This post represents a foundational life principle of mine that has born great fruit over the years: the Christian life is like a rower. The post is a bit longer than normal, but hopefully the aforementioned sound bite will help you along the way. 🙂
All analogies break down at some point, nonetheless, a Christian’s life is easily compared to a person who is rowing, whose back is toward where he or she is heading, whose eyes are on the coxswain, whose ears are open to her voice, and whose heart trusts the hand that’s on the rudder. My LORD asks only that I hold firmly but also stroke purposefully my one oar: steadily, worshipfully, and trustfully. He’s my coxswain – but much more – who sees what’s ahead and speaks into my day. In this analogy, I find stability and strength by the ability to see in my wake God’s past faithfulness to me: his goodness and mercy that have followed me; his ability to cause all things to work together for good.
What’s this one oar I’m asked daily to hold tightly and purposefully but also stroke faithfully into my surrounding waters? This oar is a living faith in God’s goodness and love that exists because of his faithful love spoken to me. This trust allows me to yield the reigns of my heart to the LORD and his ways and to realize that he will not abandon the works of his hands but rather fulfill his purposes for me. For Jesus is my trail blazer and the author and finisher of my faith; he is the faithful builder of God’s house. And each and every one of God’s sons and daughters are a vital “living stone” in this house; however, we need to hold on to our oar – our faith – and daily stroke it through the waters of everyday life, working out our salvation as God works in us to will and do of his good pleasure. (Ps 138:8; Phil 2:12-13; Heb 3:6; 12:2; 1 Pe 1:4-12) Here, life is boiled down to its simplest and most important of expressions: “faith expressing itself through love,” which really is “the only thing that matters.” (Gal 5:6)
Then, as I stroke this oar of faith and travel forward, I’m able to see his kingdom of peace and joy and love and right living come into my life and those around me. Here, the LORD “causes all things to work together for good,” (Rom 8:28) and I’m able to say with Isaiah, “All that we have accomplished you have done for us.” (26:12) Here, a vibrant reverence and trust in God delivers me from all my troubles and allows me to either live in “good days” or be rowing towards them. (Ps 34)
Faith exists because of God’s Word spoken to me, it finds energy because of my awareness of his faithful love!Click to tweet
In the world of business, “success” comes by seizing a goal, any goal, and applying effort and ingenuity to the task at hand; here, you’re in control. But “success” yielded from this type of effort doesn’t last! In this atmosphere, we walk in the light of our own fires we have set ablaze; God promises that such actions will eventually cause us to lie down not in green pastures but one’s of torment. (Isa 50:11 vs. Ps 23:1-3) However, in the world of Christ, God is in control, and lasting fruit is born, because of him: the Christian life is a pilgrimage with the Good Shepherd providing guidance, protection & energy for the trip – a 24/7 integrated life. In this latter scenario, the LORD in whom we trust is the sure foundation of our lives, not the things we own or do nor what others think about us or do to us.
This principle of being God’s rower works even in dark, uncomfortable settings: if there’s an unrelenting family problem or a job situation that’s less than desirable, or if sickness is knocking on our door … or even if we’re clueless and helpless with respect to the future. In all of these circumstances, we still must keep our eyes focused on and our trust in the heavenly coxswain – the author and finisher of our faith. When life is dismal and there’s no light, we’re encouraged to trust in and rely on God’s name. (Isa 50:10) If we stroke this one oar of faith into our surroundings, even the darkest of days will eventual become filled with light. For God is faithful and powerful: he brings life from death and out of nothing makes something. (Rom 4:17) As a person of faith, I must not doubt in the darkness of today what God spoke in the light of yesterday; I must choose to believe in his unfailing love, regardless of who or what is encouraging me to do otherwise. (Ps 116:10-11)
Every time Israel faced a major challenge, God reminded them that he was faithful to them in the past, and he’d also be faithful to them in the future. One time, he even gave them the Song of Moses so that they could remember this truth. (Deut 32:1-43) God’s way with Israel never changed: he remained faithful to them, and he consistently instructed each one of them to put their trust in him, by remembering his past faithful acts of love. (Ps 105:5)
Unfortunately, Israel didn’t remember, and they consistently failed to put their trust in God. They wanted life on their own terms and didn’t believe that trust in God, evident by surrendering to him and his ways, would cause everything to work for his glory and their good. Instead, Israel “sought God daily & delighted to draw near to him,” but they did so with their own interests in mind. (Isa 58:2-7; 1:10-20) The Bible characterizes their lives as follows:
- “They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved.” (Ps 78:18; 41, 56)
- They “honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Matt 15:8-9; cf. Isa 29:13)
- They “soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his counsel.” (Ps 106:13)
- “They worshiped their idols which became a snare to them.” (106:36) We too have idols: click here.
