Warnings & Rescues

In most circumstances, when men hear a warning siren, it’s a good idea for us to pay attention. After all, they don’t usually blow those things just for fun. It usually means, “Heads up, something dramatic and dangerous is about to happen.” Prudence demands that we pay attention.

So, what do we do when our Father is standing out in the middle of the current, calling us away from the shore and safety, despite the warning? That depends on what kind of Father we have. Is he likely to mean us harm? Is his nature that of a prankster, hoping to catch us in calamity? Is he heartless, not caring a whit for the welfare of his own?

No, in this case, we have a good Father, and his invitation is to adventure, which contains risk, and to the reward that comes from a trial rightly considered.

Our band set off that morning relishing the unseasonably warm January weather and eager for a memorable outing with friends and ministry brothers-in-arms. These are men who engage in a shared mission for the hearts of others with courage and tenacity, but our wilderness qualifications are varied. Some have received significant training, but most of us hold down a swivel chair at the office more often than we tackle the wilder parts of the world. We’re ordinary guys looking for adventure and a deeper friendship with God. We’d planned to hike in pairs for safety, under a discipline of silence, with a set of questions to consider which invited us beneath the surface of our lives and into the deeper places of relationship with our Father.

The adventure was simple. Cross a dry riverbed to an island and navigate by map and compass to the far end, about two miles, where a lunch fire would be waiting. The island contains no marked trails and many deceiving ridges that can lead a hiker off the best course. It posed a challenge to most of us who use a Garmin more often than a Silva, but certainly achievable. Remember that siren?

That “dry” riverbed sits below a diversion dam that holds back half the flow of a major river, diverting it to the west side of our target island. As we soon discovered, when that siren blares, a dam release is beginning, which has the potential to convert our “dry” channel to a full-fledged river.

We heard the siren just as we began to launch our first pair of hikers. A check of the hearts of our leaders revealed that our Heavenly Father was still calling us out into the adventure. “After all,” we figured, “how much water are they really going to release?”

A lot. They released a whole lot. And as our crossing transformed from the forecasted boulder hopping entertainment of 30 minutes to the lengthy search for safe passage of two hours, we began to realize that the questions we were given to consider had taken on a whole new meaning.

The second question, in particular, seemed to jump out to me as I considered what was happening and what I’d led these men into.

It is a lot different to make plans and choose a route when you’re out in the middle of the woods than when you’re looking at a map in the safety and comfort of your living room. Making decisions about which route to take and what to expect over the next hill all relate closely to walking the path of life.
– How do you involve God in your life decision-making process?
– What do you do when things come up in your path that you didn’t expect or when the path doesn’t lead where you hoped it would?

I admitted to myself and to my brother hiking with me that I was struggling to find a helpful interpretation for the events of the day. After all, would these guys be able to find God in the midst of the frustration and danger they were experiencing? Would they all make it back safely? Would we have to call 911?

I realized that I was being tempted to shoulder the burden of whether or not each man in our group would make the best decisions on how to handle his heart. Father was quick to gently point out how crippling it would be to attempt to carry the responsibility for each man’s internal response to adversity. Yes, I’d led them into more than we’d bargained for, but what would be the fruit of my current way of thinking? Frustration, at best. Despair and disqualification, not far behind.

You see, I often feel, if I can just arrange things well enough, with enough clever thought and a flawless execution, then all will be well and those around me will be happy. It’s a crippling way to live, and Father has been going after this in my heart for years, carefully guiding me into more maturity.

God pointed out to me that each man on the hike had his own decisions to make, both in how he’d conduct himself and interact with his brothers, but also how he would internally process and interpret the events of the day, his role in them, and the outcomes he experienced. The weight of those decisions was each man’s to bear, not mine. Father had called me to obedience in my own attitude and choices, to leading well and responding as his son. Acknowledging this truth and reorienting my heart to align with this interpretation was not just a relief, it was a rescue.

Nine of us became stuck attempting the river crossing, but we made it back to the near shore by lunchtime, where we lit a merry blaze and proceeded to scorch our socks and melt our boots in an attempt to recover from our unexpected baths. As we enjoyed our lunches and celebratory cigars, we debriefed about what we’d experienced and many of the men shared that the spiritual impact of the experience was greater than they’d expected.

Four of our men, however, had accomplished the original mission, making it to the island and hiking all the way to the original lunch destination at the far end. On their return, these four were now faced with a river in full flow where they’d easily crossed some damp rocks only hours before.

Each of these four men are experienced outdoorsmen, with stout hearts and strong bodies. Two of them were leaders of the day’s expedition, sent ahead to prepare for the group’s lunchtime arrival. Not only do these men regularly walk the wilderness paths, but they also daily walk with God in friendship and unity. If anyone could guide their group to safety, it was these two.

Even knowing all these facts, my heart began to fear. I felt powerless to help them as they faced several very poor route options, each of which held the very real threat of injury, or worse. I had sent these men into harm’s way, and now I was safe on shore and they were stranded in the middle of the river.

In those moments of self-reproach and powerlessness, Jesus came and rescued me once again. He knew where those guys were and was there with them. He also knew where I was and he was there to catch my heart. He offered his interpretation of events and I clung to it like a lifeline.

On the island, the men looked for any boat traffic that might pick them up, but found none on this seldom-used body of water. They were faced with the prospect of either attempting to swim the channels that had developed in the once-dry boulder field, hoping to be able to scramble out of the frigid water onto the slick boulders on the far side, or crossing the top of the diversion dam, which now had six inches of water coursing over its quarter-mile length. The river channel was deeper than the tallest of them could stand, but the dam stood fifteen feet above the rocks below, threatening certain injury should any of them lose his footing.

I paced back and forth on the far side of the dam, wishing there was something I could do to physically aid the men on the island. I couldn’t see them because of the curve of the dam and the trees that obscured their position on the far side. Thankfully, we had good cell signal, and as we discussed their options, it became clear that they were leaning towards attempting the dam crossing.

From where I was standing, I couldn’t see the channels they’d have to cross, but I was staring at that dam and the fall that awaited any misplaced step. Returning to the seed of peace that Jesus had planted in my heart, I told the team that I didn’t think the dam was the best course, but I couldn’t see through their eyes and trusted them to make the best decision. Immediately turning to Father in prayer, I asked for his steady hand of protection to surround my friends.

It was some time before we realized that they had begun to cross the dam. As they came into sight around the corner, my heart leaped into my throat, praying desperately that their footing would be sure and that they’d be able to cross safely. It took almost 30 minutes, but mercifully, they made it across with cold, wet legs as their only concern. The sense of relief when they were all gathered around the fire with us was palpable. In that place where Father had planted the seed of peace, there was now a fountain of joy.

Adventure is rarely as simple as it appears; our lives, even less so. As our band of brothers headed home, I was stuck by the realization that, in a way, even though the four of them had been stranded on the island, the one who Father rescued today was me.