Looking back I’m not quite sure how intelligent my decision was. In all respects the Zambezi River is one of, if not the fastest river on the continent of Africa as it jets through Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. But, as most men know, and women can attest to this as well, when a group of men get together, their collective confidence is so much greater than the sum of the individuals. They tend to attempt things that are a little beyond themselves and their abilities. That day there were more than a few of us carrying our chest high.
There were six of us in fact, the “Green Spandex Burritos.” ‘Green’ (it had some spiritual significance of which I cannot remember, ‘Spandex’ because we desired to be flexible for God, and finally “Burritos” due to the appearance of our sleeping bags all huddled in our tent at night. We had all come to Africa to serve the Lord and remain obedient to His call on our life, but now at the end of our trip the six of us found ourselves paring down from a ledge at the great Zambezi 250 feet below and someone had the great idea, “we should raft that.”
We made the necessary arrangements and found a guide. None of us had white water experience of this kind, and the man we found to lead us on our little excursion said that we had two options; he could guide us down the river from the middle of the raft paddling while we just enjoyed the ride, or we could paddle listening to his instructions from the back of the boat (which was difficult for us imagine because his English was broken at best), so of course we looked at each other, gaining our collective courage, and decided to paddle ourselves. The Green Spandex Burritos were not looking for a joy ride; they were looking for a challenge.
At the onset the guide instructed us that we would take it easy starting off with the initial track of the river with some class 3 rapids. Taking it easy on some class 3 rapids is not exactly as “easy” as it sounds. However, we managed. We would eventually move onto a class 5.5 after that is called “Stairway to Heaven” and finish of the run with a class 6 affectionately dubbed “Commercial Suicide.” For the inexperienced rafters out there like myself, rapids are rated between one and six, six being the most difficult. Most guided tours in the U.S. cap out at a tough 4. This river was a beast. Whether inexperienced or not, we certainly had our hands more than full, and our collective confidence had potentially made us bite off considerably more than we could chew.
The mighty Zambezi had put us in an awkward position. We were in great awe of our God’s incredible creation. Simultaneously we were smacked headlong with the reality of our own inadequacies as well as our very fragile lives. As we pushed off into the river, physics had decided for us that we certainly could not turn around, no one dared to suggest giving up (plus the shear rock walls afforded very few places to even attempt such an idea), and it was even more dangerous to just allow ourselves to be taken by the river. We had only a single choice: to continue on, struggling against the current and the incredible rapids with all we had, despite our fear to reach our end. It became a team effort, no one could relent or we would all suffer. There were three of us on each side (the guide in the back) and we cut into the river with determined ferocity and with our paddles, which had now become our swords, slicing into this roaring beast all around us. As we proceeded down the great river our hands had gotten smashed against the sides of rocks. Arms, hands, and even legs were bleeding but we continued on, pushing towards our goal of conquering this river. Even as we proceeded on our fragile course, God in his great mercy started teaching me a valuable lesson.
It had become evidently clear to me that this river before me could stand to parallel my life, especially my life as a Christian. Paul declares to us in the book of Hebrews 12:1 (NLT, emphasis by author)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.”
We are called to endurance, and to not only that, but we are also called to run. It has been made so clearly apparent by all of the authors of the New Testament that the life of a follower of Christ is one of overcoming and not of comfort, one of indescribable challenge not of convenience, of continual pursuit of Him, and not of lazy indecision. A life in which the struggle with the roaring current against you is constant, but the victory and the awaiting finish line have already been won and established, but your choice to get there still remains a variable. Will you go headlong into the current casting your fears into the wind and trusting your Savior?
At that moment in my life I had only been a Christian for six months and the choice I had needed to take had been apparent for the river and it was now clear for my spiritual walk as well. I had to run, stripping off all the weights that weighed me down. It was now the course of and movement of both that had my immediate attention, however at that second, I was more attentive to the river.
We had made it through the class 3 rapids, the 5 and 6 rapids are a story in and of itself, but it was a class 4 rapid named “Land of the Giants” that made the most impact on me. The River made a sharp bend and suddenly just as the sudden curve caught us the river narrowed to approximately 30 yards (very small for that amount of water). The water hit the curve with such force that it cast large six to ten foot waves careening in every direction. They crashed into the walls around us, into other waves, and into us. They were certainly giants. We were all tired and even wounded in some way at this point and the curve of the river had caught us by surprise, but we really had no choice but to push forward or succumb to the river. We were tossed about like rag-dolls but our steady determination and the consistent instruction by the guide allowed us to pass through, battered, but through. Again the Lord decided to preview my life as a follower of Christ through these rapids. Curves will catch us by surprise and even within those curves there will be even more frightening giants that seem to really hit from all sides and sometimes together, but we must listen to the steady voice of the guide right behind us encouraging our direction and our path, because giving up here, at a place in my life such as this, could be fatal.
We had beaten the river, and being a baby Christian, I had also learned some incredible lessons on the way. My life as a believer had to be a daily decision to push forward through whatever terrible storm might come. Sometime that path was quiet and calm sometimes it was raging and damaging. There would be times of struggle and pain, weariness and opportunities to give up and succumb, but the voice of God bids me come and I (being His) must obey.
The trial is great, but the rich reward of a life in relationship with God, who has called you to this race, is more than the most incredible thought and joy that you can imagine. Shove off the shore and make your choice.