Jeremiah was one of Israel’s shinning exceptions. He wrote in the worst of situations, when he was suffering because of the actions of those around him: “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (Lam 3:19-26)
Despite Israel’s waywardness, God was still faithful, both to his name and to his people. It’s what he does and who he is: he’s faithful! That’s what the Song of Moses declares: “I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is … a faithful God who does no wrong” (Deut 32:3-4); in fact, even when we are faithless, he remains faithful! (2 Tim 1:13; 2 Cor 1:18-20) Circumstances can disappoint; people will fail you; what you hoped for may not happen. But God is faithful!
Admittedly, Paul’s challenge to Timothy – “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of eternal life.” – isn’t always easy, nor for those of little faith! When my heart fills with unbelief, fear … or dark thoughts. When I find myself unfaithful to the LORD and even to my own heart’s desires, which is more often than I care to admit. When it’s hard to remember the good things of the past. When I can’t see what lies ahead and doubt that goodness lies in store for me. When I want to retake control of my life or when the currents of life tempt me to give up on a person or promise. What’s the only foundational rock upon which I can stand? The gospel! My only recourse is to hear afresh the message of God’s never-ending, faithful love to me, which finds its ultimate expression through the incarnation … cross and resurrection of my Lord Jesus Christ. Part of rehearing this Good News is taking captive thoughts contrary to it. When I respond with renewed commitment to this message of God’s new creation love – through repentance and fresh faith, commitment and surrender – the triumph of God in my life and thought continues (J. C. Beker); the powerful process of God recapturing me through his unconditional love persists, for the gospel message is both about the power of God and is the power of God (E. Käsemann). That is, it’s a message that is life-changing, when someone consistently hears and responds to it. When I surrender my heart anew to this Good News, then I’m able, again, to rise up, grow, and walk in newness of life – one that’s filled with rest, purpose, and fruitfulness. I am, again, a disciple whose heart has been set free by God (F.F. Bruce). Under such circumstances, I’m saying “Amen!” to God’s resounding “Yes!” to me through Christ. (2 Cor 1:18-20)
For me, to be a person of faith and a kingdom builder, means that faith must rise up in my inner person; it must take its stance against whatever; it must stroke its oar, regardless! It does so resolutely and from our inner heart, combining both our emotions and intellect; it commits everything to God’s loving care; it goes before reason and ahead of things not yet seen or experienced. It lets go of disappointments, fears, and hurts. Indeed, faith allows one to believe in “advance what will only make sense in reverse.” (Heb 11; Luke 7:35; P. Yancey) Fueled by God’s past faithfulness & today’s Good News, faith sees the truth of God’s goodness become a reality, regardless of the current setting It allows us to agree with circumstances that are counted as good, by how God measures things. In this setting, as we row forward to new waters, faith echoes back “AMEN!” to God’s resounding “YES!” to us in Christ. This “Yes” is part of that marriage covenant the LORD extends to us through the gospel, which involves him loving us daily and unconditionally. This faith doesn’t understand clearly every step that needs to be taken in order to walk miles down the pathway. However, it does know that the “obedience of faith” involves being faithful in the next step or two, the task at hand today, and that by God’s grace it’s more than capable of taking those steps. Obedience and faithfulness in these steps allows you to see the next ones, for obedience increases seeing. This type of faith is triumphant and yields good fruit, even if it first starts out as a faint “amen,” one as small as a grain of mustard seed. This kind of trust is like Abraham’s, who “when called to go … went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Heb 11:8)
Your faith filled response to God today prepares you for the steps of tomorrow – God’s got your back!Click to tweet
God demonstrates his faithful love to you and others by leading you in triumphal procession and beside still waters.
Click to tweet
When I look back on my life, I see several situations where God graciously made me lie down in green pastures. Initially, these circumstances seemed difficult and unpleasant and something I wanted to reject, but they eventually produced peaceable fruit and lasting joy, as I yielded my heart to my Good Shepherd. God will never put you in a place where you can’t trust in him through Christ. In other settings – like parenting multiple young kids … or planting a church – I remember moments of being overwhelmed along with not knowing what tomorrow would look like, let alone next year. We grow most during the storms of life, as “we pull our way forward,” by God’s grace, to calmer waters. But it’s really not “us pulling ourselves forward” but rather us surrendering to God’s love, by trusting and resting in his goodness to us, that propels us ahead. The faith that strengthens each oar stroke I make is no more than keeping my eyes on Coxswain Jesus, my ears attentive to his voice, my heart trusting his hand on the rudder … and my mind filled with his past loving kindness, faithfulness, and goodness to me. He thought and still thinks “I am to die for!” Nothing has or will separate me from his love! (Rom 8:28-39) This faith allows me to not take matters into my own hands, today, but instead permits God’s gospel wind to fill the sails of my heart and give both direction and forward motion to my boat as well as energy to each oar stroke I make. With God’s help, I can trust him, even when my back is vulnerable to what approaches, and I’m unable to see what lies ahead.
This is faith responding to faithfulness.
Not to us, O LORD, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.