For a moment think about a small boat or raft. The kind of vessel you’d see on a small lake or slow-moving river. It’s not a large boat, but one that is rowed with a set of oars. I’ve been in a few of those. Sometimes for fun just to see if I could do it. A few times to fish places that couldn’t be reached from the shore. Sometimes the rowing was easy. More than once it felt like hard work and wasted effort with little movement to show for it.
A few years ago my walk with Jesus felt about the same way. Lots of struggle, plenty of effort, but little in the way of progress or fruit. I compared those days to walking in a fog so dense that I could barely make out where to step next. Maybe you’ve had days or even years like that too.
What I must share with you today not only impacts those days of struggle but also the days when everything is fantastic. In some ways, those easy days lie to us and give us a sense of self-empowerment. We can do it, we’ve done it before. This makes the days of struggle that much more difficult as we row and row and row, expecting the same outcome but experiencing only failure. Perhaps you’ve been there as well.
So often in our walk with Jesus we assume that if we do the right things, avoid the items on our sin list, say the right things, have the right attitudes, give of our time, money, and resources that everything will be rosy. Our lives will be fantastic, our ministry will be effective, and our prayers will be answered. When that doesn’t happen, we row harder and increase our efforts until we’re exhausted, burned out, and jaded about following Jesus. Maybe we’re doing this all wrong.
We know well the promise of Isaiah 40:31, “Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” (Isaiah 40:31, NASB95) How often do we read those words and put the emphasis on the outcome of soaring, running, and walking instead of the beginning words, “those who wait for the Lord”?
That’s what I’ve learned and am still learning. There is power in waiting for the Lord. There is fruitful effectiveness in setting aside our oars and raising the sail to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit. There is a purposeful direction in quietly listening for the whisper of the Holy Spirit to guide our steps.
Waiting doesn’t mean that we stop doing the things we know to do or go off in our own direction until God pulls us back. Waiting is a time of preparation, a time to redirect our strength, a time to refine our purpose. It’s the same kind of waiting that we observe in the disciples between Christ’s ascension and Pentecost.
That waiting may be for only a breath as we listen for how to pray for someone. It could also be for a season of life as God prepares us to move in a new direction. I’ve seen and experienced both periods of waiting. Yet, I make no claims to be good at it. I’m still learning how to raise the sails and catch the wind of the Spirit and how to wait expectantly without knowing what comes next. There is still struggle but instead of rowing harder I’m lifting the sail higher.
Raising our sails to catch the wind of the Spirit is a risky thing. You never know, nor can you predict, which way the Spirit will take you. What you can rest in, what you can be assured of, is that wherever, however, and whatever the Holy Spirit takes you it will be powerful, effective, and fruitful.
For instance, I didn’t know that the Holy Spirit would blow us into a new fellowship family at the Vineyard Church Peoria or grow Lambchow from a personal blog to a full-on ministry. Likewise, I don’t know what will happen if you dare to raise the sail, but I know it’s going to be good.
Author Note: While I’ve seen the core truth of this message for some time but I must credit Bill MakElhaney from the Rolling Hills Vineyard Church in Valparaiso Indiana for the rowing/sailing metaphor.