You Gotta Raise the Flag

Whitewater rafting is all fun and games until someone falls out of the boat. It might also be funny if that someone isn’t you — but only after they're safely back in the boat. We experienced this on a family trip when our kids were little. The timing was perfect, so I have the pictures to prove it.

The professional photographer stationed himself at the perfect place to catch the sequential unplanned exiting of the boat by my husband. The kids and I never knew what was happening until I turned around and he just wasn’t there anymore.

The pictures capture the exhilaration and excitement on our faces as we were blissfully unaware that dad was going overboard. We can laugh about the experience now because my husband paid attention and knew what to do. One of the first things they teach you in whitewater rafting is to hold up your oar so your rescuers can take hold and pull you to safety when you go overboard.

If only signaling our need for help in the rest of life could be that easy.

If only we were that willing.

Have you ever stopped to consider that the enemy has been shooting poisonous arrows at us since long before we ever joined the fight? We’ve been under his attack since the moment we drew our first breath. Our memories might not recall the details of those early years, but hearts do. What we experienced as infants shaped our beliefs about whether we were safe and loved, or vulnerable and alone.

Once we became old enough to hold memories, we filled our heads with images both good and bad. Sadly, it is most often the bad ones that have shaped our lives the most. Hurtful words said to us on the playground. Critical comments from a parent. Ostracism by someone we thought of as a friend. And these are just the beginning, the very surface level of the painful and crippling arrows we have received.

These moments shaped us, fractured us, tore us apart, and left us believing we are less than who God says we are.

Having a physical wound can alter the way we do things or keep us from certain movements or activities. In the same way, emotional, psychological, and spiritual wounds hinder the movement of our hearts. We aren’t free to experience the fullness of life or the nearness of unconditional love because our wounds won’t let us move in that direction.

They keep us from risking big things because we fear greater pain might come. They keep us from loving ourselves because we see only the damaged part. They make us feel unworthy or weak, taking away our ability to believe God loves us and wants to heal and redeem us.

And Satan rejoices. He doesn’t have to kill us. He only needs to wound us. We’ll do the rest ourselves. As long as we hide the wounds, refusing to do the painful work of healing, he can bring them out at any time, pulling us out of the boat and into the churning, deadly water.

Maybe you are in the boat right now, clinging to everything you can get your fingers around and your toes tucked under, trying not to slip in the violent tossing of the waves. Or maybe you’ve already gone over the side. You’re in over your head, struggling to catch a breath or find which way is up.

This world does not offer us a peaceful float down a quiet river, and I’d say at a minimum we’ve hit some Class IV rapids these past few months. These rapids are intense, and the risk is often in the moderate to high category. In Class IV rapids, the water condition is so dangerous it makes self-rescue difficult. Help is needed for successful rescue.

And these aren’t even the strongest rapids we might experience. They are often much worse.

But friends, we gotta reach out. We gotta reach up. We gotta let someone know we are drowning.

There is no shame in this. Wounds are not a sign of weakness. They are proof that we are a threat to the enemy. He wouldn’t have wasted an arrow on someone who was not a threat to him.

The thing to remember about a whitewater rescue is that it works best when the rescuer is trained, when he or she has the knowledge and skills necessary to recognize the undercurrents, and the strength to break us free of the water’s hold and get us back in the boat alive. Therefore, who we surround ourselves with matters. Others who are drowning can’t help you. Others who don’t know what drowning looks like or are too wrapped up in the world to see can’t help you.

If people have let you down, it may be because they aren't equipped or in the right place to be your rescuer.

But don’t be deceived into believing rescue is impossible, that there’s no one there for you.

Peter was one of the most humanly flawed people mentioned in the Bible. He was passionate and impulsive, and leaped to wrong conclusions on more than one occasion. In Matthew 14 he sees Jesus walking on water and he wants that. Peter wanted to live life to the fullest, so he got out of the boat. Then he remembered something.

He was a human.

Peter may have recalled past failures, the times when he got it wrong (which were many). He may have remembered his wounds. His attention went to the strength of the waves and the weakness of his human body. And he began to sink.

“And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him" (Matthew 14:31).

Can we believe that Jesus is in the water with us, standing at the ready to rescue us from the crashing waves? We should.

His word tells us, “Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Years ago we lived near a Mexican food restaurant that placed little flags on the tables. When we were ready for them to bring warm, delicious sopapillas, all we had to do was raise the flag. If you’ve never tried a fresh, hot sopapilla, then you might not understand that this was like signaling down manna from heaven. Delicious.

But before I could receive this little taste of heaven, I had to signal my need by raising the flag. In the same manner, the servers had to watch for my signal and know what it meant.

Are you willing to admit you want something more than the fraction of a life you’ve been living? Are you willing to reach up and let someone know you are drowning, but you want back in the boat?

Or have you told yourself you don’t deserve more, and no one would come, anyway?

This is the deadliest arrow the enemy can shoot into our hearts. It is a lie, but as long as we let this one linger, he knows we’ll never be able to fight. We wouldn’t dare try in our wounded and weakened condition.

Peter reached up. He raised his flag with a cry of “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30).

Maybe raising your flag looks like calling a trusted friend or mentor or pastor. Maybe it looks like attending an event that could minister to your heart and connect you with others who understand what you’re going through and know the power of the Lord to save you.

Maybe like Peter it simply means crying out “Lord, save me!”

Our wounds don’t have to disqualify us when we turn them into badges of victory. When we allow our wounds to heal, the scars declare the enemy came for me here… BUT HE DID NOT WIN!

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