Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.
-Pooh’s Little Instruction Book, inspired by A. A. Milne
This little nugget of Pooh-inspired wisdom seems out of sync with the frenetic world that we live in today. Our lives are often overwhelmed by appointments, busy schedules, and to-do lists as we are distracted and pulled to meet the demands of a 24/7 culture. This constant and fast pace spills over into our personal struggles as well. We look for the quick fixes to address the issues which plague our Christian walks. We are restless in our search for the correct “knowledge” hoping it will help us to overcome whatever Goliath we are facing.
Going Down the River
When I reflect on my life journey, which contains its fair share of struggles, the picture of a river often comes to my mind. Sometimes I have been tossed about in its rapids, sometimes gently carried along on still waters. Thankfully, the Lord has routinely and graciously identified my specific areas of personal need through the working of the Holy Spirit. At times, I have allowed side streams to pull me from the Holy Spirit’s direction. But His faithfulness brought revelation and a healing word which once again diverted me back into the current of His River, the course that He desired for me to follow. The Lord usually did this by focusing me on something I had learned earlier but during my journey had somehow lost awareness.
The Lord has been consistently reminding me to rest. I am grateful for His continual encouragement to me especially in light of recent events which have included an earthquake, hurricane, surgery, and financial uncertainties. It reminds me of Elijah’s similar experiences in the cave facing the awesomeness of nature before he discerned the gentle whisper of God (1 Kings 19). But these experiences, as intense and powerful as they seem to me, are superficial in comparison to the deeper knowledge He desires for me to acquire. The reality God wants for me as I journey through this life is to be totally at rest at the very core of my being. This rest is not a self-attained rest, however. It is a rest which only comes from Him. But, can I truly rest in Him for every area in my life? Can I release all control, floating in the currents of His River wherever it may take me, even as I struggle daily to be pure in thought, word, and deed?
Struggling in the Currents
In this 21st century world, there is so much societal pressure to accomplish that we often lose the ability to just “be.” We measure those around us by what they have acquired. There is nothing inherently wrong in working toward financial security, or receiving awards for accomplishments, or pursuing higher learning. But often the flow of our capacity “to do” can get caught in the stream of striving. It is fine “to do” something but when we have to “strive” toward something it usually entails toil, struggle, and strenuous effort. Again, these do not necessarily have to be negative things. But when we are so diverted, we’re then pulled out of our capacity “to be” and into the current of restless activism. We are no longer at rest, no longer able to be still. We begin to thrash about in the river of life and can lose our bearings.
In Acts 17:28 Paul is quoted as saying “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” Paul consistently uses the preposition “in” throughout his letters to make the point that our identity as believers is found totally in Christ (see Romans 6:11, Gal 2.20, Col 3:3). The fullness of the men and women we are called to be is rooted in our capacity to grasp this truth. Because He is, I am. Because He is, I can be. Every aspect of our lives is to rest in Jesus.
For those who understand what Jesus has done for them and have accepted Him as their Savior and Lord, the question arises: “Is there anything we can do to make ourselves more righteous?” The obvious answer is no. Our righteousness totally and completely rests on and in the righteous of Jesus.
To go a step further we can ask, “Is there anything we can do to make ourselves more holy?” Again, no. Although we must embrace obedience in our everyday life, to do that which is asked by the Lord, our holiness is found solely in Christ. Our “doing” does not make us holy for He alone can make us holy. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day wrongly believed that holiness was gained through “holy doing.” But Hebrews 10:10 shows us that we have nothing to do with achieving holiness: “And by [God’s] will we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.” Holiness is not the absence of something but the presence of Someone.
Going a step further, the next question we may ask, “Is there anything we can do to make ourselves more pure?” When I have asked this question to groups, the usual response is yes! But if our righteousness and holiness are found only in Christ, how then can we make ourselves purer? Our capacity to be pure must be grounded only in Christ. Jesus alone is our righteousness, holiness, and purity. We can do nothing to achieve these qualities in and of ourselves. How many have we seen fail when they try to do so? To try to achieve righteousness, holiness, and purity through our own doing is like paddling a canoe against the river’s flow. We grow weary and tired as we strive to get where we want to go. If we rest in Jesus’ accomplishment on our behalf, it is as if Jesus IS the boat! We can sit and rest in Him, allowing Him to take us where we need to go.
Staying in the boat
God indeed calls us, through obedience, to be holy, pure, and to live righteously. In our true selves, our identity found and grounded in Jesus, these qualities are already present in us. Jesus wants and desires for us to experience holiness and purity as a reality in our lives. But we deceive ourselves if we believe there is anything we can do in and by our strength to attain these qualities.
Once we accept what Christ has done for us and make Him Lord of our life, then holiness, righteousness, and purity are ours. If we do not rest in knowing these qualities are found in whom we are in Christ, then our focus turns outward, and we begin to strive to achieve them vainly. God’s calling for us can only be lived out through our capacity of being and resting in Him. In his book “The Deeper Journey,” author Robert Mulholland states “The Pharisees were in the world for God rather than being in God for the world.” We need to be in God to truly bear His Image for the world, living a life of integrity and serving in love.
