Thursday, March 18, 2010

River of No Return

I am happy to share a bit of writing from one of my favorite devotional books, By the River of No Return, by Don Ian Smith. Mr. Smith passed to his eternal home in 2007- here is a link to a page his son has prepared, and who graciously gave me permission to post from his father's writings.  Thank you Rockwell Smith for responding to my email!

To one who enjoys the out-of-doors, one of the greatest experiences possible is a trip on the Salmon River, Idaho’s famed “River of No Return” that runs from east to west across the state through a wilderness, through a canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. This river runs so fast and through such a wilderness, you know when you start the trip that you are going all the way, no matter what! There can be no turning back. So for several days you ride the rapids, trusting completely in your boat and your guide, knowing that if these fail, all is lost; yet knowing with a certain sense of joy and wonder that the boat and the guide are trustworthy.
For me, the River of No Return has become a symbol of life. Yesterday is always gone forever, a part of the river we have already run. Tomorrow is always unknown, a part of the river that lies ahead, around a bend, hidden by the towering walls of the canyon. But we do not fear. With confidence in a God who is trustworthy and guides us, carried by a faith that sustains us and our fellow believers in the church, we find a sense of joy and wonder as we make the trip, looking always ahead to that which God has prepared for them that love Him.

Watching a boat slip away from the dock at Salmon to begin the long journey- usually about ten days- down the river, one is gripped by the seriousness of a journey on which there can be no going back; a journey on which the only hope lies in pressing onward toward the goal of a safe passage. Often, as I see a baby who has just started the journey of life, I am gripped with the same feeling. Surely his only hope lies in making a safe passage on a river which permits no going back. The human spirit must be ever pressing forward for something better tomorrow; always seeking the joy, wonder, and excitement of a one-way trip through fascinating country. How often we try to live as if we could go back. We spend hours yearning for “good old days” that can never come again. Jesus was thinking of this when He said, “He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom.” It is His way of saying that we cannot drive safely in life by watching the rearview mirror. The story of Lot’s wife points out this same truth. When the future was calling her, she kept looking back to the past, and she turned into the most useless thing one can imagine- a pillar of salt in a thirsty, parched desert.

We cannot go back, but we can press on, with the living God as our helper in facing problems and overcoming them. We can live with a faith that will make good the days that are ahead. Life is a river of no return. Its destiny is always by some distant sea where we have never been and from which we will never return. There is always a restlessness; an eagerness to be on its way. There is really never any stopping for anything. As Christians, we should know that though there have been some interesting and exciting things on the upper reaches of the river, with God’s guidance there are greater things ahead downstream. We hear the rapids, we tighten the buckles on our life jackets, and we accept the challenge of the rapids with joy and hope. We see the bend in the river and the steep canyon walls. We do not look with fear. Like Abraham, we lift up our eyes to a distant land and go forth, not knowing the way, but knowing God has promised us the land.
Sometimes we wish we could see into the future; perhaps send a scout down the river ahead of us to tell us what is there. But it is not that way. God says, “Live by faith. I have brought you safely this far and I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” Maybe the next bend in the river is the last one, or perhaps it is just the beginning of a long stretch of peace. We do not know. We cannot know. In terms of eternity, it really doesn’t matter very much as long as we are riding the river with joy and love, confident that we are in His hands. So we move on down the river, in faith and gladness, free of worry about tomorrow, free to enjoy the scenery and the excitement and fellowship of our fellow travelers today. We look toward tomorrow knowing that because of the Father’s love, it will be good.

from the book "By the River of No Return" by Don Ian Smith- rancher, teacher, preacher, pastor, river-rider!

(all pictures are of the Salmon River in Idaho and came from Google Images)

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