faster, Jeremy, faster!” Jesus yelled from the outer perimeter of whirlpool.

But the harder and faster I rowed, the more intense the spiral of inevitable doom grew around me. The image of my kids’ bathtub toys circling the drain as the water drained flashed in my head.

“Help! Jesus!” I cried. And a moment later I heard a Voice  that shook the trees and caught the attention of every fish in that lake.

“PEACE! BE STILL!”

The whirlpool relented. The waters grew calm. And Jesus was again sitting at the front of my boat. He had the mischievous smile of a junior high kid who just played an April Fool’s joke on his mother.

“What on earth was that all about, Jesus?” I said, still half breathless and recovering my nerve.

“That’s what your soul experiences when you persist in paddling alone, leaving me outside your boat, and resisting the Father’s divine current. Listen carefully: You will generate your own current, and the harder you work, the stronger it will be. But without me at the front of your boat, and without my strokes to balance you out, you’ll find yourself exhausted, going in circles, getting nowhere, and eventually drowning in the whirlpool of your own frantic, ceaseless, sabbath-less lifestyle.”

What a powerful, unforgettable illustration of a life lived apart from God and sabbath rest.

“Now, now I will show you a more excellent way,” Jesus said. “We’re almost there. Ok, give me six full, heavy strokes!”

ONE – TWO – THREE – FOUR – FIVE – SIX.

Just as we finished the sixth stroke Jesus yelled out, “Oars up and rest!” Immediately, the boat was gripped by a strong invisible rip current that pulled us along at a nice, enjoyable speed. I looked down and saw a 20 foot wide rushing river flowing through the middle of the otherwise calm lake.

“The Father designed this lake so every 700 hundred yards the tired rower reaches a current that sweeps them away toward their destination, providing a necessary rest and relaxing ride across the lake.”

“Nice! But what’s the point?” I asked.

“It’s a snapshot of the entire created order and the gift of the sabbath. The Father created men and women to labor, or row, six days at a time, and then on the seventh day to cease striving and enjoy the divine-flow sustaining all creation.”

I immediately thought of Acts 17: ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.” We could almost say, “In His divine current we live and move and have our being.”

“Precisely! Many think the sabbath is just about not working or stopping, but it’s more about lifting our oars up long enough to acknowledge that God is the never ceasing energy pulsating just beneath the waters of all our human striving, pulling us downstream if we’ll let him.

“Each day we get out of bed and go to work, we are either laboring with and for the Father, adding to the strength of the divine current; or we are laboring in vain against the Father, trying to paddle upstream.

“The Father looks down at the majority of the human race and sees the comical yet tragic sight of countless people whose lives are like kayakers paddling alone up a river. They ‘straining at the oars’ (Mk 6:48), full of fierce self-determination but unaware that all their futile striving upstream eventually brings them each to the swirling, desperate waters of a plunge pool at of the bottom of a Niagara Falls-like plummet. It’s not a happy ending.”

Jesus’ eyes were fighting back tears as he spoke of this tragic but all too common scenario. His shoulders slumped a bit, as though weighed down just talking about it. It was if he somehow shared in the fate of all those foolish kayakers. He spoke as one who had taken the plunge over Niagara Falls countless times and lived to warn others of the horrors of it.

Meanwhile, I thought of all the tired, miserable people trying live life in opposition to God’s ways, trying to generate their own current and living solely for themselves. I thought of the CEO who reaches the top of the ladder by cheating and stepping on others, only to lose his marriage and family along the way.  Or, the entrepreneur whose working 80 hour weeks to launch her business, gaining clients steadily but losing touch with her soul and sanity at an equally rapid pace.

“Every seventh day we stop to remember that God is perfectly capable of running the universe. All of creation is flowing down the river of history, driven along by the invisible current of God’s providence. Things won’t fall apart if we take a day off. The Father let’s us play a role, but in the end He’s not all that dependent upon our little paddle strokes.”

This all sounded nice in theory, but I had to pushback. “Ok, I can see and feel the divine current out here on this magical lake. But where can I find this current back home?”

“You step into the current when you stop striving, creating, doing; and simply take time to enjoy the good things that already are. You experience the divine current when you remember you are a human “being” and not a human “doing.”

“Can you give me some examples?” I asked.

“A tired mother steps into the current when she puts down the dishrag, walks away from unfinished chores, and all the tasks of parenting, and just delights in being with and playing with her precious children for a day.

“The author steps into the current when he puts the pen down for a day, and gets lost enjoying a good book already written.

“The teacher steps into the current when she stops being the dispenser of knowledge and wisdom, and instead sits back to receive the gift of someone else’s teaching.

I had always thought of the sabbath as a day you stopped activity. Sitting around and doing nothing. But Jesus was showing me that the Sabbath was a day to cease work, but to actively delight in the Father’s world.

“Yes, Jeremy, remember the Father himself worked for six days, and declared each day’s work good. Satisfying. Pleasing. But as good as those first six days were, only the seventh day — the sabbath — was declared ‘holy.’

There was a welcome silence in the boat after such an intense lesson. In that silence, I was able to take in all the buzzing and croaking and flapping and lapping and cooing and cawing and rocking and blowing of nature’s soundtrack all around me.

Jesus interrupted. “This might be a great time to catch our lunch.”

My stomach growled at the mention of lunch. “Maybe the divine current will allow us to do some trolling for a nice catch,” I offered.

“Great idea,” Jesus said. “Except for one small thing….the sabbath is no day to catch your own meal. It’s a day to let the Father provide!”

Just then fish started splashing against the bow and jumping into the boat! Jesus grinned wide and said enthusiastically, “Lunch is served!”

 SCRIPTURE MEDITATION:

“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake….Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed” (Mark 6:45-51). 

PERSONAL REFLECTION:

1. How good are you about letting Jesus have the other paddle in your daily life? Does Jesus even have a seat in your boat outside of Sunday mornings?

2. Have you left the safe and predictable worldly life on shore and jumped into the boat with Jesus?

3. Do you honor the sabbath in your life rhythm? How might you begin to practice the sabbath day of rest? 

PRAYER:

Dear Father, I am tired and straining at the oars all too often. I confess I like to keep a firm grip on both oars and often leave you outside my boat. Will you accept this paddle today and help me row in sync with you with ____[area of life]________. Let me rest in the steady flow and loving currents of your sovereign grace. Amen. 

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