Living in this age of hyper self-awareness, we often think we’ve identified the problems in our lives and in so doing come up with the solutions we feel will achieve success. However, the solutions we choose cannot possibly work. Why? Because the problem is we don’t know what the problem truly is! We have failed to ask ourselves the right questions, and so are unable to see the real issues at hand. We rely on our understanding and knowledge. As we continue on our journey, we often are tempted to stand up in the boat to look for a way we think is better for us to go. Anyone who has stood up in a canoe while going down a fast river knows what usually happens—you fall out!
When we are faced with challenges to be holy and pure, we focus on looking for solutions through doing something rather than being somebody. Therein lays the problem. Our solution becomes focused on outward behavior modification. We ask ourselves what we can do to make ourselves holy and pure. But the right question to ask is “Why am I stepping out of my identity in Jesus?” “Why am I feeling tempted to not stand as a holy and pure man or woman?” The issue is not identifying “what can I do?” but “what is causing me to take control and forget who I am in Christ Jesus?”
Embracing Christian virtues goes beyond moralistic behavior changes but also involves addressing the desires of the heart. Many who allow their heart’s desires to be expressed unfortunately can end up in sinful, sexual behaviors. When we experience a state of fear, the result can be the shutting down of our most precious possession, our hearts.
In his book Journey of Desire, John Eldredge writes: “the goal of morality is not morality – it is ecstasy. You were intended for pleasure.” God created us to experience pleasure and ecstasy, but when we choose sinful behaviors, we cut off our hearts thereby blocking our deepest desire which is to know and be known by God and one another. God does not want us to be the frozen chosen, cut off from our hearts through behavioral control. He desires for us to know ecstatic freedom at a deep heart level.
Noted Presbyterian pastor and author Tim Keller tells us that God is not after a morally restrained heart, but a supernaturally changed one. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus revealed that being pure in heart results in our capacity to see God. Jesus is appealing to the heart. Purity is not just a cognitive concept but a joint reality continually chosen and embraced within the heart. In Matthew 15:11 and 18-20 Jesus imparts to us the wisdom that it is not what comes out of the mouth which makes us unclean but what comes from the heart. Embracing purity involves the deep places of the heart. It involves the intentional pursuit of deep intimacy with our Beloved and resting in Him.
Resting in our purity in Christ is expressed with the outward results of living a life of purity. Purity in behavior is the result of being inwardly tried in our heart whether we will choose Jesus or someone/ something else. Each challenge to choose impurity is an opportunity for us to stand in our identity of who we are in Christ. Do we see it as an opportunity for becoming who God wants us to be or will these challenges be the means for our defeat? Philippians 4:13 states “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” Will you rest in Him, in your true identity as a saint, or will you choose to sin, stepping out of the boat, and hope that your feeble strength will bring you to shore?
The Holy Spirit as Captain
We need the deep work of the Holy Spirit in our souls. If Jesus is the boat that we rest in, then the Holy Spirit is our captain. It is He who guides us along our journey and transforms us to be more like Christ who was perfectly holy, righteous and pure. Our purity originates in Jesus, but it is also a virtue, a desirable quality of great worth. It involves the inward realignment of our passions with God’s. It involves having our inner wills submitted to the Cross of Jesus.
To embrace an outward life of purity we need to have an intentional, inward pursuit of knowing Him intimately in relationship. It always is outward change resulting from inward knowing and becoming. My motivation for living a life of purity is found in my relational love for Jesus, not because it is the “right” thing to do.
Oswald Chambers writes in the July 26 entry of My Utmost for His Highest, “Purity is too deep down for me to get naturally: but when the Holy Spirit comes in, He brings into the centre of my personal life the very Spirit that was manifested in the life of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, which is unsullied purity.” Invite the Holy Spirit to reveal what causes you to forget who you are in Jesus. Ask Him to manifest Jesus in your heart. Ask Jesus to strengthen you in your inner being.
We can be at rest knowing God is faithful to meet our every need and will enable us to live a life of integrity. We do not need to feel driven, seeking a perfect sobriety record through continual “doing,” but we can live a life that is fulfilled through knowing Jesus. Look to Jesus to identify the real problems in your life. Ride on your Heavenly Father’s river, in the safety of His Son and guided by the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 2:6 says “And God has raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” It has already been done for us. Be at rest.
Rev. Bob Ragan is the full-time director of Regeneration of Northern Virginia. Bob provides spiritual direction, healing prayer, and coordinates support groups in the DC metro area. He has ministered on five continents and is an invited lecturer for the C.S. Lewis Institute and YWAM (Youth with a Mission). Bob is the published author of Path through the Wilderness and is an ordained deacon in the Anglican Church.