‘Pull! Pull! Catch and Drive! In, Away!’ shouted the arched bridge as it echoed its endorsement to the coxed-four gliding underneath it. The rhythmic sound of seats rolling up and down on runners soothes throbbing hearts as oarsmen draw collected breath. ‘In, Out!’ a gurgle of water, followed by the swish of feathered oars. The sight of four crisp puddles disappearing at rapid intervals in the water behind spurs the oarsmen on as fresh sweat drips off ends of noses. ‘Catch and Drive!’ as oars continuously punch holes in Glasgow’s River Clyde.
A five-kilometre ‘Head of the River’ race is the order of the day where obstacles to be avoided en-route include things visible and invisible. Visible: the usual sandbanks and all things floating – e.g., a mother duck with infant family in train. Invisible: patches of ‘dead water’ lurking around every bend. A good cox is he who skilfully negotiates obstacles and takes his crew where the river runs fastest – living waters.
As strong as their weakest man, weary oarsmen travelling backwards revive upon hearing the – at first very faint but growing ever louder – cries of support from the finish line. Calloused hands tighten their grip on blades that flash their club’s colours. Like iron-filings to a magnet the hair on the back of the neck begins to stand to attention as the finish line draws a deep breath, sucking the boat towards it. The adrenalin released at the start of the race begins to recirculate. ‘Pull! Pull!’ Lungs burn hot. Stop-clocks tick. Heart rates and rowing ratings rise. ‘C’mon Loch!’ The boys from Loch Lomond may yet win the day! ‘Lord, give them strength to glorify You in all they do!’ ‘Pull! Pull!’
Jehovah-Jesus says, ‘Come unto Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give You rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’ Matthew 11:28-30.
‘Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them… He came to them, walking on the sea and would have passed them by. And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marvelled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.’ Mark 6:47-52.
The calloused heart does not understand the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and so continues to row hopelessly against the wind. But to welcome and to have Jesus on board is to be of good cheer, for He, by His Spirit, is at the helm of creation and everything in it. ‘Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah…’ He knows where the living waters are. For, Scripture says, ‘There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.’ Psalm 46:4. Jesus is the living water, for ‘the Word became flesh and tabernacled with us.’ John 1:14. And He says, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow living waters.’ John 7:37-38. Therefore the Christian sings, ‘Open now the crystal fountain, whence the healing stream doth flow…’ (William Williams).
Dear reader, as you row down life’s river, how are you treating God and other people? Are you simply as it were rowing over the top of the mother duck and her young? Are you entangled in the dead branches of sin? Stuck on the sandbar of autonomy? Rowing against the wind? Then turn to God in Jesus Christ. Seek His forgiveness for all your sins. For, God is the ‘fountain of living waters.’ (Jeremiah 2:13). ‘How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures. For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.’ Psalm 36:7-9.