Earlier this year I read River-Horse, by William Least Heat-Moon. The book details his voyage across the United States, from Elizabeth, NJ to Astoria, OR in a 22-foot long boat. It’s a very entertaining tale, told by the same man who wrote Blue Highways, his journey of driving across the United States on the backroads. I highly recommend both books.
One of the aspects of his river journey that struck me was how piloting the boat upstream, although more difficult, seemed to be better than piloting—or floating—downstream. That’s because when you’re in a little boat caught in the current of a large, fast-flowing river, you tend to lose control of where you’re going, and how quickly you’ll get there. I was reminded of this as I was browsing through a book on worship by Marva J. Dawn, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down.
In a chapter on the importance of the Word in worship, Dawn quotes Steve Mullet: “When a church’s theology holds up a vision for swimming upstream—and most of that church’s members are floating downstream on yachts—something’s got to give. [Usually] it’s the theology that gets sold away, not the yachts.”
Let me state clearly that I do not think the theology of Grace Redeemer Church will be sold down the river. But I wonder how many of us might be sailing downriver on yachts and don’t even realize it. According to a 2001 Barna survey, only 18% of believers said that spiritual growth was the most important commitment in their life. Is spiritual growth the most important commitment in your life? Which takes priority in raising your children: spiritual growth, or academic excellence, sports proficiency, and musical performance? Is prayer an activity in which you engage regularly and thankfully, or one you perform occasionally and perfunctorily? Is worship something you do primarily to praise God, or is it something you attend primarily to gain a benefit? Is your offering coming out of the first fruits, or out of the leftovers? Are you primarily a faithful steward of what God has entrusted to you, or are you simply a blithe consumer of his gifts?
Please understand that I am neither suggesting nor recommending some sort of ascetic lifestyle. I’m urging that we appreciate the good gifts that God has given us, but serve the Giver and not the gifts. One of the idols against which I struggle is that of comfort; I have a sinful tendency to seek my comfort first and foremost. So I am talking as much to myself as to anyone else.
Richard Philips writes, “I love myself and have a wonderful plan for my life. It’s called happiness. But God loves me more than I love myself, and he has another plan for my life. It’s called holiness.” Jesus calls us to take up our cross, not our Barcalounger.
In his hymn “Am I a Soldier of the Cross” Isaac Watts asked:
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize
And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
Brothers and sisters, this world is not a friend to grace. Let’s sell our yachts. Let’s seek first the kingdom and its righteousness. Let’s say with the hymn writer, “Jesus, Savior, pilot me.”
Steve Hoogerhyde is a Ruling Elder.