Paddle

You may think that as an ‘adventurous’ family, we are skilled at all things adventure. It may come across that we are ‘naturals’ at the activities we do in nature. Our photos may give the impression that we do these things with ease. And though this may be true about some of our endeavors, it’s certainly not true of them all.

Take canoeing, for example.

Each summer I gladly and confidently hop into the front of one of these unstable, narrow vessels having somehow blocked out the memories of how poor I am at paddling! I’m quickly put in my place, though, with the first strong gust of wind or direction-changing current. I can turn on the elbow-grease for a few minutes and attempt to remember some of the “special strokes” to help us recover, but it always seems like I don’t have much to offer!

However, as my well-schooled-in-canoeing husband always reminds me in those moments, my job at the front of the boat is simply to paddle. The steering and guiding of the boat is his job from the back, and as long as I am willing to consistently put the oar in the water and pull back, no special strokes or skills are required!

How kind the Lord is! How good he is!
So merciful, this God of ours!
The Lord protects those of childlike faith;
I was facing death, and he saved me.
Let my soul be at rest again,
for the Lord has been good to me.
He has saved me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
And so I walk in the Lord’s presence
as I live here on earth!
(Psalm 116:5-9)

The writer of this Psalm, overwhelmed with the goodness of God in his life, wonders in verse 12:

What can I offer the Lord
for all he has done for me?

Although we can in no way ‘make things right’ or attempt to ‘balance the scales’ for all that God has done (even a lifetime of effort couldn’t make up for an ounce of just the gift of salvation through Christ!), we do have something to offer Him. We can’t pay Him back, but we can show our gratitude by giving our minds, hearts, ears, voices, hands, and feet to the work He’s doing on this earth!

Unfortunately, for many of us, we put our paddle in the water, run into a pile of waves, and panic – feeling like what we have to offer is totally inadequate. But I think we could learn a few things from the widow in Luke 21.

While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.” (Luke 21:1-4)

Of all the gifts dropped off at the temple that day, Jesus pointed this one out because it was different. Being God, He knew what was going on in the widow’s heart and knew what had been going on in her heart up to that point – and He wanted everyone else to know, too.

Jesus knew that in order to even begin her journey to the temple that day, she had to admit that she had next to nothing to offer. As a widow in this time and culture, she likely had no way of providing for herself. Those two small coins were all she had and in that moment of decision to pick them up and start walking, she had to be willing to admit to herself and anyone else who would be aware of her offering, that she was poor. She had to admit that in comparison to the other gifts offered that day, what she brought to the collection boxes was very small.

Jesus also knew that she had to be brave enough to offer it – even if it meant humiliation. This was a huge risk because of the public nature of the offering. She would be opening herself up to potential ridicule over her small gift. She might even be scolded and told not to even bother giving it! In the face of all the impressive gifts being given, she would surely be looked down on by others.

And lastly, Jesus knew that she had to be willing to give it all. If she was going to give anything, she had no choice but to give all that she had! And she did. In the original language, instead of saying she gave “everything she has” it says she gave her “bios” – her “livelihood” – she gave the entire means she had of sustaining her “life” at that time.

Jesus pointed this out, making clear to everyone who was listening that an offering is more about the size of the willingness than the size of the gift! Whenever you offer your mind, heart, ears, voice, hands, or feet to serve, you’ll likely feel that what you have to offer is drastically “less” than what others are offering. But the work of God’s Kingdom is not about the impressiveness of your talents and skills – it’s about your willingness to consistently and simply paddle.

What can I offer the Lord
for all he has done for me?

In comparison to what God has offered me – I have next to nothing. His kindness, goodness, mercy, protection, and salvation are things I can’t even comprehend, let alone match. But “next to” nothing is still something! Whoever you are – you have something to offer. There is some way that God is calling you to get involved in His Kingdom work. It may not be impressive, but at the very least you have hands and feet that can mop a floor or prepare a meal!

Like the widow, though, you have to be brave enough to offer it – even if it means humiliation. When you put yourself out there to serve, there’s a 100% chance of awkward, a 100% chance of feeling inadequate, a 100% chance of feeling like you’re not making a difference, a 100% chance of failure (on some level), and a 100% chance someone won’t approve of your offering. The question is – are you willing to offer what you have anyway?

The hardest part about being the front-paddler in a canoe is trusting that what you’re doing is helping! According to canoehowto.com’s instructions on canoeing basics, “It’s hard, but the paddler in the front must resist the urge to steer! That’s entirely the responsibility of the person in the stern (back) of the canoe, you’ll end up working against them if you try.”* In those moments when the canoe seems to be headed off-course and you’re efforts aren’t making a difference, you can trust that the back-paddler is in control and will get you to your destination!

We have a tendency to hold back when it comes to serving – not because we think we’re too good for it or because we’re selfishly holding on to what we have to offer, but because we don’t understand how valuable our small offering is. God doesn’t need you to serve, He can do whatever He needs to do on His own (yep, He’s that good!). But He has uniquely formed your whole life, your “bios”, to be an offering.

We can’t pay God back, but we can offer our lives to be involved in what He is doing in this world. You may have next to nothing, but next to nothing is still something. If you’ll just take a couple wobbly steps into the boat and start paddling, He will steer and guide your effort exactly where He wants it to go!

*https://www.canoehowto.com/canoeing-basics/how-to-paddle-a-canoe/

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