As the school year ends, we come to a time of graduations and summer vacation. I offer these life lessons that I learned while rafting on the Colorado rapids several summers ago.
I had never rafted on white water before in my life. Neither had Mae or John Michael. On this river in Colorado we learned a lot.
1. Follow the Guide
The big thing in white-water rafting is to let the guide lead. This is important. Without the voice of the guide, who is constantly shouting, “Full back!” (row backward) or “Ahead!” (row forward) or “All left!” This command is especially critical. It means the rowers on the right side need to immediately move to the left side in order to avoid tipping over.
In our spiritual lives, there are constant threats in life. The best way to get through the rapids of life is to listen to our Guide, the Lord, rather than doing it our way.
The Bible says, over and over again, that God is our Guide:
• “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling” (
• “For this God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end” (
• “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (
Our guide knew that stretch of the Arkansas River that we were rafting like the back of his hand. We had never been that way before. Our safety, our success-our lives in a sense-depended on listening to our guide.
I do well to remember this: Follow the Guide. Listen to His voice. He will get me safely home.
2. Work Together
This is a simple lesson. When the guide shouts out the command, we have to listen and then work together. In the picture you see two children in the front of the raft. The one on the left is our son. The little girl on the right belongs to the folks behind her (from Thousand Oaks, California). That little girl had to listen to the guide’s call, make the move, and we all had to move our oars in rhythm with hers. If she didn’t move quickly enough, our guide would give her some decisive encouragement. If we didn’t follow her motions quick enough we were told, “Come on people, work together!” Again, our safety depended on unity, as well as our success in navigating the rapids.
According to Paul, the church is a team that must work together. So he wrote to the Ephesians: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (
Years ago an older minister admonished me with these wise words: “Do no ministry alone. Somehow involve others, equip others, and hand off to others. Minister together.”
3. Lean In
Wow. I will not forget this one.
The Arkansas River is a crystal clear but snaky river that moved us along through fields of rocks. Big rocks sat right in the middle of the river. As we headed toward them I wondered if I was going to be swimming in that ice-cold river with a big knot on my head, or worse. But every time we were headed for a big, bald rock our guide yelled out, “Lean in!” That meant, as we were instructed beforehand, that upon that command we were all to lean in to each other. Our weight together would move us away from the danger. We were safe when we were leaning in.
This lesson is God’s Word to us: Beloved, lean in.
Being God’s people together in fellowship is important. Being a covenanted part of fellowship is to traverse the rapids of life, not alone but with each other. And as we go through trials and difficulties, and as we see big boulders in our way, we need to “lean in.” That is what being a part of the family of Christ is all about.
Thus, the writer to the Hebrews wrote: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (
In a real way, I need time with my family because I need to “lean in” to their lives. There are always rocks ahead. The Lord wants us to turn to Him and turn to each other. Let us always be open to others out there, sharing the larger raft of humanity with others who also need to lean in. Let’s be welcoming to others to come and join us.
4. Give High-Five Paddles
There were, in the stretch of the river we rafted, approximately 40 rapids that had to be navigated together. Some were not so bad. Indeed, most of the obstacles were easily overcome with teamwork. Others were extraordinary. One, in particular, was downright scary! And here is the thing. After each one, whether treacherous or common, our guide shouted, “Paddle Five!” We all made a sort of “high five” with our paddles. The children, the women, the men and even our guide (who has done this a thousand times) all celebrated. Each obstacle overcome was a victory.
I wonder if you are in the habit of celebrating victories? As a community of disciples of Jesus, we face many obstacles together. Some of them are fierce. Many are common. But I believe that God is calling us to celebrate our lives together.
Paul instructed the congregation at Thessalonica to celebrate their lives together: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (
One Last Thought
One child in our raft wasn’t sure if we were just going to circle around and end back up where we’d started. The guide assured all of us, if we didn’t know in our childish inexperience, that we were actually going somewhere. There was a team waiting for us at our destination.
My dearest saints in Christ, lessons from the Lord are intended to carry us onward and forward. We are, in a word, going somewhere. And there is a great team, a wonderful host, awaiting our arrival!