Blue skies, bright sunshine, and white water. It’s the perfect combination. One of the joys of living in Colorado is easy access to the white water rafting trips that are offered on the Arkansas River. For an appropriate fee, you are equipped with everything you need for an exciting ride down the rapids—life vest, appropriate outerwear, raft, paddle, and most importantly, an experienced guide.
The rapids are classified according to how difficult it is to negotiate them. Class 1 is the easiest, involving “[f]ast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training.”
Bit by bit, the levels of difficulty increase until you get to Class 5:
Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. … Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts.
There is also a Class 6. These are parts of the river that will kill you. Described as “[t]he difficulties of Class V carried to the extreme,” in reality, if a Class 6 rapid can be run, it’s reclassified to Class V.
Pete and I usually opt for something between these extremes. My favorite is Class 3. The trip is exciting but not terrifying. (And yes, that’s us in the rear of the raft, above.) We don’t have the skills to manage a Class 3 run on our own. The only reason that we can sign up for the trip is because we’ll be assigned an experienced guide. We don’t know the river, but the guide does. We aren’t expert rafters, but they are. We’re all in the same boat, but they’re in charge.
Pete recently pointed out how similar this is to our walk with Jesus.
Life has different levels of difficulty. We may be happily drifting along in a Class 1 season, without a care in the world. This is easy, we think. I don’t need any help; I can do this! But then we’re challenged by Class 3, 4, or 5. We find ourselves in way over our heads, with sheer drops and turbulent waves.
Many philosophies are adequate for giving us a raft and a paddle. We’re given a map of the river and a set of rules. They give us instructions, then send us on our way.
When we travel with Jesus, however, He comes with us. He knows the river—what’s exposed by the current water level, and what obstacles are hidden below the surface. He knows exactly what lies ahead of every bend, and where the trip is leading. Nothing is a surprise to Him.
Moreover, He strengthens our arms when we can’t paddle another stroke. In fact, it’s more a case of Him holding the paddle and moving it through the water, while we “help.” I get an image of a strong father and a small child, working together to carry a bucket full of water. We know who’s doing the heavy lifting!
There are times we’re all tempted to do life on our own. We don’t like the idea of someone else telling us what to do. Especially in the U.S., we place great value on being independent, self-reliant. And those are virtues—to a point. But life isn’t a Class 1 trip. (And if it was, I’d be bored to tears.)
Of course, we can refuse to bring him a guide with us in the first place, insisting that we don’t need them. Many people do just that.
Or, we can bring them, but refuse to listen. What if our guide tells us, “Paddle on the right!” and we paddle on the left? What if we’re told to give a mighty backstroke, and instead we lift our paddles from the water? Having a guide does us no good if we don’t obey. We’d be foolish not to quickly do what we’re told to do.
You can even stretch the analogy a bit further. The river of life ends in a Class 6 rapid—no one can survive it. We have to be rescued first.
“… and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)
 “Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims.”