River Wild: An Adventure In Worship

Featuring Branon Dempsey Posted on July 8, 2009

The question is not "have you ever," but "how often have you" found yourself out of your comfort zone and in an unlikable situation? Let's say you are lost and stranded in a wilderness. How do you deal with the elements and natural resources in order to survive? A wilderness is both a physical geography as well as an to a psychological state of mind.  When we were born, we came into the world kicking and screaming. Over time, we have adjusted to the conveniences and comforts of a domesticated life. We dislike events and conditions that counteract our familiar way of living. What happens when we are faced with life's obstacles and danger? Is there a will to survive? Stubbornness is a double edged sword. It will help you develop a refusal to give into situations, however it can blind your sense of navigation and lead you astray.

From time to time, I meet up with a buddy at the gym. John is a 67 year-old, energetic, sharp and friendly man. Yesterday, he and I were in a discussion about recreation. John mentioned that he enjoys a good 30 mile walk. What? I asked him what is at the other end of the 30 miles that is so appealing. He replied, "adventure." John went on to tell me that "for fun," he loves traveling to various countries around the world in search of tough terrain and harsh environments. From deserts, jungles, forests and mountains, John will intentionally get lost, survive off the land and would find a way out. He would spend two or three days in the wild, when others (like myself) prefer to stay at Club Med. All in the name of "fun," right?

John is the real Survivor Man. Intrigued about his background, I asked if he was in the military and was specialized for this kind of nature-nut and die-hard mentality at such an seasoned age. He told me that he was in Special Forces, a Green Beret in the U.S. Army, during the Vietnam War, fighting in the river jungles of the Northern Territory. Immediately, I shook his hand and thanked him for his service to our country. My dad was also in Special Forces as an Army Airborne Ranger - Purple Heart, diving deep into the mud and blood of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Side note: Any soldier is to be thanked and honored as they serve or have served our great nation. Soldiers and those in Special Forces are highly trained and specialized units; they see an underworld of terror and violence on the enemy lines that no one else experiences. We never know the extreme sacrifice and close-to-death situations they face on our behalf. However, we see the value of their bravery and honorable duty in every instance and right that we partake in our American freedom. There are many U.S. military men and women who visit Worship Team Training and we salute you. Thank you men and women for your honor, courage and bravery around the world in defending human life and in defending the United States of America.

My buddy John went on to tell me, by parachute or vehicle, he would be deployed in the jungles of Columbia, the deserts of Arizona or in a mountain valley in Africa. He will have only two items, a canteen of water and a river map. He will be at least 30-50 miles from the smallest civilization. No satellite/cell phone. No radio/electronics. No compass. Only friends know his whereabouts; they will meet him at the end of his journey. A river map is essential. If you can locate a water source, you can survive from dehydration and starvation. A river is the best way to navigate through your surroundings as they also provide resources for survival. Because they flow downward, rivers always lead to an opening or better still, they lead to civilization.

Our need to survive and will to live is parallel to our spiritual lives. We only need two items, Water and a Map. Jesus said in John 7.37 "...Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink." Psalm 119.105 says, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." Jesus, our Messiah, Healer and Provider is our living water. He is our river and source of life. The waves of his love washes away our dirt, pain and shame. The purity of His holiness is far more satisfying than any other drink known to man. The current of His grace directs us to the grandeur of his intimate mercy. His word lights our path to find the way home. When we feed from His word, we are filled with good things. It is health of our flesh and strength to our bones. The presence of the Triune God and the Word of God are our two basic dependancies.

I often think about my times in the wilderness. Thankful to have survived and thankful to thrive through the current journey. How do you find a way out when you are dry, empty and lost? Our skin becomes cracked, our spirit grows weak and our bones ache. I liken these conditions to David in the Psalms where he says: "When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long." (Ps. 32.3) Now that's a wilderness.

It is a deep pit to feel that we are alone. The truth is, we are never alone because we are found in Him. A dear mentor of mine, Buddy Owens said, "if you are looking for God and can't find him (even in our despair and tragedy), stop and worship Him and He will come and find you." You see, God is the Seeker, we are the respondent. When we are lost, He finds us. When we are empty, he fills; when we are destitute, He takes us by the hand and leads us home. Seeing the reality of God in this perception makes our discomforts and obstacles manageable. More over, we may feel the affects, but we are never without. He holds us even closer in the grip of His grace, within the cloak of his robe.

I am thankful of my friend John and hearing of his adventurous stories. My appreciation and respect has grown in learning what it means to survive and thrive. From a worship standpoint, no desert, valley, jungle or mountain can ever separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39). When circumstances enclose you or you feel that you are far from God, stop and let Him find you. When we lose our way, He finds us; we find these passages that say: "The lamp of the LORD searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being," (Prov. 20:27). The Spirit searches the deep things of God (1 Cor. 2.10); even when we do not know what to pray: "And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will," (Rom 8.27).

If God searches us (the spirit of man) and the Spirit of Christ is within man, then we are always found as God persistently seeks, rescues and restores us unto Himself. Among other illustrations, when you look at the whole Bible, the Scriptures emphasize two major themes: Rescue and Redemption. Thanks be to God for never giving up on us in His unfailing love. Praise be to His mercy and grace to provide streams in the desert and to Him who restores our being.

Isaiah 43:19-21 (New International Version)

 19 See, I am doing a new thing!
       Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
       I am making a way in the desert
       and streams in the wasteland.

 20 The wild animals honor me,
       the jackals and the owls,
       because I provide water in the desert
       and streams in the wasteland,
       to give drink to my people, my chosen,

 21 the people I formed for myself
       that they may proclaim my praise.

God is always with us. Just as comforting is the blessing and help we find in friends. Next time you're in a wilderness and see a 67 year old man, with a canteen and a spark in his step, just know it's John, looking for another adventure. Say hello and he will be glad to give you a hand.