We sat with our life jackets buckled, paddles in hand, and minds filled with excited (and maybe a tiny bit of nervous) anticipation as a Nantahala River Guide gave us our official instructions. It was finally “rafting day” of our North Carolina vacation and even though almost everyone in our group had done this before, it was good to get a refresher on the basics: like how to hold the paddle (T-grip only!) and where to sit (“Crack-on-crack,” of course).
But one piece of advice caught us by surprise.
The Nantahala River is famous for its fast flowing freezing cold water and steady, moderate rapids – making it a perfect trip for tourist beginners who want to get a taste of the “white-water scene”. But, like many of its counterparts, the Nantahala also has a reputation for being dangerous – even deadly.
And so, some of the most important instructions involve what to do if you or someone you are rafting with falls out of the boat. The funny thing is that many of these recommendations seem to be the opposite of our human instinct!
For example, if you were to have the unfortunate experience of falling out of your raft, your instinct might be to put your feet down and try to stand up. Instead, though, you are to float on your back with your feet out of the water until the others in your raft can get to you.
Along those lines, if someone in your raft does take that accidental polar plunge, it’s now your responsibility to pull them back into the boat. There are several ways to do this: Hold a paddle out to them, grab them by the life jacket, or dunk them.
You could hear the nervous laughter go through our little audience – “Ha ha, he’s totally kidding, right?” Our un-white-water-educated brains could not comprehend this!
“No, I’m serious!” he said. “If you’re struggling to pull someone up, pushing them under will allow the life jacket to do what it was designed to do – propel them up and out of the water, giving you that extra boost you need to get them into the raft.”
As I read the words of Jesus, I find that He spent a great many of them preparing His people for what was to come. When He told the disciples about His departure from this earth, they were understandably nervous! But then He told them that it was actually going to be to their advantage that He go away.
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
Just like those original disciples, we often have a hard time wrapping our limited minds around what God is doing. In fact, our biggest questions often come down to, “If God is in control, why does He allow bad things happen to His people?” and “If God loves me, then why is my life so hard right now?”
I’ve been right there with you in those questions. I’ve experienced the plunge into those raging waters that felt like they were going to consume me. And at times I’ve even felt that rather than rescuing me, God was actually pushing me further under.
But it’s in those desperate, weak, and sinking moments where the Helper – the Holy Spirit – goes to work. That’s where, like that life jacket, He begins His job of propelling us upward.
Because it’s the helpless who know they need an Advocate.
It’s the hurting who will cry out for a Comforter.
It’s the lost who will admit their need for a Guide.
It’s the broken who will listen to the Reminder of God’s mercy and love.
It’s the weak who will depend on His Power.
It’s the dead who know they have no hope except to be brought back to life in Him.*
It may go completely against our human instinct, and of course the Spirit’s work is not limited to us being “down,” but sometimes that extra “dunk” is exactly what allows Him to propel us right out of the pit!
Thankfully, none of us actually needed to apply our rafting guide’s advice that day – we all stayed safe and (relatively) dry in the boat. But, there was no hesitation in keeping our life jackets tightly buckled and our minds prepared for what might be headed our way.
So maybe the next time I feel like I’m sinking, instead of going into panic mode, instead of trying to put my feet down and stand on my own, I’ll simply surrender and allow my Helper to do His thing.
Because it turns out that dunk may be to my great advantage.
*John 14:16-17 (NIV/ASV), John 16:13, John 14:26, Romans 15:13, Titus 3:5-6
(Originally posted August 2015)