I love to kayak. In fact, in the summer months, if I am not working, chances are you will find me navigating some river in the Carolinas—flat and calm or roaring rapids make no difference to me. I even love to paddle around the Intercostal Waterway as it makes its path to the Ocean. It is a relaxing, fun pastime. Sometimes my children come with me; sometimes I do this solo. I also know a little about swamps. I used to live in one. Kayakers (as if I speak for all of us) love rivers and avoid swamps.
Rivers have a direction and a flow. The water brings life to the surrounding landscapes and can be tapped for irrigation. They teem with fish and support animal life coming for a drink. They are great for recreation. The constant movement filters the water and cleans the land. Rivers benefit and bring life to the land, animals, and people. Look at any great civilization in history, and you will find it located on a river.Swamps are a little different. Although streams flow in and eventually out, most of the water is directionless and stagnant covering wide swaths of land—made unusable by the marsh. There is certainly an ecosystem and life supported by the water, but swamps are filled with dangerous predators often lurking and waiting for some unsuspecting prey. The unmoving water brings decay and then hides hazards just below the surface in the form of logs and stumps and other debris. Everything about a swamp is dangerous to all but the apex predators. The water that brings life in the case of a river is what overruns and destroys in the case of a swamp.
There is only one real difference in the formation of a river and a swamp, making the former beneficial and the latter dangerous. Do you know what it is? Boundaries. A river is bounded by its banks that give the waters direction and keep the surrounding land from flooding. Regardless of the amount or speed of the water, the banks order and strengthen the flow toward its destination. By contrast, a swamp is water unbounded—a complete freedom from structure and inhibition that lessens and deteriorates the flow into a nearly-motionless mire.
In many ways, our hearts are like a flow of water. Solomon, the wise King of Israel, stated the idea this way, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23, ESV). Our hearts have a flow or desires that constantly pour forth. Just like water running from the mountains to the seas, we have a yearning in our deepest being that the Bible calls the ‘springs of life.’ The Bible also has standards or boundaries for us to live by in every situation that form the banks of our personal rivers.
With proper boundaries, our desires can be directed and strengthened like a mighty river toward a destination. However, without limitations or confines, the yearnings of our hearts can flood areas not meant for our use. Our flow becomes dangerous to ourselves and even affects other people’s lives. Suddenly, the desires of our hearts become stagnant and unfocused, making a dangerous quagmire.
Think of the journey of your life like a river. Your heart is the spring that is supplying the water (your desires or ‘issues’ as they are sometimes called). Rivers fall, twist, and turn on their way to the sea—just like your life will be a long, complex journey. Each section of the river represents an area of your life. Are your banks (proper boundaries) in place? Does your river flow strong and swift everywhere? Or is there an area where a lack of banks has caused a messy swamp through either a lack of knowledge or rebellion?
Sometimes the swamps are obvious in people’s lives. Consider the people who think that no one can tell them what to do. They have a poor attitude as well as trouble keeping a job because they are going to tell anyone who is a ‘boss’ exactly what they think. They will not follow instructions of those in charge of them. They lack the boundary of authority. Remember the Bible states, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1, ESV).
Because everyone needs income (except the extremely wealthy), people’s desires must flow through the section of a river called the “bend of employment.” Without the banks of authority, these people have a swamp that affects many parts of their lives. Stagnation decays their financial situation. Their family is constantly in jeopardy of lack. When they do succeed in finding employment, the management must constantly keep an eye on them. So their “water” is spilling over and making life difficult for themselves and others.
Another obvious example in our society is people who lack boundaries in their sexual relationships. The Bible is clear that sex is to be enjoyed in the bounds of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. But our society is very much into no limitations, boundaries, or judgments in the area of sexual desire. So we see unplanned pregnancies, abortion, fatherless children, venereal disease, broken families, patchwork relationships, gender confusion, and everyone devalued by the “hook-up” culture. People often just want to be loved, but they cannot get their rivers to flow out of the limitless swamp they have created.
Do you know people whose whole life seems to be drama and combat, just messy from the time they wake up every morning? Do they reside in a swamp in every area of their existence? Ask yourself, do they recognize any boundaries on their life or behavior? The critical question is: Do you want to be like them?
A lot of people see the commands and rules of our Lord in the Bible as some kind of Victorian morality meant to kill everyone’s joy and good time as if God wants His creations to merely survive in a life of misery. However, I think the banks are God’s way of showing His love for us. The Lord gives His wisdom for our benefit, not harm. Our attitude, beliefs, actions, and even desires must be within the banks He has set for our lives if we want our rivers to flow powerfully.
Featured image by Tom Gainor
In-Text image by Krystian Piatek