Regardless of the size of a river, its waters move between rocks and cliffs, muddy shores, marshy reeds and fertile agricultural soil awash in its nutrients. The Mississippi River, whether small and hidden in the highlands of Lanark County, or famously wide and flowing powerfully through regions of vast population, carries the same blessing of life along its banks to whatever it touches.
The grand scale of a main artery bringing barges and cargo ships through the heart of an economic center able to supply water for large numbers of people makes meandering tributaries appear insignificant. In contrast with this large river whose watershed drains parts of many states, the same named tributary of the Ottawa River, itself a tributary to the St. Lawrence River, is likely unknown to most who live beyond its immediate influence. Yet both cover their respective landscapes with thirst quenching hope as it is received from yet smaller channels carrying rain and surface runoff, eventually making their way to the sea.
If you happen to be serving in a small and hidden way, a remote rural charge, a caregiver’s role, an unseen faithfulness, a dedicated diligence in a duty no one else wants to do, you may at times come to feel as though you don’t measure up in comparison to the grand effect of a widely recognized ministry. Your perseverance along paths unknown to most is not likely marked on the topographical map of perceived importance. Your quiet surrender to uncharted waters of spiritual growth in the context of real struggles to become more like Christ in the depths of your heartaches are perhaps observed externally as going nowhere, of little effect. Yet tiny ‘pure and poor in heart’ brooklets weaving through forest floors and fields are essential to the health of ecosystems along the way supplying the larger waterways with their impressive volume and flow. And so are you.
Receptacles of God’s love, we move through the unique channels of our circumstances Spirit led whether in rivers with many others on wide open waters where all can see and cheer one another on, or sitting by little creeks of quiet integrity where silent clouds of witnesses gone ahead drift overhead as the only encouraging crowd. Cool waters running fresh wherever they are found suspect the thirst we sometimes try to hide and draw us to their edge to drink the blessing of wholeness and health each time the invitation to ‘come to the waters of life in Christ’ springs up.
Regardless of the river size, the ripple effect of our faith spreads across the surface of influence where we are. It reaches the waiting shores of those who may be straining to hear the echo of their souls in the lapping sounds of someone else immersed in making sense of where the source of life is to be found in terms which resonate with the realities of the banks on which they live. The incoming waves of many faithful people across the watershed of places we have lived have renewed me in countless small ways.
Greatness in smallness. Smallness in greatness.
“And Jesus called [the disciples] to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his live a ransom for many.’ (Mark 10: 42-45)
The distance a river covers is not determined by its width or grandeur. It is the length it will travel to make its crucial contribution to the whole as one interconnected part of the hydrological cycle cooperating with precipitation, springs, groundwater, and tributaries. It is the strength of movement to push through whatever terrain or weather it meets along the way.
The river of God’s love flows from the height of heaven, its source a pure heart of ever melting compassion to reach the wide sea of our human need. It runs through rivers of obedient baptism and lakes of stormy squalls; through rivulets of tears and wooden stakes of bloody sacrifice on our behalf; through current currents of his all surrounding presence.
Our descent to humbly follow him through wilderness rivers far from admiring eyes requires fortitude to fall over stumbling stones and crawl through boggy blessings in disguise; to leap from cliffs in faith and lie low below dry riverbeds of doubts and darkest nights until we rise again in resurrection scenes. We wisely let the Spirit chart our course and find that both powerless might and powerful weakness is in the smallest hand of one who cups this gracious love and lets it flow through them to others one by one, drop by drop.
I wonder to what small and hidden lengths we will go to be submerged in him and bring his living water to the world in whatever situation he calls us to serve?
‘Lord, wash us in refreshing streams to sweep away all thought that, like the world, you measure us in cubit ft/sec flow as if we did this journey on our own to earn our way. We are held by your firm embrace. From beginning to end, it is the cleansing water of your mercy carrying us upstream against our sin to live within your reservoir of love which hydrates us with hope. May we move by faith into the world with freedom to love in great and small ways through your saving waters alone.
And for the one whose strength may be down to a trickle in small river passages of isolation, show a detailed map which notes how every drop of love not wasted serves to replenish the earth with grace. May joy be released in our hearts to bubble up in praise, waves of undiluted worship and wonder that in our weakness, you are strong. Amen.’